FOR A STAR
A DECISION TO 'UP THEANTE' A COUPLE OF YEARS BACK HAS PAID OFF FOR DENISE MARTIN, WITH STAR THOROUGHBREDS BASKING IN THE GLORY OF CHAMPION 2YO SEBRING.
NATHAN EXELBY REPORTS.
Dance Hero, the gelding that broke all previous records for a two-year-old earlier this decade, may not have raced in the famous purple and white colours of Star Thoroughbreds, but he can take some of the credit for the horse that sported those same colours to victory in the World's richest juvenile race this year.
Denise Martin's Star Thoroughbreds, founded in 1994 and a prominent brand on Australian racecourses ever since, had its finest moment last month when Sebring landed the $3.5million AAMI Golden Slipper Stakes.
It fulfilled a long held ambition for Denise Martin and justified a decision taken a few years back to search for a champion with a bigger budget.
"Star Thoroughbreds had enjoyed great success over a long period with inexpensive horses, like Danglissa ($40,000), Kingsgate ($45,000) and Flaming ($25,000) perfect examples," Martin said.
Other Star Thoroughbred success stories have included Primrose Sands, Dashing Scene, Stoway, Baghdad and Ariante - all purchased for less than $100,000.
"All credit in the selection of the horses goes to Gai and her team," Martin says.
"She has an extraordinary ability to pick high quality yearlings without necessarily having to pay the high prices."
Despite this success, which included Danglissa's Group 1 Flight Stakes in 1999, Martin was desperate to seek racetrack glory at an even higher level and the catalyst came via a Danzero colt - soon to be gelding - purchased by Waterhouse at the 2003 Magic Millions Sale on the Gold Coast.
"A few years ago I decided it was time that I recognised I needed to up the ante considerably," she said.
"Gai identified Dance Hero and I probably should have stepped up and bought him.
"But $90,000 was beyond my threshold at that time and I passed on him.
"Seeing what he then came out and did as a two-year-old was definitely a turning point for me. I realised I needed to step up to the plate and go to the next level.
"I knew then that if I wanted to get that super two-year-old I had always wanted, I would have to start spending a little more on yearlings."
So Martin made the conscious decision to "up the ante" and went to a higher level, although still remaining removed from the super high priced babies.
"Theseo - at $120,000 - was the first of those horses," she recalls.
"He was actually knocked down to Gai, but I liked him enormously and told Gai I wanted to buy him.
"He was the first horse I bought for $100,000 or more."
Theseo, a son of Danewin, has proven a good investment and has been a great money spinner, with more than $555,000 in the bank already.
Then followed Kyros, a $100,000 purchase who acquitted himself well through the better two-year-old races in Queensland last winter.
But it was the Conrad Jupiters Magic Millions Yearling Sale of 2007 where Martin struck gold when going to $130,000 to secure the More Than Ready colt from the Flying Spur mare Purespeed.
"I loved the colt from the moment I saw him ... a lovely, athletic colt," she says.
"As it turns out, he's the least expensive horse I've ever bought!"
With $2.5million in the bank and a lucrative stud career waiting in the wings, that's hardly an understatement.
Named Sebring, he soon gave an indication that he was a youngster with a tremendous amount of ability, even before he had been fully syndicated.
"Both he and Mr Profumo (who would later win the G3 Kindergarten Stakes) were in work at Bob Lapointe's Muskoka Farm and they were among the first horses vaccinated during EI," Martin said.
"But neither had been syndicated at that time.
"Even though they were only in pre-training, it was quite apparent that they were both special colts. They reminded me a lot of Assertive Lad and High Rolling as two-year-old types.
"At that time, we were in the middle of EI and Gai and I realised that being sold a horse was the last thing people wanted to hear about.
But with these two, we were able to report that both were in pre-training and showing great potential, so we got together with 15-20 of our major clients.
"At that time, everyone was missing racing terribly and this was a good story to tell."
No doubting all those Sebring shareholders appreciate being told that story now!
His army of supporters, who were decked out in purple ties and scarves (with the white stars of course) were hard to miss on Golden Slipper day and again turned out in force during the AJC's autumn carnival.
"I think when he first started he had a fan club of about 15, then 20 for his second start. By the time he got to the Breeders' Plate it had swelled to 50 and I would guess there was about 500 of them on Golden Slipper day," Martin laughs.
"By the time the Sires came around I think it was the whole of Randwick!"
Martin affectionately refers to Sebring simply as 'the colt' and makes no secret of her admiration for the son of More Than Ready.
"Clearly it stands alone - not only in racing ... the colt has given me the ride of a lifetime and for everyone at Star, we are living the dream.
"To think just six months ago, these people came together with a dream and here they are as owners of Australia's Champion Two-Year-Old."
Martin said the ownership team had fielded a number of stud offers for Sebring, but had so far resisted.
"The owners have met with quite a few major studs, but their preference at this stage is to take him through to the spring in Melbourne and then collectively decide what to do after that."
Sebring's winning run came to an end when he went down bravely to the $1.5million filly Samantha Miss in the G1 Champagne Stakes.
But it hardly dented his army of fans, who greeted him back to scale as if he had indeed won again.
Sebring is the highlight of a fantastic start to 2008 for Star Thorougbreds.
"Since we have resumed racing (after EI) it really has been wonderful times for Star," Martin said.
"We had two winners on that first day back at Randwick (Sambar and Les Roses) and we have been enjoying a great run of success ever since."
One of the potential stars unearthed since the resumption of racing is the unbeaten Dash For Cash three-year-old Bank Robber.
"He had a slight colt, so we spelled him. He is back in work now, but will go back out again and then be prepared for the Melbourne spring," Martin reported.
"He was a lovely walking colt and a good strong individual.
"Gai and George Smith highlighted him as one of the top yearlings at that sale (2006 Inglis Melbourne Premier), but I thought he would be far too expensive.
"When bidding got to $50,000, Gai and George both looked at me is if to say 'well, what are you waiting for?'
"I was fortunate to get him for $70,000 and as it turned out, he was actually bred by friends of mine in Tasmania."
Martin says that this year most of her purchases have been upwards of the $100,000 bracket, in the search for more "super performers."
She whispers as if almost embarrassed when telling how she went to $210,000 to secure the Danzero-Nina Haraka colt at Easter.
"It sounds quite frightening when you say two hundred and ten thousand dollars doesn't it?
"I liked him very much and thought he was quite special."
Earlier in the year, Star Thoroughbreds signed for a $190,000 Shamardal filly from Magic Millions.
Though this now represents a new era and new level for Star Thoroughbreds, it is still well below the huge figures that have now become expected at the major sales.
Yet Denise Martin and Star Thoroughbreds keep getting results.
Clearly, the recipe for success is a good one and with horses like Sebring and Bank Robber leading the way, expect to see those purple and white colours remain a regular feature in the winners circle.