Valachi Downs broodmares to sell big on Gavelhouse this Friday

11 min read
The end is approaching for the Kiwi breeding empire Valachi Downs, and this Friday Gavelhouse Plus will offer the farm's replete collection of valuable broodmares. We caught up with the auction house about the huge spike in digital traffic heading its way, and also with Valachi Downs' General Manager, Gareth Downey, about the jewel in the catalogue's crown.

Cover image courtesy of Valachi Downs

It’s less than a week since Valachi Downs dispersed its weanling stock at Karaka, but quickly, attention has turned to its broodmares, which will be offered this week through Gavelhouse Plus, ending Friday.

The standalone catalogue features 51 broodmares, with an additional eight shares in some pretty good stallions. Savabeel is among them, currently sitting at NZ$100,000, as is Vadamos (Fr) and Reliable Man (GB).

The broodmares are the blood, sweat and tears of Valachi Downs’ owners, Kevin and Jo Hickman, who for years have crafted one of the best bloodstock collections this side of the world.

Kevin and Jo Hickman | Image courtesy of Valachi Downs

Among the mares on offer is Bohemian Lily (NZ) (O’Reilly {NZ}), whose Savabeel colt topped the New Zealand Bloodstock (NZB) National Weanling Sale last Friday at NZ$360,000. It was the highest price ever paid for a weanling in New Zealand.

Additionally, the Valachi catalogue features the extraordinary broodmare Baggy Green (Galileo {Ire}), who is the dam of Tofane (NZ) (Ocean Park {NZ}) and a half-sister to both Funstar (Adelaide {Ire}) and Youngstar (High Chaparral {Ire}).

Overall, it’s a rare and valuable set of horses to sell on Friday, which will wrap up the breeding empire that has been Valachi Downs since 2005.

All roads lead to Gavelhouse

Patrick Cunningham handles sales and marketing at Gavelhouse, and it’s been all systems go in the office since last week’s weanlings.

“The weanlings sold very well in the physical auction at Karaka,” he said. “That brought a lot of interest, particularly from the overseas market. There were plenty of buyers that came out specifically to Karaka for those Valachi weanlings, so the timing was perfect for them to head out to the farm and inspect the mares that are coming through.”

Valachi Downs has been hosting mare parades all week and, if the number of them is anything to go by, Gavelhouse will have a lot of digital traffic come Friday evening.

“We’ve had a lot of registrations this week,” Cunningham said. “We’re very much bracing ourselves for a busy night on Friday with all the bidding that will occur, because the final 24 hours of an auction is when things really come to life. There is very little that ever gets missed on these online platforms, and in this market there are plenty of people keeping tabs on these listings every week.”

“We’ve (Gavelhouse) had a lot of registrations this week. We’re very much bracing ourselves for a busy night on Friday with all the bidding that will occur, because the final 24 hours of an auction is when things really come to life.” - Patrick Cunningham

Horses like Baggy Green and Bohemian Lily are likely to command big money.

This isn’t unusual across the digital bloodstock platforms these days, and companies like Gavelhouse have become expert in placing these exclusive auctions in a space that will get the most attention.

“Typically, the regular Gavelhouse auctions run every second Monday night on a fortnightly basis,” Cunningham said. “In these special circumstances, which is what the Valachi Dispersal is, we’ve put it on Gavelhouse Plus on a Friday night just due to congestion, bearing in mind the sale calendar that is coming up.

“And there are few other considerations too, like the settlement date of the Valachi Downs farm and things like that. So we’ve fitted the Dispersal in to the next couple of Friday nights to make sure all the stock gets seen and it all gets sold.”

Patrick Cunningham | Image courtesy of New Zealand Bloodstock

The convenience of digital selling is now part-and-parcel of bloodstock trading in Australasia. Its convenience is second to none and, with a 50-plus draft, it would have been incredibly difficult for the farm to cart that many horses to a physical auction.

