Sir Patrick Hogan ends a career that transformed NZ's thoroughbred industry

by Barry Lichter / 03 February, 2018
Photography by Adrian Malloch.

Sir Patrick Hogan inspects some of the valuable foals at his internationally renowned Cambridge Stud.

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The foal was stuck and young Patrick Hogan knew he had only minutes to save its life. No matter how hard the mare tried, she couldn’t give birth.

In the middle of that cold spring night, the 21-year-old didn’t panic. Knowing it would be too late by the time a vet arrived, he ran inside the house to wake his new wife. But Justine was a town girl who’d leap fences to escape horses that frightened her and she’d never seen a mare foal, let alone helped in such a tricky delivery.

“Get out of bed, I’m going to need help with this one,” said Hogan.

“I can’t do it,” Justine complained as she was ushered out, still in her nightgown.

“Get down there and pull that leg when I say pull, otherwise we’re going to lose the foal.”

Justine might have had her head averted the whole time but eventually, when the foal slipped out and shook its head and floppy ears, the protests stopped. “Oh, how lovely, how wonderful!” she declared.

In that moment, Justine graduated to No. 1 midwife. And in the weeks, months and years that followed, she would take her turn on foal watch, waiting out the night in a tiny wooden shed, with only a TV and rickety old bed.

“She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Hogan. “I might have picked two champion stallions in Sir Tristram and Zabeel, but they don’t equal the choice I made with Justine. She’s been beside me from the start.

“We’ve been together since we were 17, married when we were 21, and from that day we were 50-50. What she had in the bank was half mine and what I had was half hers – and that was nothing.”

After selling yearlings for 61 years, Hogan says it’s the right time to hand over the reins of Cambridge Stud.

Sitting in his Cambridge Stud office 57 years later, Sir Patrick Hogan, 78, is surrounded by memorabilia from more than three decades at the top of the breeding industry. Alongside framed photos of his champion stallions Sir Tristram and Zabeel hang countless montages of the highlights of his award-embellished life, including the day the Queen came to visit.

The young man who started out with nothing now regularly features in the top 100 on the NBR Rich List, with an estimated worth of $150 million. And while Hogan isn’t saying, the total could be even higher, given he’s been diversifying into commercial property in recent years.

Hogan, leading vendor at the National Yearling Sale for 31 years straight until 2013, is working on a new marketing campaign for the 65 yearlings he’ll offer at the next auctions, which started on January 28. But those sales – his 42nd as a vendor – will be his last.

In late November, Hogan announced the sale of Cambridge Stud to Karaka breeders Brendan and Jo Lindsay, who sold their plastics company Sistema a year ago for $660 million.

The deal, sealed quickly after an offer only a few weeks earlier, is a timely one. Health-wise, Hogan has had an annus horribilis. He’s just out of hospital after a heart operation, and he’s endured months of pain from a sciatic nerve, a dodgy knee he refuses to have fixed yet, and tooth implants. All the years of driving himself are catching up with him, he says, his ailments the legacy of a lifetime of pulling foals out of mares, dragging stallions to the service barn and leading boisterous yearlings around the ring.

His health woes had been causing him concern about the future of the internationally renowned stud, so the Lindsays’ surprise offer came as a relief. While Hogan had not been actively hawking the stud, inquiries from overseas had previously come to nothing. The only New Zealand interest had been from developers wanting to subdivide the property and build a restaurant – guaranteeing only to leave the stable block, front entrance and gravestones intact.

“But that was a no-no for me,” he says. “If somebody does that when I’m dead and gone, fine. But Cambridge Stud is a pretty iconic name throughout the world and I wanted a person who’s going to continue in the manner in which I’ve run it.”

A life-size statue of Sir Tristram looms in the courtyard outside the stable.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Hogan had no one lined up to take over the operation. “I’ve got a great staff, but no son to carry on the job. And my two daughters, who are in their mid 50s, have their own lives. Justine certainly didn’t want to be landed with a stud farm if anything happened to me. I didn’t think anybody would come along, but this has fitted so well it wasn’t difficult to put together. It was all done and dusted in two weeks.”

