The concept of a ‘legacy’ seems almost old fashioned in an increasingly disposable world but the thoroughbred racing industry often bucks the trend.
Rich with living history, it’s founded on the knowledge that you cannot buy or freely inherit a legacy. Instead, it must be earned and preserved with hard work and passion.
So the recent announcement that Monovale Farm will stand its champion racehorse Puccini at Mapperley Stud is hugely exciting.
The development represents the joining of two legacies; upheld by a new generation eager to carry the torch.
Puccini, the winner of seven Group races, including the 2014 Group 1 New Zealand Derby and the 2015 Group 1 Thorndon Mile, was bred, owned, and adored by the late Paul Smithies and his wife, Cushla of Monovale Farm.
Paul was a prominent and highly respected Waikato breeder, and his sudden death last year, aged just 56, was a tragic loss for his family and the industry.
Paul made significant contributions to the sport in many ways and also had an active involvement in many businesses outside the industry. He was known for his wisdom, knowledge, and an ability to see through complex issues to get the heart of the matter.
Cushla Smithies spoke with Love Racing about the legacy of Puccini. “Puccini was special. He gave Paul great joy; he gave us great joy. He took us to a level we’d never been before.”
The NZ Derby triumph win was their greatest thoroughbred moment. “It wasn’t just the win, it was the way he won. Such a thrill. We both said at the time, ‘If he never won anything else, that would be enough’, and that’s still true.”
The Smithies received numerous lucrative offers for the then three-year-old stallion, including one from Simms Davison, of Mapperley Stud.
“He didn’t want to sell, and that was that,” Simms said. ”He had big offers, but the fact is, Paul was a true racing enthusiast; he was a hundred percent happy to keep Puccini racing.”
Paul’s eldest son, 29-year-old Joe Smithies, had worked alongside his father for the last five or six years, absorbing Paul’s knowledge and skill.
Just before Paul’s death, his 21-year-old son Max had announced that after his post-university travels, he would also like to join the family team full-time.
Poignantly, Cushla and Paul had been starting to think about some of the things they’d like to do together once the boys were set up.
Despite their grief, the family quickly pulled together following Paul’s death and Joe said he didn’t hesitate to step up and into his father’s shoes. “I’ve been heavily involved in the business for awhile, long enough to know how much I enjoy it. I just want to keep breeding quality horses.”
Every year, before the breeding season started, Joe and Paul would sit down to discuss their plan; where the mares were being sent and why. Without the benefit of Paul’s advice, Joe sought second and third opinions from several successful breeders. He received widespread support which is typical of the racing industry in times of trouble.
Max postponed his travels, returning immediately to work beside his brother, and the pair very much work as a team. Cushla also regularly helps on the farm, contributing with the knowledge she has acquired over the years.
Joining forces with Mapperley Stud, in an equal partnership, to stand Puccini, respects Paul’s wishes to retain ownership and is also strategically sensible. The dual ownership and support of Puccini offers Monovale confidence that they’ll be able to establish excellent books of mares for their stallion.
Mapperley, a stunning 250 hectare property, also has a strong family legacy to uphold. Davison is a third-generation owner and studmaster, but a relative ‘newcomer’ to this level of the industry, having had a professional rugby career until 2010.
When first offered the chance to take over, Simms’ said his father was “quick to remind me that I am the third generation of studmasters at Mapperley. The farm has been handed down and hopefully, in the years to come, I can do the same.”
In a short time, Simms has proved himself a force to be reckoned with. Cordially breaking away from a historically successful business partnership with Windsor Park, Simms wanted Mapperley to stand on its own two feet.
Since then he’s progressively achieved his goal of “putting Mapperley Stud back on the map.” With a different mindset to his predecessors and a “huge amount of support from my peers,”, he’s creating new opportunities and optimism for the future of the industry.
Puccini will join Complacent, Contributor, and He’s Remarkable on the Mapperley stallion roster.
The stories behind both Monovale and Mapperley tell of a desire to honour heritage, but many other ties draw them together.
Joe Smithies said he chose Mapperley Stud for several reasons. “It’s proven to be a great farm to raise horses on. I have the utmost respect for Simms and what he’s achieved there. He’s a great guy and very approachable, so I knew he’d be easy to work with.”
Joe also saw a similarity between himself and Simms; both relatively young for such daunting roles with intensely steep learning curves, but possessing the ambition to make it happen.
Simms, too, is excited at the prospect of working with the family he has known and respected for years. “Paul used to keep mares at Mapperley when my parents were here, so there’s a long family association.”
Appropriately, Sir Slick, Puccini’s outstanding six-time Group 1 winning half-brother, was born and reared on the property and carries the Mapperley brand on his shoulder.
When asked what he thought Paul would make of the alliance, Simms replied: “I reckon Paul would be thrilled; to see his two boys and myself getting behind a horse he loved, and giving Puccini every opportunity he deserves.”
Simms can also see the likeness between himself and the Smithies brothers. “One of the main reasons I’ve gone into this is these two lads, young and passionate, having a crack, much like me. Their energy is very different to the doom and gloom you might get from those who’ve been around a bit longer.”
While it makes Cushla happy to see her boys taking the reins, she makes it clear that no one needs to live in Paul’s shadow. “They’re like Paul, proactive and quietly driven, but they’ve got their own ideas, lots of plans and new energy. I’m looking forward to seeing what they create and I’ll be here to support them the whole way.”
Asked what Paul would say right now, she replied; “Paul was all about making the most of his opportunities and enjoying the process. I know he’d be thrilled with the way the boys have carried on, continuing to build our business.”