The New Breed in Town
The ‘new breed’ is not Zacinto (above), the stallion who is making waves as one of the most promising in the business, though we’ll get to him. We’re actually referring to Gus Wigley, a young successful breeder and stud manager who is doing things with a modern, clever approach, and it’s working. The Love Racing crew paid a visit to the family-owned Inglewood Stud in Christchurch, the oldest thoroughbred stud still standing a stallion in New Zealand.
Taking us out to meet his pride and joy, Zacinto or “Zac” as he’s fondly known, it’s immediately clear that Gus has a slightly non traditional style; the two of them are buddies. Zac, a strikingly majestic animal, seems calmer than a lot of stallions, almost as if he knows how much Gus loves him and Gus is like a proud dad who can’t take the smile off his face.
Interestingly, Gus didn’t follow in his fore father’s footsteps initially, despite Inglewood’s strong family history. He first studied business and marketing at Otago University where he met his wife Bianca, and subsequently edited and co-owned The Informant. In 2011, tired of sitting behind a desk, he started to examine the possibilities of returning to his roots, those being Inglewood Stud and all of his fascinating ancestry.
Gus’s great grandfather, Ken Austin, originally bought Inglewood Stud in 1938. He was a top Australian auctioneer and very well respected horseman who first came to New Zealand to auction at the inaugural NZ bloodstock sales. One of his most interesting claims to fame was the £2 acquisition of a full sister to Phar Lap, who no one else could get in-foal. He managed to get her in-foal, going on to breed some great winners; in particular a horse called Monte Carlo. Though the stud sold on his death, the family bought it back in 1972, and Gus’s parents made history of their own with thoroughbred champion, Canterbury Belle.
Gus’s father Nick, now co-owner of Inglewood Stud and accomplished thoroughbred trainer, wasn’t convinced about his son’s return initially. Nick had last stood a stallion in 1997 and was ‘winding down’ with three or four broodmares, warning Gus of the heartbreak in the game, ‘‘For every great day there can be ten bad ones.” Nonetheless Gus, and Bianca who was by then pregnant with their first child, were determined. At the time, they were living in Auckland, with a hefty mortgage and soul destroying commute times, and felt that it was now or never.
The move wasn’t made hastily. The year before, Gus started the search for a stallion, with the idea of resuming Inglewood as a boutique stud. For six months he went through all the usual avenues. “We were down here at the bottom of the world in a ‘new’ stud and every stallion that was put across my desk by agents had already been turned down by 30 or 40 studs… we were getting the dregs.” It was around then that Gus decided to do things his way. He began by researching pedigrees and race records, looking up the statistics for every ‘stakes performed entire’ in the world; about 600 horses, shortlisting 6 or 7 horses he thought might be buyable, with Zacinto at the top. This took an incredibly dedicated three months of hard work, with Gus saying “We really wanted to make an impact with the stallion we chose, we wanted him to stand for 20 years, rather than buying one we could make a quick buck on.” So Gus contacted Zac’s owner in England, only to be told that he was not for sale because they believed him to be capable of a big group one win next season. Disappointed, he spent another six months looking but found nothing as good as Zacinto. Soon after, the stallion had his first start back. Gus said of the race, “he was swishing his tail, eyeballing all the fillies, he just looked like he wanted to be serving mares… he ran last.” Gus rang the owners the next day, and they told him they’d decided to retire him and to put an offer in. The first two were refused but Gus was now determined to have Zac, and took his credentials to Windsor Park Stud who said “Do you realise how good of a racehorse this is?” followed by an offer to buy a quarter share. Gus said it took Kevin Hickman, Valachi Downs owner, about ten minutes to do the same.
The rest is literally history with two of Zac’s two-year olds winning stakes races within fifteen minutes of each other earlier this year, a first in New Zealand. Having a stallion who sires stakes winners is the ultimate goal for a stud, so when they won two in one day, they received huge interest. The following week they announced an increase of more than double Zac’s current service fee and he had a full book in 24 hours. “It was so rewarding, we took a real risk putting everything in one stallion, we sent all our mares to him, but we bred both stakes winners and trained one of them.” This is a key point. Before their return, Gus and Bianca used their combined skills in commerce and marketing to apply a modern business plan and approach. “I believe that one of the reasons we’ve had a bit of success is that we’re good horse people but good business people too – it makes a great combination.” He added that it can be “a bit scary having such a valuable horse just sitting on paddock with everything riding on him, but he’s a pretty no fuss horse, so I think we’ll be fine.”
Nick and Gus treated us with a trip down to see the latest weanlings, a gorgeously friendly and inquisitive mob coincidentally grazing in the very same paddock that Gus’s great grandad turned his weanlings into in 1938.
“It’s working out so far,” Nick says cautiously “I’m enjoying it because I’ve got all the interest but Gus has all the worry” he jokes. Gus is quick to retort “Yep, he’s probably the leading owner trainer in country right now, and it’s great because I don’t have to pay him!” he laughs. Their relationship is close with Gus saying “We’ve been working together day in and day out for over 4 years, we discuss almost everything and I can’t think of a serious argument we’ve had. We’re good mates.” History and family seem to be the winning formula here, but what’s more rewarding is their happiness. “Yep, we’re making the most of it while it lasts!” Gus finished with his characteristic grin.