A rising star of the thoroughbred industry
Photography by Jessica Rea
Article by Jessica Rea & Andrew Maughan
It has been said that in both business and the racing game, it’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow. This can be especially true when it comes to the business of producing profitable racehorses. History shows that in racing, its far easier to turn a big fortune into a small one and passion alone for the sport of kings does not equate to either profit or winners past the post.
Enter Kingstar Farm, just six years young, already with a Golden Slipper winner to its name. It covers 650 acres of prime horse country in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley township of Denman. We were met by the farms bloodstock agent Conor Phelan, who over the next several hours gave us a comprehensive tour that displayed a consistent, strategic and meticulous approach to the business wherever we looked. The tour left us in no doubt that this is an operation run with experience, skill, and an unwavering attention to detail.
The operation is owned by its founder Matthew Sandblom, who has a long-standing affinity with racing. He started as a teenager breeding and training dogs for the racetrack at Harold Park, before making a move to harness racing and eventually finding himself with a keen interest in the thoroughbred industry. Amongst other ventures, Matthew holds stakes in the stallion Capitalist, currently standing at Newgate stud.
As a vendor, Kingstar offers their stock at sales across the country and can already boast a Golden Slipper winner, Stay Inside, amongst their graduates. They currently also stand four highly commercial stallions, yet they don’t allow initial the stud fee to tip $10,000. Against a backdrop of skyrocketing stud fees across the industry, this strategy is unheard of. However, this unique value proposition is proving to be a successful business model for both Kingstar and breeders who understand that high value is not inherently achieved by paying a high stud fee.
The Kingstar stud fees reflect their pragmatic approach to the business. This approach includes turning over their stock when opportunity presents. Ultimately this strategy is designed to give their customers what Kingstar want for themselves with their own horses – and that is control over the final product.
‘Anyone in the Hunter Valley or elsewhere, who wants to be part of us making a stallion from scratch, can come here at an affordable price’ says Conor.
‘We start our stallions at a realistic fee to accommodate breeders who may otherwise be forced into a foal share or some other sort of agreement that doesn’t give them complete control’
Kingstar has focused their breeding efforts as if every foal were the next Golden Slipper winner. Whilst Conor runs day to day operations under manager Adam Cook, all selection decisions are ultimately made by Matthew.
‘Matthew makes all the final selection decisions himself. He puts a dollar value on our recommendations and makes all the purchases himself. We’ve then got to make it pay.’
Conor is also first to point out that Matthew is one of the savviest players in the game and that his knowledge of bloodlines and results past the post are encyclopedic.
The versatility of the land at the Denman property means the foals can be reared as the season requires. ‘We’reblessed with good water and room to move, although we did lose a few paddocks under water when the Hunter and Goulburn rivers got flowing last year’ says Conor.
Kingstar engender the confidence of buyers in many ways. Firstly, Matthew Sandblom himself offers well-bred mares to the stallions standing at Kingstar and breeders are invited to ride his coattails as he offers new and exciting stallions a chance to show what they can produce when coupled with the right mare. Secondly, every Kingstar foal is born, raised, and fed by Kingstar themselves. No foals are bought at a weanling sale and sold on at the next yearling sale. They know each horse from top to toe as it enters the sale ring.
From foaling down, to weaning, to the salering, the yearlings produced at Kingstar follow a carefully monitored program to ensure they stay in great shape and are commercial for the racing industry. The stud takes a pragmatic approach to the business and acknowledges that whilst their primary focus is to breed for racetrack success,
that only breeding horses to race yourself will send you broke.
‘It’s a little bit of a medium where we’re breeding for racetrack success, but we have to get sale ring success on the wa through’ Says Conor.
The breeding season commences in September. Mares foal down from late July onward under 24-hour supervision from the Kingstar team, and are carefully managed post foaling to ensure all is well.
‘We foaled close to 100 mares last season and never lost a foal’ says Conor. ‘That is something the team is really proud of.’
From then on the foals are closely monitored as they grow out in the paddock. Come January, they are branded before weaning and handling commences in February. Foals are microchipped and DNA tested in laboratories in nearby Scone, before being turned out to the paddock with a nanny mare. Some are selected for the weanling sales whilst others remain on farm as preparation for the yearling sales commences.
The selection process for yearling sales gets underway early in August and by September Kingstar have a clear idea of which yearlings will be presented at which sales. Their attention to detail and knowledge of their horses means each
horse is presented to exactly the right sale and just the right market.
Kingstar Farm has achieved exceptional success and without doubt this is in large part due to the team behind the operation. But Conor was also keen to point out that there are other ingredients that come into the mix, and lady luck plays her part.
‘You’ve got to have luck and we invite as much luck as we can, but Matthew also puts himself out there and is willing to take a punt, a calculated risk. Breeding is sometimes more of an art than a science, you’ve got to marry the two.’
As we drove down the wide, tree lined central laneway of Kingstar, the analogy of a young horse being earmarked for success by its ability to jump out of the gate well came to mind. The analogy seems appropriate here, as Kingstar, a young enterprise, certainly demonstrates a high pedigree in its approach to the business of making racehorses. To that end, it seems clear that the best years of Kingstar Farm are in front of it.