“It’s also very cost-effective and time-effective,” Cunningham said. “And Gavelhouse has had plenty of recent success with retiring race mares and fillies. You only have to think back to Avantage, who was announced as retiring on a Friday and within 24 hours it was announced she would be sold through our platform.

“The following Wednesday she’d been knocked down for a digital world-record of NZ$4.1 million, so from a Gavelhouse point of view we are a very good option for these highly commercial mares. They will be found online and they will always sell well.”

The end of an era

Since 2005, when Kevin and Jo Hickman bought a 50-acre dairy farm that became Valachi Downs, the property has been a significant operation in New Zealand.

It’s been one of those names that has appeared among sale catalogues and breeders’ lists on the top shelf, as such the news of its closure, and subsequent sale to Lib and Katrina Petagna, was met with grief and applause in equal measure.

Valachi Downs was originally a 50-acre dairy farm | Image courtesy of Valachi Downs

“Kevin has been a great contributor to the industry for so long,” Cunningham said. “He had created an empire of his own with Valachi Downs, with the farm itself and breeding and racing his own stock. His presence in the industry will be definitely missed, of that I’m sure.”

Down at the farm, in the heart of Matamata country, Gareth Downey is still Valachi’s general manager, even if there’s not long to go.

He’s hardly had time to be emotional about it, with the 20 Valachi weanlings trading at Karaka last Friday, and now the 51 broodmares to go this Friday. Next week, it's the racing stock.

Gareth Downey, Valachi Downs' general manager | Image courtesy of Valachi Downs

Downey has spent much of his time hosting parades and inspections this week, each of the mares taking their turn in walking around. When he caught up with TDN AusNZ on Wednesday, that’s exactly what he was doing.

“It’s an emotional time for the team as a whole, and for the industry,” Downey said. “Not many people like Kevin Hickman come along, and he’s made a massive investment and a massive contribution to get to this point with Valachi.”

Kevin Hickman with U S Navy Flag (USA) | Image courtesy of Valachi Downs

Downey said the team at Valachi have looked up and carried on through an emotional time.

“You can’t help but feel that it’s sad that this broodmare band, which has been accumulated over all these years, and the bloodlines that are contained within them, is now being scattered,” he said. “But that being said, it presents a wonderful opportunity for the rest of the industry.”

“You can’t help but feel that it’s sad that this broodmare band, which has been accumulated over all these years, and the bloodlines that are contained within them, is now being scattered.” - Gareth Downey

Downey has been at Valachi Downs for a tick over four years. For the last two of those years he’s been the farm’s general manager, and he’ll continue to watch the stock in their new homes come Friday’s Sale.

“We are hosting parades endlessly this week, and each time you parade a mare, you can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness that this is the end of our relationship with a mare,” he said. “Certainly, we have been very attached to them and we still are, and our emotional attachment and our interest will continue on long after Valachi.”

Collectors’ items

When it comes to the obvious highlights of Friday’s catalogue, without exception they are Baggy Green and Bohemian Lily.

“Bohemian Lily ticks all the boxes, you might say,” Downey said. “She comes from a wonderful family and she’s very well-bred. She did the performance on the racetrack herself and she’s already left a stakes-placed performer.

Lot 49 - Bohemian Lily (NZ) being sold in foal to Savabeel | Image courtesy of Gavelhouse

“That first Savabeel colt (that sold at Karaka last week) was stunning and obviously attracted the attention of the marketplace as a whole. He sold for $360,000 (NZ) going to a great home, and now she’s back in foal to Savabeel again so there’s an opportunity to repeat the same.”

The 10-year-old Bohemian Lily won the 2015 G2 Doomben Roses and Listed Gold Coast Bracelet. She was placed in the G3 Colin Stephen H. and G2 Moonee Valley Cup, and she’s a full sister to the Australian Champion filly Shamrocker (NZ) (O’Reilly {NZ}), plus a half-sister to the G1 Auckland Cup winner Rock Diva (NZ) (Lucky Unicorn).

Her daughter, Lily’s Lady (NZ) (Contributer {Ire}), is a winner of the G2 Royal S. in Auckland.

