Haigslea's Oakwood Farm plays host to racing royalty
THERE'S a place on a quiet country road surrounded by peaceful hills at Haisglea where some of the biggest names in horse racing have stayed.
Oakwood Farm has played host to Apache Cat, Bel Esprit, Private Steer, Shoot Out and Yippyio among dozens of racing luminaries and countless other horses.
Oakwood specialises as thoroughbred spelling farm as well as yearling preparation and pre-training.
In other words, horses are sent there to have a rest, be prepared for sale or work and it has built a reputation as one of the best in Queensland.
The most common scenario with racehorses is they stay on for a month after coming north or from New Zealand for the Brisbane Winter Carnival to miss the cold of home.
A big sign just inside the door of the main stable lists the best-known of those who have stayed at Oakwood Farm. Owner Bob Wood who runs the place with daughter Sheridan Victor says it needs to be updated.
"One year we had seven horses that started in the Melbourne Cup that had been here over the winter," Sheridan said.
"Sometimes you don't know who they are and they don't look anything special and then you find out who they are."
Bob says they've had 37 Group 1 winners there in the last five years.
"They've either been sold or bought or reared up," he said. "We do a lot of business with Singapore and South Africa. We breed a lot and we sell a lot."
Oakwood stands two stallions, the former Dutch Harry and Top Echelon who sired last year's Stradbroke Handicap winner River Lad and former North Queenslander Our Boy Malachi.
"We had show horses back in the 70s and then Sheridan started to show-jump in the 80s," Mr Wood said.
"We had success with the show horses. We won at the Sydney Show and Sheridan was successful at show-jumping.
"We've had two horses that went to the Olympics as show-jumpers; one in Sydney and the other in China. We've still got some show hacks around the place.
"Rolling Thunder was the show-jumper we had that was in the Olympics in Sydney.
"As a racehorse he was so slow he had three trials in Toowoomba and never came around the home turn before the rest of them had gone past the post.
"A bloke we know called Ronnie Easey who rode him in the Games got him going and ended up getting $700,000 American for him."
Bob said he retired in about 1990 from his job as a sales manager with Goodman Fielder. He started with a house and property on Linnings Rd.
"Our first customer was a bloke called Richie Stephenson a trainer from Toowoomba. He's still with us after all these years," Bob said.
"We really just came here to move out of Brisbane. We came here not with the intention of doing this but we just decided, through the encouragement of Richie Stephenson, that we'd spell a few and it just grew from there."
The first property was about 50 acres and they bought up more over the years.
"Sheridan came here in 2001 and now there's 300 acres and five houses. The staff have three, Sheridan lives up the back and my wife and I live in the original house," Mr Wood said.
Sheridan said: "We're really lucky because we've got such great long-time staff. We wouldn't be where we are without them.
In the early days they did a lot of yearling sales acting as agents for people selling the youngsters.
One that stood out was the sale of mares that belonged to high-flying Gold Coast owner Paul Makin.
That brought $21.7 million with Private Steer selling for $1.4 million.
"We've sort of changed direction in the last couple of years. The sales side of it we've scaled down a fair bit. We're a bit sick of it," Bob said.
"We've got to go to the Gold Coast back and forth every day for two, two and a half weeks."
The spelling is less stressful but still takes a lot of care when dealing with valuable commodities.
"Probably the first couple of years we didn't do much spelling but I'd say 17, 18 years we've done spelling and we graduated from 20 horses to 50 to 100 to 200 now we keep all the time," Bob said.
"We've got 80 stables and 140 half-acre yards.
"We spell for Anthony Cummings, the Moroneys, John O'Shea came here for a lot of years, Clarrie Connors. We used to do a lot of ready-to-run horses and I think we hold the Australian record of $850,000. We've had Rocket Man.
"We bought him from Adelaide and sold him to Singapore and he won $6.5 million."