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Valachi Downs the ‘Silent Achiever’ as Fillies and Mares races both promoted to Group 3

29 March 2016, 9:05 a.m.

Valachi Downs the ‘Silent Achiever’ as Fillies and Mares races both promoted to Group 3

When Valachi Downs commenced sponsorship of both the Canterbury Breeders Stakes and South Island Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes in the 2006/07 season, both races were in danger of losing their ‘listed’ status.

“It was a big step for us but we were very excited about our involvement in two such important races,” said Valachi Downs principal Kevin Hickman this week. “At the time we were quite concerned about the future of the races and our motivation was to help upgrade them and see the strength of the fields improve in the ensuing years.

Now in its 10th year of sponsorship, that goal has materialised with elevation of both to Group Three status for the first time this season, and prizemoney of $80,000 apiece which exceeds the standard for Group Three by a healthy $10,000.

Pitching the stake well above the industry standard was a component of the Hickman-Canterbury Jockey Club plan to lift the status of these races.

The Canterbury Breeders Stakes for fillies and mares is run over 1400 metres at Riccarton Park on the second day of ‘The New Zealand Cup Meeting’ in November while the South Island Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes over 1600 metres for fillies and mares is the richest race programmed for the Canterbury Racing-Hororata meeting at Riccarton Park on Saturday, 2nd April, 2016.

The importance of the resurrection and enhancement of these two races for South Island breeders and the Canterbury Jockey Club cannot be underestimated. In an era in which local breeders have experienced few incentives to race fillies and mares ultimately aimed at the broodmare paddock, the Valachi Downs races now provide fuel for enthusiasm and optimism.
“We decided to put something back into racing and it’s satisfying to reach this point,” said Mr Hickman. At my hinting the possibility the races may be further enhanced and reach Group Two status sometime in the future Mr Hickman added: “We’ll get to $100,000 and see how we’re travelling.

In the first 10 years under the Valachi Downs banner, the two races has seen South Island owners and trainers enjoy most of the success including Hickman himself who won the S.I Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes in 2014 with his home-bred Emerald Queen. Now, with the stakes increased and Group Three status on offer both races are certain to come under the microscope of North Island trainers.

“There’s a good opportunity to produce staying fillies and mares in the South Island and the race in April means we have a good lead-up for fillies heading towards races like the Queensland Oaks in which New Zealand horses have enjoyed good success.”

Mr Hickman himself enjoyed ownership success in Brisbane when his three-year-old O’Reilly filly Bohemian Lily won the Group Two ‘The Roses’ at Doomben last May. Prior to that, his outstanding mare Silent Achiever had covered herself in glory with a long list of high class wins on both sides of the Tasman.

As a result of her three Group One successes, Hickman was awarded both New Zealand Owner of the Year and Breeder of the Year in 2014.

Christchurch is home to Kevin Hickman and his wife Joanna who founded Valachi Downs in 2005. They are passionate about racing and are regular attendees at Riccarton Park and various other courses where their familiar colours of gold with navy blue cap are represented.

The 270-acre Valachi Downs property close to Matamata is home to their 80-strong broodmare band headed by Silent Achiever; presently on hiatus in the United Kingdom, in-foal to Frankel southern hemisphere time and returning to Frankel before coming home to Valachi Downs later this year.

Valachi Downs doesn’t stand a stallion but owns shares in various stallions and send its mares out to breed. Included in the stud’s stallion share interests is Inglewood Stud’s highly promising Zacinto whose prospects Mr Hickman rates very highly.

By Brian de Lore