Brian Marheine was breaking in pit ponies for his family�s coal mines when still only 14 and he has maintained an interest in all types of horses since. This of course encompassed racehorses with much success including winning the AJC Derby with Dr. Grace.
His children all developed the same interest, son Philip becoming a state representative polo player while daughters Judy and Susan were involved in pony club.
Judy and Philip directed their attention then to the family�s cattle breeding and cropping operations at Warrah Station, Willow Tree, while Susan took to show riding with the usual level of family support.
In fact, on the Easter Saturday that Dr Grace was winning hundreds of thousands of dollars at Randwick in 1990, the whole family was at Sydney Showground watching their horse Galloping Gourmet win the Sydney Royal Champion Hack - a tri-colour sash valued at $15 - then dashing around to the TAB to watch the Derby.
However at about the time when a considerable offer was received for Warrah Station, the Stratheden Stud property at Tamworth also came on the market.
Now managed by Judy Marheine, Stratheden has become a very professional breeding and rearing operation, although at first it was seen more as an investment.
�We only inspected Stratheden two days prior to the sale and thought it would be a good investment in the long run and in the meantime the idea of continuing to run the stud was something we felt we could handle,� Judy said.
To increase their numbers of thoroughbreds for the new venture they began looking for well bred mares, starting with six from the dispersal sale held on the property in 1996 and acquiring resident stallion, Switch in Time.
Later, at the Newhaven Park broodmare dispersal, another seven mares were bought which included the American import Sommes Sound and then Brian and Susan went to England and purchased a further five.
�It has given us a very good foundation,� explains Judy of the approach, �but we are still looking to upgrade the broodmare band. Inevitably you get some which are poor breeders so they have to go and be replaced. �This is very much a commercial operation and at the end of the day the $30,000 yearling eats just as much as the $300,000 one. Commercially you need to look at $300,000 product.�
As well as looking for further mares to buy, the stud is keeping some of its better bred fillies, like a Peintre Celebre out of New Acquaintance and a Marscay out of Fair Maid of Kent.
�It�s certainly not easy,� reflects Judy. �There is a lot of luck involved but successful people work hard at luck. You have to keep at it. A champion can come from anywhere.�
The optimum number for the stud is about 40 top quality mares. They actually have around that number now, but as Judy says, �Some are not up to the standard we set and as fillies are brought in at one end we are pushing these out at the other end.�
�Our perfect aim for this number would be to have say 15 yearlings that qualify for each of the Magic Millions and Easter Sales each year.� While achieving an Australasian record for a yearling filly of $1.5million at the Inglis Easter Sales came as a delightful surprise to the Marheine family of Stratheden Stud, it was not surprising that a family with such a long history of breeding livestock and handling and preparing horses should achieve such a result.
When it comes to stallions, although they have been successful in attracting mares to Switch in Time and to Pauillac, the Star Watch horse that was acquired a year after they brought the property, it has been decided to wind down this side of the stud because basically of the emphasis on breeding for the top end.
�Although Tamworth has a great airline connection for clients wanting to inspect yearlings, it is a bit impractical for walk-on mares,� explains Judy.
Both stallions will be re-located this season but the stud will still have a resident stallion. �Vitrinite was a very good racehorse for Dad and his partners but he was a bit unlucky. He ran in Group company most of the time and if some of the places he ran had been wins he would have won over a million instead of $485,000,� Judy points out.
Being a cross of Star Kingdom, Century and Oncidium with no Northern Dancer, Mr Prospector or Sir Tristram blood, his fillies could have a lot of residual value. It also means that the clients who have supported the previous stallions will still have an alternative in their price range (in 2001 Vitrinite stood for $2500).
When it comes to choosing outside stallions for the stud�s own mares it is still very much a family affair. As Judy says, �the great debate rages around here for weeks.� �We know that once it�s joined you are locked in. We look at the commercial point of view, how the yearling will sell and try to duplicate how certain sires have crossed successfully with certain mare lines.
�We have found Snippets to be a fabulous commercial stallion for first season mares, that�s how we bred Snowland. And we are glad that Royal Academy is back. We will send Gatana back to him to breed a fullbrother or sister to Piccadilly Circus (Blue Diamond Prelude winner and dam of Cirque du Soleil).
�We approach first season sires with caution,� she adds. �We supported Over this year but that was partly sentimental as he is by Dr Grace, although we wouldn�t have used him if he we didn�t think he would be commercially successful.
�We probably under appreciated Dr Grace at the time he went to stud and then suddenly it was too late. We only have one filly by him which is Satin Covers out of Satin Sand.
�Trying to find the next Dr Grace is a huge challenge.�
The marketing emphasis of the stud is to build on the success of Stratheden bred racehorses, not only Assertive Lad, Snowland etc here in Australia, but also particularly in Hong Kong, where five Stratheden bred horses have been winners.
These include V-Can, who won in South Africa as Da-Man and won first up in Hong Kong after a 30 day quarantine delay in the USA. On the night he won at Sha Tin there were three horses racing that were bred by the stud, another being five times Hong Kong winner Merry Merry.
But not only is the right pedigree important, so is the rearing of yearlings to present them for sale.
Of the 485 acres on Stratheden,160 are sown to lucerne for making hay and there is an ongoing pasture improvement and tree planting program.
�The lucerne we grow here consistently tests around 22% protein and even as chaff it�s over 20%. We have planted 1986 trees and installed 70 acres of sub-surface irrigation which enables us to cut lucerne every 19 days,� Judy proudly outlines.
�Our management strategy here is based on �how do you eat an elephant� - bit by bit! However it is so important to get it right we are prepared to take time prioritising the agenda.�
The management approach is certainly working, not just demonstrated in the sale ring, but in the breeding paddocks also, an example being the Sir Tristram mare Beanramah, who came to Stratheden with a reputation for being an extremely difficult breeder and is now pregnant for the fourth year in a row, with a Dr Fong filly at foot and in foal to Hurricane Sky.
The experience of Judy Marheine and the whole family in operating commercial livestock breeding enterprises over many years is very evident in the success of Stratheden after just six years under their management. Their 2002 Easter success is certain to be repeated many times over ensuing years if dedication, experience and a genuine love of what you are doing count for anything.
Turf Monthly March 2002
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