Sir Patrick Hogan
(Photo : Phil Walter)
“Those $4,000 shares would, in theory,
be worth between $750,000 and a million dollars”
Summerhill CEOIt was 1996, and I was on my second visit to Cambridge Stud. On the way, I chanced, courtesy of an invitation from an old mate, Reggie Inglis (then boss of Inglis Sales), to attend my first Melbourne Cup. That’s a story for another day, but few readers will be surprised to know that the winner was Saintly trained, you guessed it, by the “Cups King”, Bart Cummings. As much of a legend in the realm of racing as Sir Patrick Hogan is in the world of breeding, Bart was notching up his twelfth Melbourne Cup victory, a record that’s likely to stand the test not only of our time, but of many generations. He wasn’t done though: “A baker’s dozen sounds even better!” he offered from the podium when his turn came round.
Arriving at Cambridge Stud is always refreshing, an exhilarating tribute to a good stockman, and a powerful contradiction to the oft-stated dictum that “if you want to end up with a small fortune, get into horses with a big one”.
Patrick greeted me from the sanctuary of his black Range Rover, the one bearing the number plate “Sir T” named as we’ve mentioned before, for his game-changing stallion, Sir Tristram. If he and I have one thing in common, it’s a sense that the glass is always full, that whatever the tests, there’s always an answer, and when you get your hands on the right one it’s “pay-pay”. This time though, he was somewhat sombre, a bit on the contemplative side and not quite as effusive as I’d known him. Driving around the farm through groves of poplars, birches and alongside the perfect trim of cropped hedges, the reason soon became apparent. Remember, at this time, Sir Tristram’s now-famous successor, Zabeel, had a first crop which had just turned three, and there was nothing startling to report. At the same time, the stallion scene in Australasia had been upended by the intervention of the goliaths, Coolmore and Darley, who were slapping unthinkable money on the table for young racehorses who’d shown the slightest hint they might be stallion prospects. For the ordinary man, which even by his own lofty standards, measured against the giants, Hogan was still, it was becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get your hands on a decent sort. Patrick was beginning to think the unthinkable: perhaps it was time to pack up.
And then we got on to the inevitable subject; how he’d managed to change the world with Sir Tristram, for relatively modest money. Patrick is an instinctive horseman, as gifted and as intuitive as any man I’ve come across, and if he’d done it once, why couldn’t he do it again? So how do you get onto a stallion like Sir Tristram, one who literally becomes a cash register and changed your life? By believing in yourself, it seems.
Born in 1939, Patrick Hogan was the seventh child of an Irish immigrant who ran a dairy farm near Cambridge, and loved horses. By the time he left school at 15, Patrick was also in thrall of thoroughbreds. He began assembling a band of mares at a farm nearby, called it Cambridge Stud, and began looking for stallions. He went to Europe twice in 1976, and failed to find one. He’d drawn up what he called a “specification”. No horse on the market fitted it. Then by chance, he heard about a stallion for sale in France. When its pedigree arrived by post, Hogan thought it perfect. The horse was Sir Tristram. They wanted NZ$160.000 for him.
Hogan rang an English bloodstock agent and asked him to inspect the horse. “Terrible beast,” said the agent “bad hocks, light frame, poor walker. You don’t want to buy him”. Hogan thought for a day, and then asked the agent to return to France. When Sir Tristram was led out, Hogan wanted the agent to phone him in New Zealand. The agent thought Hogan had been smoking something, but agreed to do it. So there was a man from the British Bloodstock Agency (a knight, too), phone to his ear, as Sir Tristram was led around the courtyard. And there was Hogan on the other end, asking question after question, going over the horse limb by limb, drawing mental pictures. When it was over, Hogan told the agent to take an option. Now the gentleman (BBA agent) in question was known to me as Sir Philip Payne-Galway, who despite the preface to his name, presided over a choice vocabulary more suited in circumstances like these, to a sailor than a knight of the realm. I’ve heard Phillip’s own version of these events first-hand, but this is the censored story.
That night, Hogan did some figuring. The good thing was that the horse had perfect front legs, the bad thing was that he had untidy hocks and they spoilt his rear end. Hogan reasoned that in a racehorse, as distinct from a carthorse or polo pony, the weight is mostly on the front end: that’s where gallopers mostly break down. And he was impressed that the horse had length and stretch: you can’t breed stayers from something that looks as if it’s been jammed in a lift. Hogan made up his mind. He would buy him!
Sir Tristram was moved to England. A fire broke out in the stables where he was quarantined. Grooms led horses from their boxes; a short while passed until they remembered they’d forgotten Sir Tristram. The roof above his box had fallen in, and when the stable doors fell in, the horse bolted.
Sir Tristram jumped into a paddock packed with mares. In the morning they found him covered with burns and ash, and swollen testicles from his clumsy tries at courtship. For a few weeks it looked as if his first one-night stand had been his last; another illustration of the thin red line between fame and failure. Once recovered, they put him on the ship for New Zealand. Meanwhile, Hogan had syndicated Sir Tristram into forty shares of $4,000 each, keeping a large number for himself and his wife, Justine. When Sir Tristram arrived, he still carried ash marks from the fire, he looked light and untidy behind, and above all, he didn’t look like a stallion. As the crane downloaded his crate from the ship, several syndicate members walked away at once. Hogan bought them out. They’d just tossed away the winning pools ticket: a decade on, those $4,000 shares would, in theory, be worth between $750,000 and a million dollars.
Their negative reaction to this ash-marked horse would surely have been different, had they known what Sir Tristram would go on to become.
To be continued…