Prowess strengthens ties between old mates

By Dennis Ryan

15 Mar 2023

Prowess strengthens ties between old matesHallmark Stud-bred filly Prowess (left) makes it five Group One winners for Proisir with her victory

A friendship forged between two young Kiwi horsemen nearly four decades ago bore Group One fruit last weekend when Prowess upstaged her older rivals in the Gr. 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes at Pukekohe.
Mark Baker and John Thompson were just starting out in their respective careers in the bloodstock industry when their paths crossed in Ireland. Baker, the son of Te Kauwhata’s Hallmark Stud founders Denny and Lynn Baker, was on a two-year stint with legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle, County Tipperary.
Thompson, whose father Colin was a prominent Matamata veterinarian and breeder, did what so many young New Zealanders have done over the years, heading off in the southern off-season and working at Mount Coote Stud in County Limerick.
“I had gone to South Africa on a flight taking yearlings bought at the sales by Chris Smith and ended up playing rugby in Cape Town,” Baker told RaceForm. “Chris said he could get me into Ballydoyle working alongside Vincent O’Brien, which sounded like an incredible opportunity, but the catch was it was unpaid.
“I discussed it with Denny, and he and Mum agreed to sponsor me and give me the chance to learn as much as I could. I knew it was a great experience at the time being involved in that amazing organisation and learning off an absolute genius, and I’ve appreciated it so much more in the years since.”
It wasn’t all work for Baker, which included finding time to cross tracks with Thompson, who was working in the neighbouring county.
“Thomo and I got into all sorts of trouble – I suppose a couple of young guys enjoying themselves away from home – and we’ve been mates ever since.
“When I got home I did a couple of yearling preps under Patrick (Hogan) at Cambridge Stud, which is where Thomo was also working at the time. I ended up joining forces with Denny back at Hallmark and John set about on a plan that ended up as Rich Hill Stud.
“Part of the Hallmark model has been to invest in stallion shares and that includes horses standing at Rich Hill. Any Suggestion was an early one and since then we’ve taken shares in Shocking, Ace High and Proisir. We’ve got shares in other stallions like Hello Youmzain, Tivaci, Ocean Park and Eminent, and a breeding right to Derryn.”
The Proisir share led to a filly from the Don Eduardo mare Donna Marie in Hallmark’s 2021 National Yearling Sale draft that caught the eye of a number of keen judges. Among them was Cambridge trainer Roger James, holding a commission from Bay of Plenty construction business owner Dean Skipper, and James came out on top of a keen bidding duel to secure the attractive bay for $230,000.
That auction price for the filly now known as Prowess was the best by any yearling by Proisir to that point and has since become a bargain. Six wins from eight races and the last four in succession capped by Saturday’s Bonecrusher Stakes victory have earned stakes close to $1 million and a value well beyond that.
“We bought Donna Marie as a young mare for $20,000 in foal to Foxwedge nearly 10 years ago,” Baker recalled. “We thought that Proisir over that Don Eduardo blood would really work and the filly we got was a standout from day one. We knew once she was selected for Book 1 at Karaka that we would get a good result.
“Well done to Roger (James) and Robert (Wellwood) for identifying her and having someone like Dean Skipper backing their judgement. They’ve made all the right moves with her, and what a brave move to pull her out of the Derby and have her at peak for a weight-for-age win just a week later.”
Hallmark Std has stood a number of stallions over the years, but none has threatened to win a premiership. The latest is former champion Singapore galloper Super Easy, who attracted good numbers in his early years and has sired seven stakes winners headed by the Hallmark-reared Group Two winner and dual Group One-placed Bonny Lass.
“With a national broodmare pool that has dropped from 7,000 to less than 3,000, it’s just become too tough to stand a certain type of stallion, one that the old style of farmer-breeder would support,” Baker says. “I take my hat off to those studmasters who are still making it work – we need every one of those stallions.”
At the helm of Rich Hill, that profile ably fits John Thompson, who an associate recently described in light-hearted recognition of the rapid emergence of Proisir, as an overnight sensation who took “only” 30 years to get there.
Saturday’s Bonecrusher Stakes win by Prowess took Proisir’s tally of Group One winners to five, with a total of nine elite wins between them. Levante was his first with a Group One double early last year, and all five have won Group Ones this season.
Another layer was added to Rich Hill’s huge season when the home-bred Tokyo Tycoon credited his sire Satono Aladdin with his Group One breakthrough in the Sistema Stakes. Other progeny from the first two crops of the Japanese shuttle include the Group Three winners Grand Impact and Sacred Satono, along with Japanese Emperor, who finished third to Proisir filly Legarto in last week’s Gr. 1 Australian Guineas.
“I’ve always enjoyed being involved with Thomo,” Baker added. “Our share in Proisir has already produced a big result plus we’ve got a lovely sister to Prowess that will probably go to the sales next year and the mare is back in foal to him.
“Thomo’s always enthusiastic about his product, and I think it’s fair to say he’s one-eyed biased, which you can understand – even if you have to bend his arm to buy a round for his mates!”