Hallmark record captures hearts at Karaka 2024

By Dennis Ryan

31 Jan 2024

Hallmark record captures hearts at Karaka 2024Hallmark Stud’s $1.6 million record-breaking filly with her groom Charlotte Hook.

Every year as we reflect on the annual National Yearling Sale, there’s no shortage of stories that sum up all that goes into selling and buying the next crop of racetrack stars.
There’s no contest that the feel-good story of Karaka 2024 surrounded the sale-topping sister to multiple Group One winner Prowess, bred by Hallmark Stud and sold for $1.6 million. There are multiple layers to Lot 21 – a record for a filly at Karaka and another chapter in the rise of her sire Proisir, but most of all what it meant for one of the most popular families in thoroughbred breeding.
Patriarch Denny Baker has been in the game since the late 1960s when he was employed by John Malcolm at what back then was known as Kinross Stud, easily found on State Highway One in the northern Waikato region of Te Kauwhata. The champion stallion Summertime had put Kinross on the Australasian map through the late 1950s and ’60s, and while no other stallion based there has gone close to matching his achievements, the fact that the same property remains active is a testament to the Baker family.
Denny and Lyn Baker’s connection to the farm that began as Kinross was interrupted when Malcolm sold up in the mid-70s and they set up on a smaller property just down the road, naming it Hallmark Stud. Combining a single stallion with sales preparation and education of young horses – and even working nights as a barman at the local pub to help pay the bills – Baker remained staunch and determined to secure a place in the industry.
Son Mark provided further incentive by inheriting his father’s passion, and after gaining experience overseas that included time with that doyen of Irish horsemen, Vincent O’Brien, he and his parents joined forces when the original Kinross Stud property came on the market in the late 1980s.
Three generations of the Baker family are now involved and in the first hour of selling at Karaka last Sunday, they got the reward they deserved when Lot 21 entered the ring. Three years earlier they had presented an older Proisir filly from their $20,000 broodmare purchase Donna Marie and were more than satisfied when she was knocked down to Roger James and Robert Wellwood at $230,000.
Subsequent events – most of all the filly named Prowess winning Group Ones on both sides of the Tasman and Proisir claiming last season’s premiership – reset the compass on what Donna Marie’s 2022 filly might be worth. $1 million was a result that Mark Baker dared to ponder, but once bidding opened and her $300,000 reserve was immediately smashed out of the ballpark, the fireworks were unrelenting.
Charlotte Hook, a more than 30-year Hallmark employee and a mainstay of the yearling team as she hums away to her young charges, reflected later that when bidding broke the $1 million barrier she almost lost her composure.
“I started to get all misty-eyed and I had to say to myself ‘Get a grip girl, you’ve got a job to do!’ It was happening so fast, it was hard to take it all in, and it was unbelievable when they landed on $1.6 million.”
Behind auctioneer Steve Davis in the vendors’ box, Mark Baker was in similar frame of mind and even hours later still trying to grasp the reality of what he and his team had experienced as Victorian trainer Peter Moody fought off a myriad of bidders in what he later described as a “big dive into the ocean”.
“I’m having to pinch myself, it’s going to take a long time to sink in,” Baker told RaceForm. “This is fantastic though, most of all for Denny and our whole team. Everyone puts in and to be rewarded like this is just brilliant.”
Holding the fort at Barn D on the Karaka complex, Baker senior was likewise trying to get his head around what had just happened – but he did have a logical rationale.
“I’ve foaled a lot of mares over the years and handled I don’t know how many young ones on the way through,” the 82-year-old font of wisdom said. “This filly stood out in that first hour she was born, the same when she was a month old and right up to this sale, she’s just been one of those special horses.”
Back at Hallmark Stud on Summertime Lane, just off the Waikato Expressway, it will be business as usual once the hubbub and celebrations of Karaka 2024 have abated. Out on the rolling hills there’s another Proisir filly at foot, Donna Marie is back in foal to Proisir and after such a payday the Bakers mightn’t have to take the 2023 filly to market.
That’s yet to be confirmed, but something that will never change is the impact that Hallmark Stud made at Karaka 2024.