Taranaki farmer looking on the Brightside in retirement

After more than half a century of milking cows, Edwin Sheather decided he needed to pick-up a hobby to keep him occupied outside of tending to his beef cattle on his 58-acre property.

The Taranaki farmer happened across one that could prove to be nearly as lucrative as slicing up his Taranaki farm – breeding thoroughbreds.

“I have given up milking cows after 50 years of doing that. I have only got 58 acres left as I am one of those mongrels that have cut their farm up and sold lifestyle blocks off,” Sheather quipped.

“You have got to keep doing something and I think I would die if I moved to town.”

The 75-year-old had developed an interest in racing and had success as an owner over the last decade through Go Racing – racing the likes of Group Three winner Passing Shot (NZ) (Swiss Ace), Group Two performer Charlestown (NZ) (Myboycharlie), and Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) runner-up and now sire What’s The Story (NZ) (Savabeel).

“My first horse was Charlestown and he won a few,” Sheather said. “I had 10 percent of Passing Shot and he was a pretty good horse, he won 11 races, and I had a five percent share in What’s The Story.”

While he had a growing interest in racing, as a farmer, Sheather said he was more drawn to the breeding side of the industry.

“It is a hobby and I have always been a bit more interested in the breeding than I have the racing. I guess being a farmer and having always bred cattle, I was naturally drawn to breeding,” he said.

In his retirement, Sheather became a student of thoroughbred pedigrees and took great interest in New Zealand Bloodstock’s National Yearling Sales at Karaka every January, and their fortnightly sales through their online subsidiary gavelhouse.com.

He kept close tabs on gavelhouse.com but resisted the urge to bid until one day an unraced Tavistock mare in-foal to his former racehorse What’s The Story caught his eye.

He succumbed to temptation and under his nom de plume of Steady1, Sheather placed his first bid on a horse and came out on top, securing Lilahjay (NZ) for $3,000.

While she had already produced a Hong Kong winner in Will Power (NZ) (Power) at the time of the auction, Sheather’s purchase has turned out to be a masterstroke.

Not only has Will Power gone on to win a further seven races to date in the competitive Asian racing jurisdiction, but another of her progeny, Mr Brightside (NZ) (Bullbars), has put her well and truly on the map as a broodmare after winning the Gr.1 Doncaster Handicap (1600m) in autumn before returning in superb fashion on Saturday when winning the Gr.2 PB Lawrence Stakes (1400m) first-up for trainers Ben and JD Hayes.

“I have been following what has been happening on gavelhouse for quite a long time. I saw Lilahjay and I looked at the pedigree and I thought ‘that is a pretty good horse, I wonder how much she is going to cost?’,” Sheather said.

“I did recognise a couple of names back in the pedigree like Gurner’s Lane, being a Melbourne Cup (Gr.1, 3200m) winner way back.

“I knew (her sire) Tavistock was a pretty good stallion, so I thought I would have a bid on this one. I saw she was in-foal to What’s the Story, which was quite funny.

“I rang up Haylie (Martin, Gavelhouse.com General Manager) at gavelhouse and said I would like to bid on her and next thing it (website) told me that I was the winner.”

Sheather said he has gained immense enjoyment from watching the deeds of Mr Brightside across the Tasman.

“It has been super fun,” he said. “There is always something interesting with having a horse like Mr Brightside and also following Will Power in Hong Kong has been great.”

Initially planning on bringing Lilahjay back to his Taranaki property, Sheather began to think otherwise after the progress of Will Power in Hong Kong.

“I am a retired farmer and I thought I would get a horse to put in the front paddock, but then Will Power started doing well in Hong Kong and I realised I didn’t know much about horses and she could be a bit too valuable to be with an amateur,” Sheather said.

“I rang up Peter Westend (Norwegian Park principal) and said I am not too sure what to do now and he said she could stay there.”

Westend stood What’s The Story at the time and Sheather had great enjoyment telling him about his involvement with the horse.

“When I went to see Peter he was telling me about What’s The Story,” Sheather said. “I told him I had five percent and went to Randwick and watched him run in the Australian Guineas and I was at Ellerslie when he was beaten a lip in the Derby, and I was there when he broke down when we had great expectations to go back to Australia the next year to go to bigger races in Melbourne with (trainer) Stephen McKee.”

Lilahjay foaled a filly by the stallion, who turned two-years-old at the start of the month.

“She is in Peter’s paddock at Cambridge ticking over and growing,” Sheather said. “I don’t think she is going to be a two-year-old from my untrained eye, but we will just let her grow and develop.

“She has been broken-in and ridden, she may have a go in the autumn – I have got to find a trainer for her. She looks like she is very correct, and she is a nice-looking filly.”

In Sheather’s first foray into breeding, he sent Lilahjay to Darci Brahma, with the resulting foal currently being prepared by Landsdowne Park’s Dave Duley for next year’s New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales.

“I know another guy in racing and he said we will ring this pedigree analyst, a breeding man from Palmerston North,” Sheather said.

“His preference was Preferment and Darci Brahma. I chose to go with Darci because he is getting old. Being from a farming background, I said he is a proven sire, he has got nothing left to prove, whereas Preferment is young and will be around for a long time so I can always go that way later on.

“She is a lovely filly that is going to the sales and is being prepared by Dave Duley.

“I didn’t know anything about him other than he happened to be on the sales coverage one year when I was watching it.

“I looked at some of his videos from last year’s sales and thought he did a good job, so I thought I would ring him up and see if he wanted to do my one.

“He rang me yesterday and said they have done x-rays and they are all clear, so she is going ahead.”

Sheather will welcome a full sibling to the yearling in the coming months, with Lilahjay having returned to Darci Brahma after missing to Rich Hill Stud stallion Vadamos last year.

“She went to Vadamos and didn’t hold. She has a few issues but Peter nurses her,” Sheather said.

“He had trouble the day she came back on again, I don’t know if it was a misunderstanding but she ended up at The Oaks Stud and got in-foal to Darci again.

“Next year she will have to have the year off so she can get back to square one again.”

While Sheather has been enjoying a great ride with his first broodmare, he doesn’t have any intentions of adding to his breeding numbers in the near future.

“It has all been fun – a bit of a hobby that has got out of hand,” he said.

“I will just stay with Lilah, she is enough for me at the moment. I will have the What’s The Story filly and hopefully she will produce me another Darci Brahma (this breeding season).”

In the meantime, Sheather is enjoying watching Mr Brightside race in Australia and he is hoping there is plenty more instore for the son of Bullbars this spring. – NZ Racing News

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