The deal, which will remain confidential, sees the main stud property of just under 160ha sold, along with about 90 broodmares and foals, and the stud’s shares in resident stallions Tavistock, Burgundy and Power. The Hogans will retain their dairy farm and another nearby property, Monarch Farm.

Hogan is pleased the stud will stay in full New Zealand ownership, and he knows there are few more passionate about the industry than the Lindsays. Like him, they started with nothing, their company born in a half-built Cambridge garage, from where they started distributing plastic coat hangers. Even after the new owners take over in April, Hogan knows he’ll still be welcome to come in the gate any time of the day for a nosey around. “I can cast my eye around the joint and even criticise what they’re doing wrong,” he laughs.

Hogan has never been backward at offering advice. Knowing breeders rely on a vibrant environment, he recently helped forge now Deputy Prime Minister and Racing Minister Winston Peters’ New Zealand First racing manifesto before the general election. “There’s nothing wrong with our industry that a doubling of stake money across the board wouldn’t fix,” says Hogan, who lobbied industry stakeholders to vote for NZ First, which has pledged to increase the minimum stakes. “The politicians say you’ve got to help yourselves before going to them, but I told Winston there was only one way we could help ourselves and that’s with more money.”

Hogan persuaded Peters, racing minister for a second time after a stint in 2005, to include a pledge for an urgent clean-out at the New Zealand Racing Board. It is there, he says, that the industry is being crippled by “crazy” expenses. “Get the money out of those four walls to the three racing codes, then we will have the opportunity to help ourselves.

“Australia has got so international because everyone wants a piece of the bigger prize money on offer. Over a 12-month period, it has the highest stake money anywhere in the world.”

While Hogan will step down from the high-pressure world of breeding, he has no plans to relinquish his racing team chasing those riches. He has shares in 50 racehorses – which he acknowledges is a few too many. With 100% ownership of 31 of them, that equates to monthly bills of $100,000.

His racing team has been in the red for $380,000 and $400,000, respectively, over the past two years, but Hogan says having his green-spotted colours out on the racetrack was more about marketing and advertising than making a profit – and also about putting something back into the industry.

There have certainly been profitable seasons, such as 2009, when he banked $1.2 million from his horses, and Katie Lee became the first filly to beat up the boys in the $1 million 2000 Guineas at Riccarton, then notched the double in the $300,000 1000 Guineas.

Hogan has won numerous other feature races, including an Auckland Cup (1999) with Irish Chance, a Railway (1987) with Diamond Lover, a New Zealand Cup (2000) and Wellington Cup (2001) with Smiling Like, and a New Zealand Derby (2002) with St Reims. But although he’s bred a remarkable eight Melbourne Cup winners, Hogan still hankers to own one; his closest result so far was a sixth place in 2014 with four-time runner Precedence.

Hogan with broodmare manager Bevan McCallum.

The story of how Cambridge Stud came to breed so many champions is one of sheer hard work, a few genius innovations and a large slice of Irish luck.

While the stud today sprawls over four properties and 385ha of prime Cambridge farmland, it’s a world apart from the modest 52ha dairy farm it was in 1974. When Justine and Patrick moved a few kilometres up the road from their family farm at Fencourt Stud, they had nothing more than eight broodmares and a $130,000 mortgage.

Still recovering from the death of their prized stallion Hermes and the loss of four of their five foals that year, the couple was on the breadline. They lived in the sharemilkers’ house for years, something that didn’t escape the attention of the then rising star among Australian trainers, Bart Cummings, who went on to train a record 12 Melbourne Cup winners.

“I remember we had a filly by Summertime in the sales at Trentham, and Bart came to me and said he was going to buy her, but on one condition: I had to get Justine out of the sharemilkers’ house,” Hogan recalls. “He said the money had to be spent on building her a new one. I said okay. He paid $120,000, I think, and that would have built a house then.”

When Cummings visited the following year, he asked to see the house. Hogan bundled him into the car and set off down the farm.

