Sales success comfort reward for dedicated Vass

8 min read
Owner and breeder Nick Vass has had his fair share of ups and downs at the Gold Coast over the years. While the biggest prize on the racetrack at the Gold Coast continues to elude him, the dedicated owner and breeder enjoyed a highlight of cracking the $1million mark in the sales ring this year.

A lifetime interest in racing and over 35 years as a horse owner has taught Vass plenty about the ups and downs of the caper. He has had all that and more on the Coast over the past ten years.

When Hightail (Written Tycoon) ran third in Saturday's Magic Millions 2YO Classic it represented the fourth time Vass had finished in the placings in the big race.

On Magic Millions day in 2012, he watched on in despair as his filly No Looking Back (Redoute's Choice) lost the 2YO race on protest.

Since then, Sweet Idea (Snitzel) in 2013 and Chauffeur (Snitzel) in 2017 also finished runners-up, while Hightail joins the list of Vass's Classic near misses.

Hightail, pictured as a yearling, has joined the list of Vass's near misses

On Day 2 of Magic Millions, Vass as a breeder had a big payday when Lot 446, a colt by I Am Invincible out of Champagne Cath (Street Sense {USA}) went for $1.1m to Chris Waller and Guy Mulcaster.

While racetrack success is always marked by a celebration, sales success is more a case of lifting the burden for Vass.

"It’s a relief more than a thrill." - Nick Vass

"It’s a relief more than a thrill. I came up with a draft of five horses and I am also involved with the SF and Newgate stallion syndicate, and they were buying up," he told TDN AusNZ.

"I put a $500,000 reserve on him (Lot 446) and anything over that was great. I was hoping for $700,000 and he made the big dollars."

"I'm excited, but it was a much as a relief and a few lots before I had an Exceed And Excel make $125,000 and I was expecting $300,000. It balances out a bit."

He will retain a 10 per cent share on the colt, who will race for Waller,

"They came back to me and said they are very happy for the breeder to have 10 per cent," he said.

Building a band

Vass bought the dam of the million-dollar colt, Champagne Cath, for $300,000 at the 2015 Magic Millions Broodmare Sale, adding further depth to a strong band, which he has built with a combination of fillies he purchased as yearlings and mares acquired through broodmare sales.

Sweet Idea, who would go on to win the G1 The Galaxy as well as the Magic Millions 3YO Guineas was sold to the Queen's racing interests in England in 2015, while No Looking Back was sold at last year's broodmare sales to Kitchwin Hills.

Sweet Idea was sold to the Queen's racing interests in 2015

But he retains eight broodmares in all.

They include stakes-winners Patronyme (More Than Ready {USA}), Booklet (Tale of the Cat {USA}), Urban Groove (Charge Forward), Bonnie Mac (NZ) (Thorn Park), Typing (Sebring) and Cathay Lady (Exceed And Excel) as well as Song Street (Ire) (Shamardal {USA}), who is closely related to Pierro.

With a long-term friendship with Henry Field and subsequently Newgate, it is not surprising to see Vass supporting Capitalist strongly with his mares over the past two years.

Booklet, Urban Groove and Typing all have foals from Capitalist's first crop, while Booklet, Bonny Mac and Typing have all gone to him last season.


Song Street has a Lonhro colt, a three-quarter brother to Pierro, and has been back to him again, while Cathay Lady, whose yearling filly by Deep Field is Lot 188 at the upcoming Classic Sale, has a foal by Flying Artie, who she went to again in 2018.

Aside from the Champagne Cath colt, the other four Vass offered through Newgate at the Magic Millions were a Snitzel - Typing filly (Lot 249) who went for $300,000, the Exceed and Excel - Bonnie Mac colt (Lot 411) who went for $125,000, a Snitzel - Urban Groove colt (Lot 158) who sold for $370,000 and a Written Tycoon - No Looking Back filly (Lot 862) who sold for $250,000.

All in all, that's over $2.1m across all five lots. Not bad for a week's work.

Field of dreams

At the heart of Vass' breeding success has been Field, who Vass met when the now Managing Director of Newgate was just 14-years old and working for Gai Waterhouse.

"He was a very shy young man back then, very reserved. He was doing a little bit of odd work for Gai there at the stables being her left hand man, carrying books and helping in the office," Vass said.

"I always said to him, because he was conscientious, 'if you ever go out on your own, I'm happy to give you a horse.'" - Nick Vass

"I always said to him, because he was conscientious, 'if you ever go out on your own, I'm happy to give you a horse.' I asked him what he wanted to be, and he said he wanted to be a horse trainer."

Nick Vass with Henry Field

"Eventually we became mates, and when he got his first farm, I put two mares on his farm straightaway, Hides (Giant's Causeway {USA}) and Bardego (Barathea {Ire}).

"I had his first mares on the farm and I bought into his first stallion on the farm, in Foxwedge, and we had the first Group 1 from the farm in that Volpe Veloce, who was by Foxwedge out of Bardego."

"I depend on Henry Field a fair bit. He's the expert and he's got great eye and I listen to his advice all the time." - Nick Vass

"I depend on Henry Field a fair bit. He's the expert and he's got great eye and I listen to his advice all the time."

Listening to that advice has enabled Vass to become heavily involved in all aspects of the industry, including as a part of Newgate's stallion syndicate with SF Bloodstock.

Path to success

It's a long road travelled from the kid who watched his Mum put on a couple of dollars on Rain Lover (Latin Lover {GB}) ahead of the 1969 Melbourne Cup, to the racing fan who shelled out for 20-30 per cent of a horse with Mal Barnes in 1981.

That horse, Brazen Spirit (Bold Aussie {USA}) won five races in a row, the first with Ron Dufficy in the saddle, and Vass was hooked.

Ten years later, he got his first top quality horse.

Nick Vass with his wife, Amy

"My first Group One winner was with Bill Mitchell and it was his first Group 1 winner as well with Electrique (Zephyr Zip (NZ). We won the (G1) Flight Stakes and we won the Ansett S, which is now the Vinery," he said.

"They were my first two Group 1s, and we also won the inaugural the $1million Inglis Classic in 1991. That was on the 1st January 1991."

"We had a great season, it was $500,000 to the winner and I owned 50 per cent of that horse. So that was a huge result for me. That was as big a thrill as any of the big races I've won."

Caravan to the Coast

Success may continue to flow for Vass, both on the racetrack and the sales ring, but now as a family man, January on the Gold Coast is very much a different experience than it once was.

"We are staying in a caravan park. We are up here for two and a half weeks. It took us two days to get here. We stopped overnight at Coffs and we are staying at the Paradise Gardens at Labrador up here," he said.

"It’s got three swimming pools, it’s great for the kids. They are 13, 10 and 8. It’s got a restaurant so you don’t have to cook, it’s close to everything."

Nick Vass with his family and Henry Field after the million dollar sale of his colt by I Am Invincible

"We love our caravan. Every school holidays, we look to get away somewhere. That's the beauty of a caravan. A couple of years ago, we took the kids out of school and did four months around Australia and hugging the coast line. It's a great way to see the country as it’s a beautiful country we live in and we don’t get to see it."

Vass said allergies will likely prevent his oldest son Nathan from getting too closely involved in thoroughbreds, but his middle son James, is very much keen on following his dad into racing.

"He gets dressed up at the races, he puts his tie on. I've got him a (sales) book, and he's going through it and he loves it. My little girl doesn't quite understand what the concept is. All she asked is we can ride them."