My blueprint for how to fix Patinack Farm
Can Patinack Farm become profitable for Nathan Tinkler? (Image: Patinack Farm)
Nathan Tinkler waltzed into the racing industry in 2007 with big ambitions. Armed with millions of dollars, the mining magnate aimed to build a world-class breeding and racing empire from scratch.
Despite coming into racing at a time when Equine Influenza had the Australian industry on its knees, Tinkler’s Patinack Farm quickly developed into one of the biggest players in the sport in this country.
But five years after entering racing, Tinkler is beginning to do it tough. Reports of cash-flow problems are widespread and the cost of running Patinack Farm, reportedly $500,000-a-week, is bleeding Tinkler dry.
With his pockets tightening, Tinkler is searching for answers.
So here’s how I’d run Patinack Farm.
Some sources say Tinkler has spent more than $300m on his racing empire – undoubtedly a sufficient amount to gain a foothold in the industry – so the immediate aim for Patinack Farm is to secure its future.
A lot has been made about the decision to sell 200 broodmares and 150 racehorses at a Magic Millions reductions sale next month. I can’t help but feel this is a good idea.
Patinack Farm is over-sized for a racing operation of considerable youth. It took the Inghams decades to build Woodlands Stud into a viable $500m entity and Tinkler was overly ambitious to think he could do the same in five years.
The dispersal sale will cut losses on poor investments and should signal the start of the downsising of Patinack Farm.
The money generated from the sale should be used to guarantee the future of the operation. And the first thing I’d do is settle bad blood by re-paying any outstanding debts to creditors in the industry (and by all reports there are many waiting to be paid).
Patinack runs racing stables in three states. It also has two stud farms, spelling paddocks and a pre-training facility.
There are up to 168 racehorses in training at any one time (80 at Canungra near Gold Coast, 32 at Randwick and 56 at Flemington). At the same time, there would be at least another 100 (maybe even 200) racehorses out of training at the Stud near Scone.
When this is combined with dozens of yearlings (who are not old enough to race), hundreds of broodmares and ten stallions, it’s not hard to understand why I have described the operation as an ‘empire’.
If Patinack Farm wants to prosper, its breeding arm – not racing – needs to be the focal point because there isn’t enough prizemoney in the sport to fund an operation such as this. With that in mind, Patinack has an excessive amount of racehorses on their books.
Even though he admits it’s “at odds with nearly every other commercial breeding operation in the country,” Tinkler chooses to race a lot of his stallions’ progeny himself.
By having a maximum of 90 racehorses in training at any one time, Patinack can keep their better yearlings and sell the rest. The mantra of the operation should be ‘quality over quantity’.
But Patinack should continue to buy racehorses. I’d employ one of the better bloodstock agents in the business to source the best tried (from Europe) and untried (from the yearling sales) gallopers.
I’d like to see a greater emphasis on buying horses capable of winning Australia’s spring majors – something Patinack hasn’t come close to doing yet.
With the racing world’s focus on Melbourne during spring, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup success should be a high priority as a way of showcasing the Patinack brand to the world.
90 horses in work is quite a large number – reigning Victorian and Melbourne Premiership winner Peter Moody is regarded as the best trainer in Australia with 66 horses in training at any one time – but Patinack has the infrastructure to make it work.
Tinkler built a state-of-the-art facility at Canungra on the Gold Coast. It houses 80 horses in training, has spelling paddocks, turf and artificial training tracks, a swimming pool and stud farm. If it isn’t already, Canungra should be the home of the operation.
But I have to question the location of Patinack’s key facility. Why would they build their greatest asset at Canungra; hours away from the riches of Melbourne and Sydney racing?
It must be a boon for the Queensland racing industry but surely a provincial Victorian location would’ve been more practical?
Using the money from the dispersal sale, I’d be looking to build a replica of Canungra close to Melbourne. Upon completion – and depending on the financial state of Patinack Farm – a decision would be made on the future of the Gold Coast facility. If sold, there would no shortage of suitors.