“I took him a few paddocks away, When he asked where the house was, I said to look to the left.”

Perplexed, Cummings replied he could see only two horses. That, Hogan explained, was the new house. He’d bought two more broodmares instead.

Justine never questioned the policy of ploughing all their profits back into the business – it was she who instigated the first move to expand the stud by buying a neighbouring property – and, in those early days, if they weren’t buying more mares, they were fencing paddocks. In their first year, that policy nearly ruined them. But it also sowed the seeds for a bold marketing ploy that would help elevate Cambridge Stud to become the industry’s leader.

One Sunday, a telephone call came out of the blue from Melbourne trainer Geoff Murphy. He’d bought Hogan’s Hermes colt at Trentham in Wellington for $14,000, but the horse had developed a breathing problem while being broken in and was no longer a racing proposition. It was devastating news.

As soon as the auctioneers had paid Hogan his $14,000, he’d spent it all on posts and rails to replace unsafe wire fencing on the farm – then no more than bare land with a cowshed and farm building.

In those early days, under the conditions of the sale, vendors had no liability if something was subsequently found to be wrong with the animals. But Hogan knew it would reflect badly on his fledgling operation if word got about that he’d sold a dud so, on Justine’s insistence, he agreed to refund the money. It was a setback he could ill afford.

“Without the bank, we couldn’t have stayed afloat. I’d get to the sales owing money for the running of the farm for the previous six months, hoping I’d get enough at the sale to pay them off, then get another advance for the next 12 months.”

But Hogan’s honourable deed didn’t go unrewarded. The following year, Murphy deliberately bid up on Hogan’s sale yearlings, putting what Hogan estimates was an extra $80,000 into his pocket. (Murphy continued to buy big from Cambridge Stud in the following years, landing the stud’s first Melbourne Cup in 1982 with Sir Tristram star Gurner’s Lane.)

Hogan decided to guarantee every one of his yearlings, becoming the first vendor to offer a money-back deal. “If any horse was found to have an issue for six weeks after the sale, I undertook to take it back, because the problem probably existed at the sale. I had an edge over all my competitors. Other vendors were too scared to do it.”

It soon became evident the guarantee, rather than being commercial suicide, was giving buyers the confidence to bid huge money for Cambridge Stud yearlings – they’d rather pay $800,000 for a Cambridge horse than $600,000 for one from another stud with no guarantee. Hogan never flinched on the policy, even after he took a hit one year when Cummings returned a Sir Tristram colt out of Winter Folly that also developed a breathing problem (an issue that’s not uncommon with horses). Hogan had to give back $1 million.

“It didn’t hurt me because by that stage, we were smoking along. I took the risk, I guaranteed my product, guaranteed my name.”

Cambridge Stud has 90 mares and foals but, after the sale, Hogan wiill retain only a few at his nearby property, Monarch Farm.

One of six children, Hogan was destined to look after animals.

His father Tom, who came out on a boat from Ballindooley in Ireland in 1918 with nothing in his pockets, had an affinity for all animals. Tom’s brother was known in Ireland as a horse whisperer.

The money Tom Hogan saved from working on the railways in Wellington paid for a dairy herd in Taranaki, and Patrick was born the same year the family shifted north to a property in the Waikato.

As a youngster, Hogan delighted in being around all the animals on the farm and never went rabbit shooting with his mates or touched a gun. He even refused to join in their ritual of stealing eggs from nests in the hedgerows. Instead, he looked forward to working with his father’s Clydesdales and rearing piglets, calves and pedigree bulls for showing.

Showing the dairy heifers was the first sign of the competitive streak in Hogan, one that would eventually carry him to such success in the tough thoroughbred world. “I’ve always been competitive,” he says. “Even when I was eight or nine, it would annoy the shit out of me if [schoolmate] Margaret Hunt beat me. I’d try all sorts of tricks to beat her.”

