She Will Reign: Best Bargain Ever?

By Kelsey Riley

With the inaugural running of the A$10-million The Everest approaching at Randwick on Saturday, we look back at the story behind leading contender She Will Reign in Part 2 of this two-part installment (click here for Part 1).

A week after breaking her maiden in near track record time last December, She Will Reign (Aus) (Manhattan Rain {Aus}) thrashed the opposition in the Inglis Nursery, a race won by her dam seven years earlier. She opened her autumn prep with a win over males in the G2 Silver Slipper S. before avenging her Reisling defeat in the Slipper. She lines up as the early favourite for The Everest off a breathtaking first-up score in the G1 Schweppes S. (formerly the Moir S.) at Moonee Valley on Sept. 29. Should she win The Everest, She Will Reign will push her bankroll past A$8.6-million. Not bad for a A$20,000 price tag at last year’s Inglis Classic Sale, and that would put her among the most profitable yearling purchases ever in Australia.

Darby noted that She Will Reign had an 11-week spell between her 2- and 3-year-old campaigns.

“That is a lot longer than most Slipper winners get because we’re only targeting a couple races [for the spring],” Darby noted. “She’s stronger, she’s grown, she looks a lot more mature and hopefully she can make that big leap from 2-year-old to 3-year-old.”

She Will Reign’s Schweppes win suggested she has made that leap, and with entries in the G1 Manikato S. and G1 Darley Classic later in the season, she could give her connections plenty to look forward to this season.

That doesn’t mean the team is content to rest on its laurels, however. Changes made this year to Australia’s syndication licensing rules has given Darby Racing greater spending power, and it came home from this year’s yearling sales with an additional 37 youngsters on the books including a pair of colts by Snitzel (Aus), one of which was purchased for a Darby record of A$330,000 at the Inglis Premier sale and is in training with Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott.

“This year is the first year they’ve changed the rules for our license,” Darby explained. “Previous to this year you could only syndicate to a maximum value, including advertising and profit, of A$250,000. That meant you were looking at a top-end price of maybe A$180,000, and then add costs on to syndicate to A$250,000. This year it’s been lifted to A$500,000, and they’ve also changed the participants. Before this year it was only 20 participants in a horse; it’s now 50, so you can break that share down further to 2% shares if you need. That’s allowed us to buy into some of these higher-end colts and some fillies that we paid a little more than we normally do.”

Darby said buying colts as stallion prospects is very much on the agenda, but that they will also keep spending at the level they have become known for.

“It has enabled us to dabble at the higher end, but if we’re doing 30 a year there will be 10 and under at the bottom end, six or seven at the top end and everything else where we’ve always shopped at, around the A$50,000, A$60,000 and A$70,000 mark,” he said. “It would be nice for one of these higher-end horses to put their hand up this season. I think at the moment our track record with the cheap horses is sticking with us. It would be nice to have something from both ends.”

Setsuna (Aus) (Choisir {Aus}), a A$55,000 buy from last year’s Classic sale, provided an indication of the strength of the syndicate’s 2-year-old crop when finishing a good second in the Listed Gimcrack S., the first juvenile race of the season for fillies, at Randwick on Sept. 30 for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott.

Darby Racing added another team member last year when Irish-based agent Hubie de Burgh came on board for the main yearling sales. Darby had met de Burgh when he hired him to purchase the filly Eesha (Fr) (Zamindar {GB}) out of France from the Aga Khan to make into an Australian Cups horse. That filly didn’t quite work out, but Darby said he was encouraged by the experience and has sent de Burgh out this year with greater spending power.

“We probably didn’t have a big enough budget [last year], but we needed to dip our toe in,” he explained. “We’ve got him on the job this year with a much bigger budget. His record of importing horses to win Cups and whatnot is second to none, and I’ve given him the mission to find the right horse this year. The first one we didn’t spend a lot of money on and it didn’t work out, but we have a much bigger budget this year and we’ll certainly find something that can compete in our bigger staying races.”

