Kiwi connections abound in Australian-bred star

By Dennis Ryan

20 Apr 2022

Kiwi connections abound in Australian-bred starDual Group One-winning filly Imperatriz has a wealth of Kiwi connections

Dual Group One winner Imperatriz carries the (AUS) suffix denoting her country of origin, however there’s a wealth of Kiwi connections – some obvious and others less so – in her make-up.
The most apparent is the Te Akau Racing syndicate who signed into the ownership of the I Am Invincible filly after David Ellis had paid A$360,000 for her at the Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale in January 2020.
Last Saturday’s Fiber Fresh New Zealand Thoroughbred Stakes winner was bred by Raffles Dancer Pty. That entity, headed by Malaysia’s Yap family, had a former base in New Zealand along with a significant presence in Australian breeding and racing, where their bloodstock have been managed by Hunter Valley operation Bhima Thoroughbreds.
That adds another New Zealand thread to the equation, one that many industry insiders are aware of, but perhaps not so the wider public. Bhima, a 750-acre property on the outskirts of Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales, is owned and operated by New Zealander Mike Fleming and his Queensland-born wife Kate.
Fleming’s industry involvement began in his early teens working in his home town, Christchurch, as a stablehand for trainer Michael Pitman. That led to a jockey’s apprenticeship in the mid-1980s when he rode seven winners from just over 100 raceday rides before increasing weight forced a change in direction.
He saw a future in the breeding side of the industry and moved to the Waikato and a five-year stud groom role with Norm Hawthorne’s Paramount Lodge, followed by a similar period at Cambridge Stud, where he was to meet his future wife. The Flemings relocated to Australia 18 years ago to manage Brooklyn Lodge in the Hunter Valley, offering agistment and associated services to broodmare owners, both local and from across the Tasman.
That management role led to the opportunity to lease another property, which was the genesis of the Fleming’s owner-operated business that was to go up another notch with their purchase a decade ago of one the Hunter Valley’s renowned farms, Bhima. That fame dated back to when Bhima Stud was home to champion 1970s and ’80s stallion Biscay, whose progeny included another champion from the Star Kingdom sire-line in Marscay.
Bred on the property by leading owners Geoff and Beryl White, Marscay was the first in a long line of quality horses to carry their white with purple star racing colours. When construction magnate Geoff White died in 2012, the opportunity arose for Mike and Kate Fleming to purchase Bhima Farm, which the Whites had operated under the name Invermein.
“It seemed the right thing to change the farm’s name back to Bhima,” Mike Fleming told RaceForm earlier this week. “There’s so much history in that name going all the way back to when Biscay stood there.”
From the very start, the Flemings have been strongly supported by New Zealand breeders seeking their broodmare management services as well as sales preparation. Cambridge Stud, Pencarrow, Haunui Farm and Wentwood Grange are some of the prominent names amongst long-time supporters, as have been Australian Jonathan Munz’s GSA Bloodstock, managed by Norm Hawthorne’s New Zealand-based son Dean, and Raffles Farm.
“It’s a great location here with so many of the major studs close by, we’re fully irrigated and able to offer a full range of services, so it’s good to be so well supported,” added Fleming. “We’ve got very good staff – a dozen full-time – Kate and I are hands-on and we carry around 100-120 mares year-round as well as 40 to 50 seasonal mares from New Zealand.”
Bhima also prepares yearlings for all major sales on the eastern seaboard, having just completed another successful Australian Easter Yearling Sale where their draft included two seven-figure results. The racing and breeding game is very much about relationships, which in the case of Imperatriz played a part in her changing hands at the 2020 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.
“During my time in Singapore I trained quite a few Raffles horses for Dato Yap and his family,” said Mark Walker, who at the start of this month took over the training of the Te Akau’s Matamata stable from Hong Kong-bound Jamie Richards.
“I was at the Magic Millions Sale that year doing the rounds and it seemed like the natural thing to do to include Bhima’s I Am Invincible filly on my list.
“She was an easy filly to like, a great type with plenty of scope and she seemed to have the temperament to go with it, so it was great to be able to buy her.”
Knocked down for A$360,000, Mike Fleming felt at the time that the upstanding brown from the stakes-placed Shamardal mare Berimbau was good buying.
“Right from when we foaled her she was an exceptional filly. You always get two or three that stand out, and she was definitely one of those. At the time I thought she was well bought by Te Akau, and I knew she was in good hands.
“They’ve proven they can get the best out of a horse, which includes campaigning at the Australian carnivals, so it would be great to see this filly back over here at some stage.”
Now with Group One wins at her last two starts, Imperatriz is the third Group One winner bred by Raffles after 2013 New Zealand Oaks winner More Than Sacred and 2014 ATC Flight Stakes winner First Seal. Her comprehensive defeat last Saturday of Group One-winning mares Coventina Bay and Two Illicit has virtually assured her of the opportunity to be tried against the best in Australia as a four-year-old.