New Zealand Bloodstock chairman Joe Walls was a fledgling auctioneer in his early 20s when he started seeing Hogan’s tricks at the Trentham yearling sales. It was in the early days of the national sale when Hogan was peddling unfashionably bred stock from his father’s Fencourt Stud. While other stud grooms led yearlings into the ring wearing tatty old clothes, Walls says Hogan was always snappily dressed. A few years later, when Hogan started offering stock under the banner of Cambridge Stud and Sir Tristram came along, Walls says he revolutionised the sales. Hogan’s clean trousers and shoes were complemented by a smart uniform with a cream shirt and green tie. “We weren’t at a Wednesday afternoon cattle sale,” says Hogan.

Hogan with wife Justine and daughters Nicola (left) and Erin in the early days at Fencourt Stud, before they established Cambridge Stud.

Instead of simply leading the horses in circles, he turned the process into an art form, quickly switching his charges from one side of the ring to the other to stand them under the noses of the bidders. Hogan likened himself to a Hollywood actor. Even Cambridge Stud’s horses themselves were presented differently. While it was the norm for yearlings to have their manes and tails plaited, Hogan and his friend Bob Morris decided they weren’t show horses and instead left their manes and tails free-flowing, Morris shaping them with a pair of shears. Within two years, everyone had followed suit.

Outside the sale ring, Hogan wooed his customers with hospitality that got better every year. At first, buyers could stop for an ice cream, and Justine and friend Sue Hunt offered cups of tea and coffee and homemade scones. Pretty soon, tea and bikkies had become a sumptuous banquet where weary buyers could relax in a marquee with the finest food and wine. It’s a tactic now adopted by all leading studs.

In the mid-1980s, Hogan took the wining and dining to a still higher level, with pre-sale get-togethers that became legendary. He flew in leading buyers from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and put them up in an Auckland hotel before transporting them to Cambridge Stud where, with key local buyers, they inspected his yearlings and enjoyed a dinner at the stud. The following day, he’d host fishing at Taupo, lunch on the shore and, of course, all the booze they could drink.

“It was costing me between $300,000 and $400,000, but it worked immensely well,” says Hogan. “They were made to fully understand that if they weren’t seen to bid or buy a Cambridge Stud yearling, they were not on the team the next year. Well, I tell you, they fought to buy one. It was probably the greatest marketing idea I had. In those days, I was doing an aggregate turnover of $12 million for my draft [the total number of horses a vendor offers at sale]. What would that be worth today?  I love marketing and have always done my own. It’s absolutely number one.”

Whether he was copying advertising layouts from magazines or cloning ideas gained from his trips to overseas sales, Hogan was always on the lookout for better ways to present his product. In fact, he copped plenty of criticism for being too showy when, with borrowed money, he built his stables to resemble a house, with an imposing entranceway, high-pitched roof and proper windows instead of shutters.

“My plan was when a buyer came, I’d present a yearling out front and when it was led round the corner of the stable up onto the pad, it would go from a $60,000 yearling to a $90,000 yearling because of the shop window.”

Hogan and stallion manager Sean Larkin with new star on the block Tavistock, whose stud fee rocketed to $65,000 this season.

The tale of how Hogan risked it all to buy an Irish stallion named Sir Tristram from France, against the advice of many, has been well told. Not only did the horse have a poor race record, he looked lean and weak and had badly bent hocks.

Joe Walls, who accompanied Hogan on a fruitless worldwide search for a sire in 1975, admits he himself was less than complimentary about Sir Tristram’s looks when the horse was suggested to Hogan a short time after their return. But he admired Hogan’s determination and his belief in Sir Tristram, even after the horse had survived a stable fire in England and was then kicked in the testicles when herded into a paddock with terrified mares.

When the stallion arrived in New Zealand in September 1976, Hogan didn’t even know if the horse was still fertile. And a day after his arrival, Sir Tristram revealed his man-eater side when he attacked Hogan’s brother, John, and hurled him over a fence.

The reaction when Hogan paraded the stallion for the shareholders, who had pledged to pay half the $160,000 cost, was gut-wrenching. Some pulled out of the horse, and many others who reluctantly stayed in sent their worst mares to him instead of their best. Walls remembers Hogan’s reaction. “They can get stuffed,” he’d said. “I’m keeping the horse. He’s going to be my foundation stallion.”

