Brian West heads into retirement on a high

By Rob Courtney

February 2024 will always be a pivotal month in the life of Brian West.

On Monday, February 19 he was awarded Breeder of the Year at the Harness Racing New Zealand annual awards.

On Wednesday February 21 he equalled the record for a yearling sale in this country when his Studholme Bloodstock sold Don't Stop Dreaming's full brother (Bettor's Delight - Start Dreaming) for $340,000.

In all Studholme sold 11 of 16 yearlings offered at the NZB Standardbred National Yearling Sales, worth a total $833,500.

With West deciding to step down from the day to day running of the stud the sales represented a crowning moment in a 50 year journey that has seen West survive then prosper from years of hard work.

This journey began he thinks around the age of 12 with West fondly remembering going to the country race meetings like Methven with his grandfather who was a small time ‘punter’.

“The people, the colours, the sound of thundering hooves were all part of the attraction,” recalls West.

That and the small share of a place bet with the grandfather !

West originally wanted to be an accountant but a short working stint in a local bank soon turned him off that idea.

Another idea was to find work in the horse industry and when a job opportunity came up in a Canterbury stable, his father quickly poured cold water on that so a thought of becoming another Maurice Holmes was rather pushed to the side.

And so it was that West became invested in an import licences company at a time when supermarkets were really taking off in NZ and eventually this grew big enough for him to set up his own business, supplying supermarket equipment.

Around this time, (the early 80’s) those who were able, were investing in bloodstock as a means of tax relief and West and associates set up the Yonkers Breeding Partnership with investors providing capital to purchase broodmares such as Dream Bel (Lumber Dream – Avon Bel)

“We used the expertise of Ivan Schwamm at the time, he knew a lot about the bloodlines and he selected the mares on our behalf”, West explained.

Co-founder of Nevele R, Wayne Francis was doing a similar thing with his breeding partnerships at the same time.

“After a time, the government of the day decided to change the rules around that form of investment and the gloss of such actions lost its appeal to investors who then wanted their money back. Only 10% of the investment group stayed in the fight but we survived and we were able to retain eight broodmares, one of which was Dream Bel,” West explained.

On Schwamm’s recommendation, Dream Bel was secured in foal to Stampede, a son of Young Charles who won 11 races (from age 4 to 7) and a princely $55k in stakemoney. The resultant foal was Defoe who also went on to win 11 races, on both sides of the Tasman, but a much better return in $263k in stakes.

The horse also helped establish a young Robert (RJ) Dunn as a top trainer of the standardbreds.

Those later foals and their offspring have been an outstanding success for West and his partners over a long period of time.

All Systems Go, Dream Out Aloud (1:48.8), The Black Prince (1:49.9), Don’t Stop Dreaming, Silver Lined Pocket (1:50.4), Final Collect and Secret Potion are just a few of the top performers descending directly back to Dream Bel and Lot 301 who sold for the big money at the sales has Dream Bel as his fourth dam back.

The success of Defoe also spawned a resurgence in the career of stallion Stampede. After enduring years of low numbers, typical of the homebred, West turned studmaster for a time and recalls one year serving 190 mares to the horse when the farm was located at the back of Hornby just off Shands Road.

He also made particular mention of the support he got from a young and very energetic Michael House (farm studmaster/trainer) during these developing years and without hesitation suggested that their early success had a lot to do with House’s contribution.

Of the other top horses Brian West has bred over 50 years, he has a special place for trotting broodmare Paramount Star (Sundon – Karenero) who over three generations has left a string of top group performers but in the end that one horse and that one performance will always be Lazarus’s first New Zealand cup win where he embarrassed his rivals in the country's premier race by some 10L in the hands of trainer Mark Purdon.

West has some strong philosophies around breeding and what it should look like.

He works hard around what ‘matches’ suit the mares, the one role he will continue with at Studholme in the future, as grandson Vinnie West-Pulu takes over the day to day operation of the Coes Ford stud.

“Nothing is bullet proof in this game but certain things help - a bit of luck, horses with no issues, good bloodlines and professional trainers who know their job’, he says.

He prefers no pedigree match ups in the first four generations and the race record of the mare is not paramount as long as the blood is present.

Even mares with small blemishes will get their chance in the matron’s paddock as long as the breeding pedigree is there.

In his time, West believes that stallions such as Smooth Fella, Vance Hanover, Christian Cullen and Bettor’s Delight have been ‘game changers’ in the sport and thinks that Captaintreacherous looks the most likely to be the next siring superstar.

“Entain has been a very positive lift to the enthusiasm levels of those working in the industry but the ‘breeder’ is still poorly looked after in the NZ code and without the breeder there will be no product,” he emphasized.

“I’m very strong on this, we need to do better in providing incentives for breeders to keep breeding horses. We give a percentage to the trainer and to the driver after a horse wins a race but nothing to the breeder. In France, as an example, the breeder gets something like 20% of the winning stake and that is how they have maintained a very strong breeding programme in that country over the years. Otherwise we will have very small pockets of breeders (Woodlands, Breckons and Alabar etc) scattered around the country with diminishing foal crops.”

The farm at Studholme Bloodstock reflects a profitable business model where horses represent 80% of the farm income. The job Brian West has done to achieve this during difficult economic times is remarkable.

The two-time Breeder of the Year is looking ahead to his retirement and thinks he might build a dwelling ‘off farm’ in the near future.

The pedigree matches will continue on behalf of the farm (such intellectual knowledge can't be tossed out with the bath water) and he is looking forward to escaping the NZ winter when it comes around later in the year.

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