Of the 90 horses I propose to have in work, 70 should be based at Canungra. The best 20 can be trained out of Randwick.
A stable of 56 at Flemington is ridiculously large for a second-tier base and it should be sold. In place, a small set of boxes (perhaps a dozen) can be purchased to house horses that travel south for big races.
I’d have the secondary training facility at Randwick instead of Flemington because Patinack’s pre-training facility is at Hawkesbury, west of Sydney – and the Melbourne stables would become redundant when the replica of Canungra is finished.
John Thompson has been the head trainer for Patinack since 2009 and I think he’s done a good job and I’d keep him on. After going through seven trainers in three years, the operation was nicknamed “Pat’n'sack”. Stability has been a newfound but worthwhile trait for the operation.
In the last few years, I’ve seen slight progress in Patinack’s on-track performances and while there is plenty of room for improvement, Thompson’s team deserve some credit.
Thompson should be based at Randwick where he can oversee the training of the operations’ better performers.
With 70 horses in work, the Canungra facility needs an experienced trainer running it. I’d be making a play at Hall-of-Famer Lee Freedman.
Freedman has successfully trained a large team at a unique property – “Markdel” at Rye (on the Mornington peninsula) was home to Makybe Diva and Miss Andretti during their racing years.
After taking a short break from training, Freedman recently went into partnership with Graeme Rogerson at Randwick where they co-train a small team of horses. I would be enticing Freedman to become the head-trainer of Patinack Farm. He would be based at Canungra.
Rogerson is a champion conditioner; he knows how to train a good horse to win a big race and I’d employ him to work alongside Thompson at Randwick.
For a breeding operation to be successful it needs to boast quality sires. A good book of sires will draw the country’s best mares. And if a sire is serving a full book of mares through the breeding season, millions of dollars will be generated.
Patinack’s breeding arm is headlined by the two leading first-season sires in Australia last season – Casino Prince and Husson.
And they also have 2007 French Guineas and Derby winner Lope de Vega as well as 2009 VRC Derby victor Monaco Consul on their books. Neither Lope de Vega or Monaco Consul have had any horses reach the track.
All four sires are young and relatively unproven but it is an impressive line-up. With a bit of luck, the operation shouldn’t need to acquire too many more high-profile stallions in the foreseeable future, especially with a back-up cast that includes Caulfield Guineas winner Wonderful World (who, admittedly, didn’t set the world on fire in his first season at stud).
To cap it off, Patinack owns the half-brother to Black Caviar – All Too Hard. And the best part is Black Caviar’s most accomplished sibling is sired by Casino Prince.
As a prospective stallion, if All Too Hard was claim Group One success this spring, a secure and handsome career awaits at stud.
Getting Group One success onto All Too Hard’s CV should be Patinack Farm’s primary aim this spring.
All Too Hard was a dual Group Two winning two-year old and finished second to champion juvenile Pierro at Group One level in the autumn.
In his first two runs as a three-year old All Too Hard has disappointed (finishing third and fifth respectively) but a rise in distance to the mile this Saturday (Group One, George Main) is sure to help the John Hawkes’ trained galloper.
I’d look to campaign the hulking chestnut in Europe next year.
Like his sire, All Too Hard appears to be a horse that may peak in his fourth year. I think his style would be suited to English racing and I’d aim him at races like the Queen Anne (1609m, Group One) at Royal Ascot – a race which was won by an Australian horse, Haradasun, in 2008.
If All Too Hard was to win Group Ones in both hemispheres, his value, as a close relation to Black Caviar, would skyrocket. And the flow-on effect for Casino Prince would be profound.
If Patinack get their yearling purchases correct, broodmares shouldn’t need to be a high priority. Some of the best producing mares aren’t the most talented racehorses but most are well bred.
Patinack has purchased broodmares from Australasia and Europe in recent years – I wouldn’t seek any more because every female horse in the operation can go to stud when they finish racing.
Nathan Tinkler has the infrastructure and has laid the groundwork to make Patinack Farm successful. With some downsizing and a bit of restructuring, his $300m investment can begin to bear fruit in tough financial times.