Farming takes precedence over festival race-going

All About Magic
All About Magic winning the Listed Timaru Stakes (1400m) last year. Photo: Race Images CHCH

While many New Zealanders are enjoying the entertainment of festive season racing, South Canterbury farming couple Stephanie Rathgen and Grant Midgley have priorities that prevent them from being on-course to cheer home the current star of their racing string, All About Magic.

While the Michael and Matthew Pitman-trained five-year-old has been campaigning on the West Coast circuit, Rathgen and Midgely have had more than enough to occupy them on their 3,000-hectare property near Twizel.

On Monday they were harvesting silage for their winter fodder stores, while on the other side of the Southern Alps, All About Magic was taking her winning tally to six with victory in the Miss Scenicland Stakes (1500m) at Greymouth’s Omoto racecourse.

It will again be a case of work before pleasure when the Showcasing mare lines up tomorrow in the Vernon & Vazey Truck Parts Kumara Gold Nuggets (1810m).

“It was great to see her win again and we’re hoping for another good run at Kumara, but we can only watch from here as the farm comes first at this time of the year,” Rathgen said on Friday, fresh from helping drench 1,500 lambs.

“We’ll be through this crazy period in a month or so and when things do quieten down a bit we’ll hopefully be able to take day-trips to the races closer to home.”

Rathgen is a lifetime horsewoman, competing on the South Island showjumping circuit before being drawn towards racing and breeding several years ago.

“Grant’s grand-parents raced horses but he’s a farmer through and through, so I suppose I’m the one with the horse bug,” she said.

All About Magic’s dam Rosecroft, by Montjeu from the Moore family’s prolific Soliloquy dynasty, was an early purchase, costing NZD$7,000 at the 2017 Karaka Mixed Bloodstock Sale.

The service she was carrying to Showcasing became All About Magic, who provided an early windfall when winning three times as a two-year-old at Riccarton, the last of them the Listed Berkley Stud Champagne Stakes (1200m).

Subsequent wins include the Listed Speight’s Timaru Stakes (1200m) earlier this year and also at Riccarton, while various feature race placings include second in the Group 3 Valachi Downs South Island Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) last autumn.

Rathgen and Midgley also bred and race Mackenzie Lad (Vespa), a winner twice at two last season and stakes-placed three times ahead of his sixth placing in the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld NZ 2000 Guineas (1600m). He resumed at Wingatui on Boxing Day with a late-closing second, an encouraging pointer for upcoming three-year-old features.

Mackenzie Lad fits a similar profile to All About Magic as the progeny of another mare, Tallulah Belle (Iffraaj), bought by Rathgen for NZD$7,000 from the 2017 Karaka Mixed Sale.

Other judicious purchases include Olden Days (No Excuse Needed), a sister to the dam of New Zealand 2000 Guineas winner Madison County, who cost just NZD$3,000 in-foal to Madison County’s sire Pins at the same sale.

Other mares in the Grantleigh Farm band include another by Iffraaj as well as daughters of Savabeel and Darci Brahma, while the range of stallions being bred to include Ocean Park, Per Incanto, Tivaci, Belardo, US Navy Flag, Vadamos, Embellish and Time Test.

“We’re quite a way from those North Island studs but Majestic Horse Floats work in well with us as far as getting the mares up there and bringing them and their foals home.

“It’s beautiful country here, great for rearing horses, with most of the property flat to rolling and suitable for cropping.

“It can get cold too, but we’ve got stables on hand so that if we do happen to get a snow event we can get everything inside.”

From an original business model of selling a portion of the annual crop through the South Island Sale, the tried horse market is now more attractive.

“One of the changes brought by COVID includes the South Island Sale, so now we’ve opted to put them on the track and trade that way,” explained Rathgen.

“Like any business, it’s all got to pay for itself.”

One horse that is staying is All About Magic, who has understandably attracted overtures from the time she started winning, but none of those has been entertained.

“We’ve had a few offers along the way but we really don’t want to part with her; she’s a lovely mare and I like the idea of adding her to our broodmare band.

“Just when that is we haven’t decided, but while she’s racing well we’re keen to keep her going.”

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