No regrets for Mystic Journey's breeder Zito

6 min read
As Mystic Journey continues her fairytale story, nobody seems more happier for her owner – and state's – success than the breeder who sold the G1 Australian Guineas winner for just $11,000, in fact Ralph Zito hopes it stands as a wonderful advertisement for Tasmania's breeding industry.

Passionate Victorian horse breeder Ralph Zito could be forgiven for feeling a little regret about letting Mystic Journey (Needs Further) slip through his fingers, but he prefers to look at the bright side, and as well he should given he still owns her dam and a host of relations to the superstar.

Mystic Journey had already earned cult status before Saturday's G1 Australian Guineas but after becoming the first Tasmanian-trained G1 winner the tag 'Tasmanian Winx' now seems an appropriate nickname for the incredible filly.

For the man who bred her, and then sold her for just $11,000 as a yearling, the win was the culmination of 20-plus years of dedication and also validation of his belief in Armidale Stud, its underrated sire Needs Further and the Tasmanian breeding industry as a whole.

Ralph and Peta Zito with trainer Michael Kent and another homebred star, Leodoro

"People might think I regret selling her, but there are no guarantees in this game, things might not have worked out the way they did if I had kept her," Zito told TDN AusNZ, who bred Mystic Journey in partnership with wife Peta and couple Joe and Rhonda Cichello.

"Sure, the $11,000 I sold her for could have been more than $1million in our bank account this morning, but I also recognise that it has taken us three generations of horses and 20 years to breed a G1 winner."

"People might think I regret selling her, but there are no guarantees in this game, things might not have worked out the way they did if I had kept her." - Ralph Zito

"The reality is when you are a breeder like us with just half a dozen mares, you have to sell horses that perform, I want to develop the reputation that when I sell a horse they are not buying a cast-off, they are buying something with real potential," Zito said. "I am so happy for the trainer Adam Trinder, the owner Wayne Roser, he puts a lot of money into the sport, and for Tasmania. People ask if we are jealous of the success, but I still own the dam, a half-sister and a few more from the family. So, as breeders, things are looking pretty good for us."

Indeed, Ralph and Peta Zito's unshakeable belief in the Tasmanian industry is now paying dividends. Just over ten years ago, with parts of Victoria drought affected, Zito travelled across Bass Strait and discovered the lush pastures of Tasmania.

"That's what attracted us there in the first place, we went down there and had a look, met the people at Armidale Stud and Bowthorpe Stud," Zito said. "The contrast between the pastures was night and day."

The lush pastures of Armidale Stud

An intriguing sire line

There was also a stallion standing at Armidale at that time with an uninspiring race record but a page that caught the meticulous breeder's eye.

Not only did Zito send mares to Armidale's Savoire Vivre (GB), he stood his own sire Jayemzed at David and Trish Cochrane's Bowthorpe Stud. Once Armidale secured Needs Further, a G3 winner at a mile but retired after just five starts for Gai Waterhouse, the pedigree buff Zito jumped at a chance for what he immediately sensed was a perfect match for two of his star mares.

Zito bred Mystic Journey's dam White Gold (NZ) (Colombia {NZ}) after buying grand dam L'Anello (NZ) (Groom Dancer {USA}) as a weanling.

Needs Further

"She had badly conformed legs, but I was overwhelmed by her pedigree," Zito said of the mare by the full brother to Octagonal (NZ). "I am happy that the White Gold family, which two years ago was the weakest branch of our breeding operation, is now the strongest," said Zito, who bred White Gold's second foal Oh So Gold (Savoire Vivre {GB}) in Tasmania, from which he also bred Mystic Journey's impressive 2-year-old three-quarter sister Mystical Pursuit (Needs Further).

"I am happy that the White Gold family, which two years ago was the weakest branch of our breeding operation, is now the strongest." - Ralph Zito

Also with Trinder, Mystical Pursuit is following in her relation's hoof steps as she compiles an unbeaten record of four-from-four, including two stakes wins.

The Zitos' Tasmanian link runs far deeper than just breeding though with Trinder the first handler entrusted with the couple's string when they first had horses in training on the Apple Isle. "He is a fantastic trainer," Zito said. "He has chased after our horses at sales too, knowing we have bred them."

Mystic Journey as a foal

A push for Tassie

As much as Zito likes a trip to Tassie, he isn't as interested in it as a holiday destination as it is a place where he can find ideal matches for his small but select band of broodmares.

"I liked the strength of the sire lines down there and we have found it a great place to find matches to suit the qualities of our mares. It has happened with Savoire Vivre to start with but also now with Needs Further," he said. "We have sent our two most suited mares to him five times now. The only reason Mystic Journey doesn't have a 2-year-old full sibling was because she had a setback and we gave her a year off."

"I liked the strength of the sire lines down there and we have found it a great place to find matches to suit the qualities of our mares." - Ralph Zito

White Gold was brought back to Victoria to recuperate and has a weanling by Fighting Sun and was served by Fiorente (Ire) last breeding season, but it is no surprise that she will be getting back on a ferry for another date with Needs Further later this year.

Zito said that transit across the Bass Strait is easier than people think and he can provide the strongest recommendation possible for those thinking of doing the same.

The Spirit Of Tasmania offers overnight ferries across Bass Strait

"It's overnight on a ferry and very easy and quite affordable," Zito said. "There are many good horse transport companies on the mainland but I can assure you that the very best one I have come across is Tasmanian Horse Transport, they are sensational. Mainland people would be stupid to not consider a stallion like Needs Further considering what he has been able to do. He has had nearly 100% of the 2-year-old winners in Tasmania for the last couple of years. He is now producing stakes winners on the mainland. He has done a remarkable job with the mares that he has got. We want this to be an example, to use this result to encourage more people to send their horses from the mainland down to Tasmania."