As Lot 269 entered the newly-refurbished ring at the Inglis Premier Sale on Monday, Stonehouse Thoroughbreds owner Ryan Arnel sat poker-faced behind the sales podium, knowing he was in the midst of a defining hour of his professional career.
In a game where backing yourself is an essential aspect of success, the 32-year-old was scanning the crowd, knowing out there somewhere was a home for a Brazen Beau colt that had been as popular as any of the 21 horses of his draft.
Out on the right of the auditorium, almost inconspicuous leaning up against a column was trainer Mick Price. Price is not one to fall into fashion, but he really liked the colt.
"I don't get too involved in those sexy stallions, but I couldn't help it on him. He's just a really nice racehorse," Price said.
As the bidding climbed beyond Stonehouse's highest-ever previous price, the $310,000 paid for a Teofilo (Ire) filly on Day 1, Arnel could afford to relax. Price meanwhile, was ready to rumble, seeing off an array of other bidders to secure the colt for $380,000.
"I've looked at every colt. I've done all my notes, and my x-rays and had everything done on him, so when they come into the ring I'm ready to go," he said.
While on Sunday, Price acquired a $540,000 Vancouver colt courtesy of Hong Kong owners sourced by agent John Foote, on this occasion, he was on the tightrope without the safety net.
"I haven’t got any owners for him at the moment. I'm often in the same boat. You are always tingling when you do these things," he said.
"It goes ok if you've got a pair of balls. That's how it goes. And if you like your horse, you have to back him and buy him."
Courage of your own convictions
Backing yourself is a theme Arnel knows all too well. This is his fourth draft at Melbourne having started up Stonehouse, based at Eddington in Central Victoria, in his late 20s after returning from working in Europe, with nothing but a $10,000 deposit, some support from some key mentors and enough determination to make sure it worked.
"I'm determined and I got into it at the young age and went out by myself at a young age. Probably younger than most, and I did that all by myself," he said.
"I own the farm, I bought it with a $10,000 deposit. I was told once you get the farm, nobody is taking it off you. So I had a go and I feel like nobody takes it away from me now," he said.
Standing up behind the auctioneer, with the market judging the product of you and your staff's hard work takes some conviction to overcome as well. While Price was showing some courage on the buying bench, Arnel has to show a bit too.
"It’s very much the same as Mick's experience," he said. "We come here we invest tens of thousands of dollars in terms of managing these horses right the way from the service fee to planning the mating, through the birthing period, all the way around to the yearlings," he said.
"It's the same scenario, we don’t have anybody there backing us up and when we get to the AFL Grand Final, we have to make it happen. You've got to hope and pray that people like it as much as you do."
The overwhelming feedback this week is that they do.
A Stonehouse flurry
In the space of 45 minutes on Monday, Stonehouse sells Lot 269 for $380,000 and a pair of fillies by Fastnet Rock (Lot 284) and Sebring (Lot 290) for $260,000 and $160,000 respectively.
Added to the $310,000 for the Teofilo filly on Sunday, Lot 190, and the $260,000 for Lot 126, by Brazen Beau, it has been a truly amazing 48 hours for Stonehouse.
"It's unbelievable, in such a short time," Arnel said. "If you get it right on a good day."
"It’s perfect. The people that appreciate it are the staff that work at the farm, right from the farrier to the vets. Everybody around us treats the horses like it is their own. And it's great for all our small clients, who are the battlers of the industry. We all go together and produce such a good result like that, it’s brilliant."
The support of those band of clients as well as the likes of significant industry figures like Peter O'Brien from Segenhoe, Henry Field from Newgate and Widden Stud have underpinned Stonehouse's growth into a major player at weeks like that.
Too fast, too young
In an industry often obsessed with equine precocity, the human version of it is often eschewed in favour of experience.
But Arnel's determination and aptitude have won the support of many people who he counts as mentors.
"The people that have been my mentors probably don’t realise they have been mentors," he said.
"Guys like Peter Moody. He's a brilliant guy, I quiz him all the time. He doesn't realise that when I shut up and listen, how much I'm listening to him."
"I've had a lot of influences from overseas as well. Graham McCourt, who was a national hunt jumps jockey who won the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Not many people in Australia would know who he is. He's a brilliant guy and he was one of the first guys to tell me when I was working in England that I should be doing it myself."
Arnel also had experience working at Tweenhills Farm and it was that time which has proven a key aspect of his current success.
"David Redvers has been a great influence and has really helped push me along and get me out there and broaden my horizons," he said. "A lot of the people I met there agisted horses with us and helped us out and did a lot of the breeding work to get us off the ground."
"Another guy, an Irish guy called Richard Kent who runs a farm in Shropshire. He's a very good judge of a horse. I learned a hell of a lot from him and we still talk on a daily basis."
"There are a lot of little guys around me, and you never stop learning do you? My own staff teach me things."
Sharing the success
And it is the relationship with his staff, the five on the farm, the ten or so who help out of sales week and the others who work with Stonehouse to get the yearlings ready, that make the success all the more sweet.
"These guys that work for us, and work around us, they live and breathe this," he said.
"There is a photo on social media of one of our girls walking out after selling the Teofilo filly for $310,000, and the smile on her face was from ear to ear. She was so proud, because she's looked after that filly from the start of December through the prep. It means just as much for her as it does to the owners."
"My farrier drives two hours every morning just to be here at 5:30 in the morning just to go over what he calls his horses. He has looked after these horses since they were foals. As far as he is concerned, they are his horses and his feet until the job is done and they are through the ring."