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A strong moral compass for Edinburgh Park

8 min read
Ian Smith is a self-made horseman, with drive, passion, and a strong moral compass to match. He is set out to help change the industry, for the better.

Images courtesy of Edinburgh Park

Ian Smith is a bloke from the Manning Valley in NSW who came from a family background in bakeries and seafood processing, to breeding the great Silent Witness and several other stars.

He’s a phlegmatic man, who doesn’t like spruiking the yearlings he’ll offer in the next few months from his band of 54 broodmares, as he’s wary of “going the early crow”.

Ian Smith with his family at Edinburgh Park

Smith, who gains as much satisfaction in seeing his staff develop as he does horses, came to the game through a circuitous route.

A circuitous route

The family business was food, the baked goods and the seafood processing. But mixed in with that was the fact his parents were involved with the Lions Club.

“The Lions Club used to do the catering at the races, and I’d tag along as a kid,” he says. “Mum and Dad would be in the canteen, and I’d be out watching the horses.”

Still, there was no racing career in the wings, until fate, and a Gordon Ramsay-like character intervened in the late 1980s.

Ian Smith and a newly born foal at Edinburgh Park

“I went to Sydney to go to catering school. The idea was I’d get trained as a chef, but on my very first day I turned up a bit late, and didn’t have the correct chef uniform on,” he says, a little sheepishly.

“This chef screamed at me and asked what the hell I thought I was doing. I got out of there real quick, and got a job at a bank.”

“This chef screamed at me and asked what the hell I thought I was doing. I got out of there real quick." - Ian Smith

Racing was still never far away, the odd Wednesday afternoon being spent in a different form of money management, at Canterbury racecourse. But before long came a major turn.

Still only 20, Smith took a one-third share in a colt, Sir Bernard (San Bernardino). He was a dream first horse, winning 15, placing in 15, from 42 stars, to amass decent prizemoney for the early-90s of $215,000, and in 1994 brought what was literally a life-changing payday. He won the G3 Newcastle Newmarket, which brought Smith a share of the $82,000 first prize. Perhaps just as importantly, he drifted from 20-1 to 40-1. Smith didn’t miss out in the ring, and with the day’s proceeds bought a 25-acre farm on the banks of the Manning.

Edinburgh Park Stud located in the Manning Valley

He bought a few broodmares, the idea being to send them to Sir Bernard, but soon the pursuit of breeding took off in another direction, as he headed to a broodmare sale in Sydney.

“I took a mate with me. He was a bloodstock agent, but with cattle, so he wasn’t that much help,” Smith says with a laugh.

Buying broodmares

He came away from the sale with a Sackford (USA) mare named Innocent Age, who had a filly at foot by Military Plume (NZ). Smith sent the filly to trainer Anthony Cummings, and racing as Innocent Kiss she won at Randwick and Caulfield, and came fifth in the 1998 South Australian Oaks. Smith was underway in the game of buying broodmares.

Innocent Kiss

Asked who were his teachers in this field, he says quite simply: “Me”.

“I learnt pretty quick, as to what types of mares I should buy,” he says. “I had to work within my budget. Some people get caught up in the glossy salesmanship of it all. But all I did was buy the best mares I could afford, and sent them to the best stallions I could afford, and worked with those bloodlines. I worked with nicks that were proven, and followed recipes that were set in concrete.”

"All I did was buy the best mares I could afford, and sent them to the best stallions I could afford." - Ian Smith

In 1997, Smith invested in a mare who would not only help his business, but play a role in turf history. Jade Tiara (Bureaucracy {NZ}) had won four from 12. The last two wins came at Taree and Wyong. But the first two were at Moonee Valley and Caulfield. With soundness issues, she came his way for $8000.

Smith had a sire in mind: El Moxie (USA). The American stallion had sired the 1996 Caulfield Guineas winner Alfa, and Smith had noted El Moxie had also sired several stakes-winners from Star Kingdom-line (Ire) mares, a description fitting Jade Tiara. The result of the mating, born and reared at Edinburgh Park, and sold for $55,000 at the Inglis Classic Yearling sale to Hong Kong agent David Price, was Silent Witness.

