Australian Tries Selling American Style

Ron Gilbert of Highgrove Stud sold a Curlin filly for $700,000 at Keeneland Sept. 12.

(Edited Keeneland press release)

Australian Ron Gilbert, owner of Highgrove Stud, a leading commercial Thoroughbred nursery in Queensland, made his initial venture into the American sales market Sept. 12 with a filly from the first crop of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin , consigned for him by Brookdale Sales. The filly brought $700,000 from West Point Thoroughbreds during the second and final select session of the Keeneland September yearling sale in Lexington.

Gilbert bought the filly's dam, stakes winner Tears I Cry, in foal to Curlin, for $735,000 at Keeneland's 2009 November breeding stock sale. Tears I Cry is out of Mount Helena, a half-sister to grade I winner and successful sire Street Cry and stakes-placed Helsinki, dam of European champion colt and sire Shamardal.

"We were looking for international pedigrees; (Tears I Cry) was certainly something we could relate to being out of the family of Street Cry and Shamardal, who have been very successful in Australia," Gilbert said. "That she was in foal to Curlin was very good for me--a first season sire and champion racehorse. Luckily, we've been blessed with a very attractive filly."

Gilbert, owner of a successful building development company in Australia, said he and his wife, Debbie, were looking for "something else to interest them" when they began buying yearlings about a dozen years ago.

"I'd always loved Thoroughbreds, so we went to the Magic Millions sale and bought a couple of fillies," he said. "We raced those fillies and before we knew it we had a small broodmare band."

Initially the mares were boarded at a farm in Hunter Valley, a seven-hour drive from Gilberts’ home. After a while, Gilbert and his family, which includes son, Brett, with whom he is attending the sale, wanted to be closer to their horses. So they made the decision to build a farm in nearby Darling Downs, a prominent farming region in southern Queensland, just 20 minutes from their Toowoomba residence.

"We decided to build a farm from scratch," Gilbert said. "I'm in construction, so I came to Kentucky for a month and had a look around. I was very intimidated. It took me six months after that to go ahead (with construction of the farm), because what you see here is first class, obviously. When you want to replicate this, it's not easy to do."

Today, the Gilberts operate not one, but two neighboring farms--Highgrove Stud, a 165-acre commercial breeding operation where the yearlings are raised, and nearby Balmoral, where mares are kept once the foals are weaned. The Gilberts maintain a broodmare band of 24 mares, and consign approximately 15 yearlings annually to Australia's premier sales.

"We sell everything," Gilbert said. "From the early days, we decided not to confuse the market. Anyone who comes to our farm and sees the foals, they know they'll be able to buy them at some point. The farm is going very well."

Currently 41% of Highgrove's yearlings sold are stakes perfomers, including such stakes winners as Wanted, Shrapnel, Jet Spur, Proto Roca, Stella Artois, Stockade, Get To Work, and Legally Bay.

Gilbert credits Australian bloodstock adviser Vin Cox and Jim FitzGerald of Knockgriffin Farm with giving him sound guidance.

"We're taking advice from people we believe in and so far it's been a perfect decision," Gilbert said. "If we are successful in selling this (Curlin) filly we might invest the money back in November."