“It’s very hard to syndicate a stayer as a yearling,” Darby added. “The best option for a syndicator is to stick to your sprinter/milers and if you want to delve into the staying ranks, which you need to because that’s where a lot of our bigger prize money is, I think overseas is where you need to be looking.”

In the meantime, de Burgh assisted Darby and his team at this year’s Magic Millions Gold Coast and Inglis Easter yearling sales.

“We have formed a great friendship,” Darby noted. “Myself and Mark Holland do the majority of the selecting and we have a very similar taste, so it’s great to add that international flavour to the team. He’s shopped mainly at the top end, so particularly when we’re looking at those top-end horses he can put a different perspective on it. He’s been fantastic, he’s just a great fellow and we enjoy his company.”

Nearly 10 years on from when he started Darby Racing from his garage, Darby is able to look back and reflect on how his syndicate, and the game of syndication in general, has evolved. Darby was introduced to racing by a friend at 16 and subsequently dabbled in nearly every facet of the industry before almost accidentally falling into syndication when asked to help sell a few horses. He noted that back then, placing an ad for a horse on the racing channel would nearly guarantee it to sell out, but today the landscape has tilted towards social media as a selling platform.

“These days with Facebook and Twitter and that sort of thing, the TV doesn’t have as big an effect,” Darby explained. “Word of mouth is one of our biggest sellers; the racing industry is pretty word-of-mouth driven, but three or four years ago we were struggling a bit selling horses, and my brother said, ‘why don’t you advertise on Facebook?’ I said, ‘Facebook? Who’s going to buy a share on Facebook?’ He said, ‘It’s worth a try.’ Now it’s out-selling TV three-to-one probably.”

Darby said his team has also developed a distinct feel of what they’re looking for in a horse.

“The last seven or eight years we’ve worked very hard on the bloodstock side of things, honing our skills,” he explained. “When we first started 10 years ago it was quite daunting going to a sale, we were probably relying on trainers to help us select the horses, but between myself and Mark Holland in the last six or seven years we’ve worked tirelessly and analysed what sort of horses we’d like to buy and why. That’s forever changing and certainly in the last few years it’s really started to take shape.”

The success of Yankee Rose and She Will Reign has given the team confidence to trust that eye, and others selected under the same criteria include Listed Gimcrack S. and G3 Maribyrnong Plate winner Our Joan Of Arc (Aus) (Beautiful Crown), a A$15,000 yearling, as well as Look To The Stars (Aus) (I Am Invincible {Aus}), a A$26,000 yearling who was sold on for A$600,000 as a broodmare.

“I think early on you tend to look more just at straight pedigrees and not so much the individual, because at the end of the day you need to syndicate them,” he added. “These days it’s more an instinctive feel when a horse walks out. Besides everything being in the right place and the pedigree being right, there’s an instinctive feel about the athlete you’re looking at, whether they fit the mould of what you’ve had success with or what you particularly like yourself. It’s amazing how that transition has taken place over the last six years. Anyone can hone in and work hard at their skill. Although selecting Thoroughbreds isn’t an exact science, we certainly work probably more on an instinctive feel now, and the pedigree will then determine what we’re going to pay for it and whether we can actually syndicate it.”

The Darby Racing team also relies on its faith to steer it in its business decisions.

“One thing also that I think is very important for us as a company and me personally is our belief in God,” Darby said. “We’re all, except for one of us in here, Christians, and we give the glory to him for helping us select these horses and the success we’ve had. He certainly leads us in our endeavours, that’s for sure.”

While Darby Racing has gained international attention, Darby admitted he prefers to stay grounded in Australia where, a few years ago, he purchased a small, private broodmare farm with his wife Renee to work on as a side project.

“I’m not much of a traveler, I’m a bit of a homebody myself,” he said. “I’ve got a young family, which most of us here do. We’re planning on doing it [traveling] in the future, but I’m lucky to see parts of Australia, let alone Royal Ascot or Hong Kong or the States.”

With much to look forward to during the spring racing season, Darby will have plenty to keep him busy in Australia for the foreseeable future.

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