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US investors toast early success of new venture

6 min read

Written by Paul Vettise

Thoroughbreds and bourbon are synonymous with the bluegrass state of Kentucky and they are now also proving a successful mix in this part of the world for an American investment group.

An initial foray into the New Zealand thoroughbred market by a Kentucky-managed syndicate got away to a flying start this week when its first representative All Black Bourbon (NZ) (Highly Recommended) sparked celebrations with a debut victory at Avondale.

McMahon and Hill Bloodstock manage the Bourbon Lane Stable, which purchased its first draft of youngsters at New Zealand Bloodstock’s 2019 National Yearling Sale on behalf of a syndicate backed by Dennis Foster, who has strong ties to New Zealand.

Bourbon features in the names of all its horses with the group’s venture launched with the encouragement and assistance of NZB’s Bloodstock Sales Manager Danny Rolston and North American representative Joe Miller.

Joe Miller | Image courtesy of New Zelaand Bloodstock

“We bought four the first year and two the second. We did South Africa for a couple of years and we didn’t like it that much, but we wanted to try another Southern Hemisphere market and New Zealand seemed like a really good possibility for a number of reasons,” Mike McMahon told TDN AusNZ.

“A reason was one of our main clients up here is Dennis Foster and his daughter moved to New Zealand and Dennis and his wife Patty knew they would be spending a lot of time in New Zealand.

“We thought we might like to have some horses down there when we all visit and it came at the same time that Danny Rolston and Joe Miller really got on to me about it.

“Joe’s office is right down the road from me, we’re neighbours, and he encouraged us and Danny did a great job following up with my business partner Jamie Hill. We floated the idea by Dennis of forming a partnership and he said yes, let’s do it.”

“We floated the idea by Dennis of forming a partnership and he said yes, let’s do it.” – Mike McMahon

Rolston has been a regular visitor to the United States trumpeting the opportunities Karaka offers and was thrilled with Bourbon Lane’s early success.

“I lived in California in the early 2000s so I had a few resources there. I’ve been going back to America since 2010, firstly buying broodmares at breeding stock sales and that morphed into more of a canvassing opportunity and trying to bring international investment down to Karaka,” he said.

“I met Mike and Jamie through that process and they eventually agreed to come down. They have become good friends now and so is Dennis, it’s been an awesome journey.”

Danny Rolston

First success

The Bourbon Lane venture has gone smoothly and crowned by the success of All Black Bourbon, who was purchased out of Kilgravin Lodge’s Book 1 draft for NZ$110,000.

“He is a cracking type of horse and his trials had all been good, so the writing was on the wall. We will probably keep him going through for a little bit,” trainer Stephen Marsh said.

“He has got a lovely action, but he seems to go through those wetter tracks too and he will definitely get further. They’re a great team of people and we have a WhatsApp group and I speak to Dennis a lot.”

“They’re a great team of people. We have a WhatsApp group and I speak to Dennis a lot.” – Stephen Marsh

Foster, whose Auckland-based daughter Shaune and son-in-law David Blackwell were on-course at Avondale, is a former pilot and corporate chief executive and has owned thoroughbred farms in Florida and Kentucky.

McMahon said the group’s intention was to be at Karaka again in 2021, if current COVID-19 travel restrictions eased in time.

“God willing, if we’re allowed down there we’ll be buying again, but I think we need to make some positive changes here before you guys will let us in.

“Jamie and I are accomplished buyers in North America and we enjoy that and we have a talk with Danny after we’ve seen the horses on the ground at Karaka.

Mike McMahon (left)

“We’ll walk through the barns for several days and talk to Stephen (Marsh) as well about the horses, we like to get his input. Dennis likes the sales as well so we have a good team going.

“Karaka is a wonderful place and as good as anything in the world and the weather sure is nice. It’s got the charm, the people and great hospitality. If it wasn’t so damn far away we would be there all the time.”

“Karaka is a wonderful place and as good as anything in the world and the weather sure is nice.” – Mike McMahon

McMahon said Bourbon Lane had no thoughts of buying in Australia, but it still figured in its future.

“Our plan is that we buy horses at a good currency in New Zealand and with Dennis’ family being there it’s another positive.

“Stephen has the ability to take horses across the Tasman. We’re in a situation that if a horse shows it’s good enough, we’ll either sell it or we’ll take it over there for a big shot.

“We like the economics of that better than competing in what might be the hottest horse market on the globe. It makes better business sense for us.”

Dennis Foster | Image courtesy of New Zealand Blooodstock

Bourbon Lane had a tailored business plan and wouldn’t be deviating from its approach.

“We’re not really trying to do the 2-year-old thing, we think that all the investment money in Australia is focussed on 2-year-old types and when those guys come over to New Zealand they are buying 2-year-old types,” McMahon said.

“We feel we can buy what New Zealand is best at breeding , we call them back-end 2-year-olds like All Black Bourbon. Horses that are more Derby types if you will, there’s a little bit less competition for those types.”

Wentwood connection

Another player in the venture was the Hawkins family’s Waikato farm.

“We also have to thank Wentwood Grange. When we started to do the research about who to hook up with, Wentwood was suggested to us by Ken Smole, who is an American investor as well,” McMahon said.

“Dennis went to Wentwood Grange and really enjoyed the farm and they are the ones that suggested Stephen to us, he’s straight up and it wasn’t hard to say you’re our guy and it’s all working really well.

“We were really glad to buy an Iffraaj colt from Wentwood this year at Karaka and he is one of our favourites.”

Purchased for NZ$250,000, the colt is a son of the unraced High Chaparral (Ire) mare High Joy (NZ), who has left three winners including stakes performer Elate (NZ) (Savabeel) and from the family of the great Bonecrusher (NZ) (Pag Asa).