Te Akau: Te Akau Owner of the Month
26 Mar 2013
This very special man could be our Owner of the Month or our Team Member of the Month!
Sam Boyd is a horseman. He has also worked alongside David Ellis for over twenty-five years, as farm manager at Te Akau Stud.
Boyd is from Te Akau, situated an hour northwest of Hamilton, bordered to its west by the Tasman Sea, with the Raglan Harbour at the south, and where lies a school, golf club, transport company, the Waimai Polo Club, and the picturesque 4000 acres of Te Akau Stud.
“I was brought up with a horse background and seem to have been involved with horses forever,” said Boyd. “We are third generation Te Akau on one side of the family, my father was an Irish born horseman, and my grandfather Thomas Wilson and his brother Harold Wilson and George Vercoe were the founders of Te Rapa Racecourse.
“Once, when there was a shortage of horses down south, my grandfather drove a couple of hundred, like a mob of cattle, from the Waikato to the South Island in the early 1900s.
“My father and I played for the Waimai Polo Club, based at Te Akau. The club championship is the Savile Cup, which we’ve won seven times in the past eighteen years. And, the club was seventy-five years old before the first win.
Modest of his playing ability, Boyd got to four goals which was good enough to get him a job playing professionally in Australia. At a time just before Kerry Packer got involved in polo and the stakes rose considerably.
Boyd was farming on his own account when he passed on some sage horsemanship advice to a very young David Ellis.
“It was thirty-two years ago that David bred a mare and I came up and showed him how to handle the foal, how to wean and he’s gone on from there to be the biggest and best in New Zealand, and as knowledgeable about horses as anyone in the country,” said Boyd.
“It’s incredible what he’s achieved – amazing. When I first started working for him, he was only just getting underway at that stage, and he said to me ‘the only way we’re going to get to the top is to do everything better than anyone else’. And, there were some great operators at that time in New Zealand – Colin Jillings, Bill Ford, Dave O’Sullivan, and Jim Gibbs etc.
“His goal way back then was to be the best in New Zealand, and twenty-five years later Te Akau was winning premierships on a regular basis. Not just premierships, but winning more group and listed races, more stakes money. He achieved his goal, but he certainly hasn’t backed off since he achieved it. He still wants to go to another level.
Fresh out of school, Te Akau Singapore trainer Mark Walker strode into the Te Akau picture with CV in hand and has never looked back.
“Mark (Walker) worked with us here on the farm before reaching the top when training at Matamata, and he had achieved all he was going to in New Zealand. He needed challenges, and as far as the business goes it has been great to set up where the stakes are so much higher in Singapore. We have the best place in the world to rear and develop racehorses and the two just tie in together. As a result, the business is thriving,” said Boyd.
“Mark is leading the premiership in only his third year. I know it’s still early in the season, but his results have been outstanding and getting better.
“I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to race horses in Singapore, but it’s great for those that could struggle to pay their way in New Zealand. They are making good returns for their owners up there, which they can reinvest into young horses back here.
Boyd has seen the full extent of progression in the Te Akau horse empire.
“It has only been in more recent years that David has been able to buy horses in the ‘better’ category. He had a hell of a lot of luck with home-bred and other horses that were not very fashionably bred, and I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that the horses came out here (Te Akau Stud), were run on good clean pasture, broken in and pre-trained out here in a terrific environment. David is a great advocate of fertiliser, and looking after pasture, and the place is always a picture.
“Even in the current conditions it looks great and with the rain we have just had we’ll be the greenest place in the North Island by end of next week.
While Ellis is the brains behind the business, staffing throughout the organisation has been paramount to its success. Dayna Davey has looked after horses for eight years, while Luke Copeland has spent fourteen years managing cattle and Steve Bryant the bulls for ten years.
“It is testament to his hard work, but he has also had a good team of loyal people around him all the time. Which I think makes a huge difference. Mark (Walker) worked for him from the time he left school. Jason (Bridgman) has had a fair bit of time with Te Akau in two stints, and David is prepared to give his staff an opportunity of going to the next level.
“He is a very loyal employer and boss. He gets grumpy at times, but we all get grumpy too. He expects perfection and that’s all you have to do. He’s prepared to stick his neck out and do something different, regardless of what other people think, and nine times out of ten he’s right – he’s a very lateral thinker.