Hogan will tell you he simply couldn’t go past Sir Tristram’s great pedigree, but behind his stubbornness lay a good deal of patriotism. Incredibly superstitious, Hogan was hooked when he discovered the stallion was foaled in Ireland, and that the horse’s sire, Sir Ivor, also had his first season at stud in Ireland. Within a couple of years, when Sir Tristram’s early progeny such as Sovereign Red and Gurner’s Lane started winning big races in Australia, his faith in the horse was vindicated.

“The New Zealand industry has a lot to thank Patrick for,” says Walls. “All the big buyers from around the world came to buy Sir Tristrams. Robert Sangster, who was huge on the international scene, came to New Zealand only because of Sir Tristram. The Trentham sale ring was the only place you could buy one. Geoff Murphy, Tommy Smith, Colin Hayes, Bart Cummings all fell over themselves trying to get one.”

And when other Sir Tristram superstars, including Grosvenor and National Gallery, racked up more feature-race wins, Hogan was regularly getting $800,000 to $1 million for his best yearlings. Sir Tristram’s service fee, originally $1300, gradually rose and by 1990, it hit $200,000 – an unprecedented sum in New Zealand. Even at that price, Hogan had to turn away many disappointed breeders.

The stallion’s reputation spread as far as Buckingham Palace, and when Queen Elizabeth II visited New Zealand in 1986, Hogan was invited to lunch on the royal yacht Britannia, berthed in Auckland Harbour. Hogan was seated beside the Queen, who floored him with her opening question: “Don’t you think you’re a bit greedy, sending so many mares to your stallion?”

Hogan had a ready explanation. His stallion served a mare only once, when they were in heat, whereas in England many sires with a client list only half the size served mares twice or even three times, he said.

“She replied, ‘I’ve got an Irishman for a stud groom, too’ – as if to say, ‘That’s a lot of baloney…’ and it was.”

That day, he invited Her Majesty to Cambridge Stud on her next visit. But more than three years later, when Hogan fielded a telephone call from someone saying the Queen wanted to come, Hogan hung up, thinking it was a prank by his mates. When the phone rang again within minutes, he realised he’d hung up on Internal Affairs, who were calling to organise a date for the royal visit.

“There’s something you’ve got that I haven’t,” the Queen told him when she dropped by, in February 1990. “I can’t sit at lunch and look at my mares and foals.”

Nor could Hogan, usually. But that day, he’d arranged for three of his best mares to be brought to the paddock by the window with their new foals, and made sure they stayed put by laying a trail of oats along the fenceline.

A statue of Sir Tristram dominates the courtyard at Cambridge Stud, a memorial to the stallion Hogan bought against all advice.

Visitors to the stud these days are greeted by an imposing, life-sized sculpture of Sir Tristram on the front lawn, where in May 1997 he was buried in a sitting position with his back to the rising sun, true to an ancient tradition. Next to him, in a small urn, were laid the ashes of stable cat Niggy, which had slept with Sir Tristram every night, before his own death at the age of 19 only months earlier.

Alongside a huge marble plaque commemorating the deeds of Sir Tristram is a memorial to the sire’s son, Zabeel, which died in September 2015, after serving 22 years at the stud, his achievements eclipsing those of his dad. On the adjoining marble wall are inscribed details of each of Zabeel’s 46 individual Group I winners – one more than Sir Tristram, whose figures at the time were a world record. Hogan knows he has nothing in his final January draft like the Zabeel-Diamond Lover colt that fetched a record $3.6 million at Karaka in 2000.

He admits to being relieved that, at 78, he doesn’t have to manage another champion sire, although Cambridge Stud’s latest find, Tavistock, is fast becoming one of the most sought-after stallions, seeing his fee rocket to $65,000 this season.

Could lightning strike three times? You wouldn’t bet against it. But for the master horseman, it’s time to hand over the reins.    

This was published in the January 2018 issue of North & South.

 

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