Lot 20 - Lily's Lady (NZ) | Image courtesy of Gavelhouse

Alongside her, however (sold as Lot 47), Baggy Green will be a scene stealer.

“There’s a lot of debate as to who’s going to top the Sale out of these two, but Baggy Green is a very rare mare,” Downey said. “She’s pretty much a collector’s item. Just having a mare of the age that she is, and yet having done as much as she’s done from her first five foals, we all think she’s older than she is because she’s done so much.”

“There’s a lot of debate as to who’s going to top the Sale out of these two, but Baggy Green is a very rare mare. She’s pretty much a collector’s item.” - Gareth Downey

The walnut-coloured Baggy Green is 13 years old. She was bought for Valachi Downs from Gordon Cunningham of Curraghmore, who paid just $23,000 for her as a breeding option at the 2013 Inglis Sydney Weanling and Broodmare Sale.

“Gordon Cunningham used to own the mare,” Downey said, “and he’s been wonderful in terms of loving the success that he’s seen Kevin have with her. We’ve also got a yearling of hers in next week’s racing stock, so we were at the start of creating our own family from Baggy Green and we were really looking forward to doing that.

“With a mare like that, whether you get a colt or a filly doesn’t matter. Obviously, you want all the fillies that you can get from it, but if you get a colt you’re going to be equally rewarded in the sale ring.”

Baggy Green is in foal to Ocean Park (NZ), making the subsequent offspring a full sibling to Tofane. It’s prescient that Tofane sold for $3.1 million at the Magic Millions National Sale just a month ago, heading to the Written Tycoon Syndicate, but Baggy Green is no one-trick pony.

Lot 47 - Baggy Green being sold in foal to Ocean Park (NZ) | Image courtesy of Gavelhouse

Her 2016 colt, the now gelding No Compromise (NZ) (Pins), won the G3 ATC Queen’s Cup this year, while Benaud (NZ), her 3-year-old colt by Reliable Man, was second in the G1 Australian Derby at Randwick, running within 0.36l of Hitotsu (Maurice {Jpn}).

Just what this mare will fetch is anyone’s guess. Downey said the beauty of the online platform is that anyone can be involved.

“A mare like her, whose credentials are very well-known, will certainly not get lost online, just because you can’t see her physically walk up and down a laneway at a sales complex,” he said. “I expect she will at least be considered by every serious breeding operation in Australasia.”

Opportunity beckons

With a handful of days to go, the current prices on these two mares are probably nowhere near where they will eventually sell on Friday. It’s what makes the digital process so interesting.

Along with Bohemian Lily and Baggy Green, the Makfi (GB) broodmare Needle And Thread, a full sister to the triple Group 1-placed Savile Row (NZ), is currently within the top three on offer.

She is a daughter of Fleece (GB) who is a half-sister to Chintz (Ire), the dam of the Champion Irish horse and now sire, The Gurkha (Ire).

And there are so many others in the catalogue.

Lily’s Lady is there, as is Honfleur (NZ), a half-sister to Bohemian Lily in foal to Savabeel. There’s Cool Tart (NZ), a daughter of Zabeel (NZ) who’s a half-sister to the Group 1 winner On The Rocks (NZ) (Alamosa {NZ}), and Za Za Gabor (O’Reilly {NZ}), in foal with an early cover to Savabeel and a half-sister to Zazou (Ger) (Shamardal {USA}).

Gallery: Some standout mares offered as part of the Valachi Downs Dispersal via Gavelhouse Plus, images courtesy of Gavelhouse

The catalogue is live right now and taking bids, with the first lot closing on Friday, June 24, at 7pm NZST (5pm AEST). Next Friday, the last of the Valachi Downs stock will sell on Gavelhouse, with a complete catalogue of racing stock to be offered.

Valachi Downs Dispersal Sale
Gavelhouse Plus
Valachi Downs Broodmares
Valachi Downs
Patrick Cunningham
Gareth Downey
Baggy Green
Bohemian Lily