“He spent five million at the sales this year, in pretty difficult times, and backed himself to sell them. He had them all paid for in four and a half weeks – unheard of, thirty-four horses. I’m not surprised he can do it as he’s done it that often and having Karyn (Fenton-Ellis) on his side is a huge help. She has a great profile in racing and is a very focussed. They work very well as a team.
“David has a huge number of loyal owners, which come in year in and year out at different levels. And, he also has nearly eighty new owners this year.
“We’ve never had an argument, but as David says, ‘it’s more to my credit rather than his’. He’s the boss and if he says he wants something done a certain way, then you just do it. Yet, if I suggest we do something differently then he will always take it on board. And likewise the decisions he makes, he does seek advice and listen to what’s said by people whose opinions he respects.
How long will Boyd continue in the role?
“I think as you get older you realise just how shorter time we are actually here. We’re only on the planet for five minutes. I’m probably looking at retirement in the near future, and there is a lot I’d like to do yet. But, when I do leave I know I will miss it. I think I’ll always be involved in some form.
“There is four thousand acres being farmed here now and doing that is a major, even without the horses. There are thirty broodmares here and we can do between fifteen and twenty weanlings/foals and then break in fifty horses – the logistics of it is huge.
“We have a very diverse range of staff, and when a big job is on with the horses or on the farm then everyone gets involved.
Like many of the horse owners with Te Akau, Boyd too has shared in the success.
“I got my mother, Dawn, into some good horses: King’s Chapel and Maroofity, each winning three Group Ones. She passed away four years ago and the last horse she was involved in was [now stallion] Minstrel Court. I think she was ninety-one when bought into him as a yearling, so she was a super optimist. She lived long enough to see him win races, too.
Purchased by David Ellis for $35,000, King’s Chapel (King of Kings) won ten races for stakes of $913,367. He was the second top colt on the NZ 2YO Free Handicaps in 2002-03, before heading the 3YO Handicaps and being named NZ Horse of the Year in 2003-04. A triple Group One winner of the 2000 Guineas (Gr. 1, 1600m), Telegraph Handicap (Gr. 1, 1200m), and Otaki Maori Weight-For-Age (Gr. 1, 1600m), he stood at stud for six seasons at Windsor Park Stud in Cambridge, and now stands at Bush Hill Stud in South Africa.
Maroofity won both Group One Sires’ Produce Stakes at Ellerslie and Awapuni, and crowned Champion Two-Year-Old in 2002-03, he also notched the Thorndon Mile (Gr. 1, 1600m) at Trentham, in a career of ten wins for stakes of $489,895.
Both horses provided their owners with fun trips a plenty all over the countryside in New Zealand, and Australia. One of the highlights being King’s Chapel producing a steely performance for seventh to Savabeel (Zabeel) in the 2004 Cox Plate (Gr. 1, 2040m).
“The best horse I’ve been involved with is Corsage,” said Boyd. We’ve got her in foal to Darci Brahma. And a mare called Tad Infinitum, who is in foal to Alamosa. She’s a half-sister by Traditionally to Justa Tad. I’ve got a share in The Musician and also bought into a yearling filly by Choisir out of L’Artiste.
Corsage (Volksraad), from Spray (Entrepreneur), in turn from the great race mare Seamist (Beaufort Sea), was purchased by Ellis for $25,000. A winner on debut and joint second top filly on the 2008-09 2YO Free Handicaps, Corsage placed in both the Diamond Stakes (Gr. 1, 1200m) and Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (Gr. 2, 1200m) as a two-year-old, with stakes placed finishes in the Ray Coupland Stakes (Listed, 1400m), Sunline Vase (Listed, 2100m), and a fourth in the 2000 Guineas (Gr. 1, 1600m), at three. Transferred to Mark Walker in Singapore, she won a further two races and increased her stakes earnings to $270,000.
“We raced Corsage with David and Karyn and three great mates Gilbert Southworth, John Elstob and James Langley and we had so much fun with her – travelling to Christchurch for the Group 1 NZ 2000 Guineas, a road trip to Trentham for the Group 1 Oaks – yes she provided us with plenty of highlights.”
CREDIT – JEFF DORE