Gallery: Silent Witness bred by Ian Smith would go on to become one of the best sprinters in the world

“It was a pretty good price for an El Moxie, so I was delighted,” Smith says. “I didn’t have 30 years in the game like I do now, but now I know how much Silent Witness ticked all these boxes as a yearling, on things like temperament and conformation.”

Silent Witness, of course, became the best sprinter in the world. And Smith’s thinking on putting Star Kingdom-line mares to El Moxie was further borne out by Eagle Regiment, also by a Bureaucracy mare in Fire Lake, which won more than a million dollars in Hong Kong.

And Jade Tiara wasn’t finished, also throwing Sister Madly (Redoute’s Choice), who won the G2 Salinger S. on VRC Derby day among three black type victories.

Sister Madly

Smith now deals with far different numbers than he used to. Around 10 years ago he shifted Edinburgh Park to a new patch of land on the Manning 10 times larger than his original 25-acre farm. The broodmares he buys are in the $400,000-plus range. And Edinburgh’s yearlings averaged $220,000 last year.

Edinburgh has bred comfortably more than a dozen stakes winners, including one creating plenty of excitement just now, Tanker (Pride Of Dubai). The Ciaron Maher-David Eustace trained 2-year-old comfortably won the Debutant Stakes first-up at Caulfield last month.

Tanker emulated the black type success of his half-sister Lady Naturaliste (Choisir), who won in Listed class in Adelaide earlier this year. Their success is tinged with sadness, however, with their dam Calcatta (Tale Of The Cat {USA}), who died while giving birth to a Zoustar colt earlier this spring.

Smith calls Calcatta’s death another lesson in “rolling with the punches” this industry throws, but he knows he’s been more blessed than most.

Years ago, Smith sold Jade Tiara, but she later came back, and is now a 26-year-old nanny at Edinburgh Park. She might catch sight of another special tenant, the 15-year-old Weekend Hussler (Hussonet {USA}), who’s enjoying retirement there thanks to Smith’s friendship with the former outstanding galloper’s trainer Ross McDonald.

Jade Tiara and Weekend Hussler may soon have several more farm-mates, the type who never made any history at all, thanks to one self-made horseman with drive, passion, and a strong moral compass to match.

Taking up the challenge

Smith, like countless others, watched horrified as the ABC’s 7.30 report last month exposed the shameful mistreatment of former racehorses whose days ended in the bleak confines of the abattoirs.

It affected the 49-year-old greatly. He decided to do something about it.

Smith announced his Edinburgh Park Stud would buy back any of the horses bred there for $1000, should they need a home, to spare them the fate so starkly revealed in the 7.30 story.

Perhaps his move alone won’t save legions of horses, but Smith is admirably setting an example for hopefully more studs to follow.

“I thought we should be doing something, straight away,” says Smith, who’s also working on “a few other ideas in the background” to battle the problem.

“Most thoroughbreds are well looked after, but some do end up with an uncertain future. I can’t stop all of that, but if I can offer a thousand dollars to people to stop them thinking down that path, then it’s hopefully something.

“Some do end up with an uncertain future. I can’t stop all of that, but if I can offer a thousand dollars to people to stop them thinking down that path." - Ian Smith

“I watched the story and got pretty upset. Anyone with a heartbeat would get pretty upset seeing that. The way those horses were treated was just disgusting.

“I’d hate to see any horse with our IKS brand end up like that. I’d rather see a hundred IKS-branded horses in a paddock here at our farm.”

Peter Ford and Ian Smith

Smith says he was “glad, in a way” that the story came out, for it exposed a problem to be acted upon.

“We’ve brought these horses into the world, really, and we have a duty of care to look after them,” says Smith, who runs Edinburgh Park with his wife Andre. “It’s irrelevant how fast or slow they can run. We make a lot of money off them in our industry, and this part of it was eating away at me.”