“Producing results where it counts.” The Middlebrook Valley motto is not simply a line that sounds good to ears. It is a mantra that the farm and its staff lives by. Over many years that bear testimony to the great work of the good people at the farm, Middlebrook has produced many unbelievable drafts, that have included stakes winners and champions. In a big way, the secret sauce to their success is the lady sitting atop the Middlebrook Valley hierarchy, Verna Metcalfe.
In the 11 years plus a stint at the farm, Verna has brought the entirety of her experience that she has gained over many years working under various experts and applied them here while also learning the ropes from her work here. This combination has got her many accolades, very recent being the Murry Bain service award in 2016, celebrating her 30 years in the business.
We had a brief conversation with Verna, who along with Middlebrook Valley Lodge is bringing in one of the biggest drafts at the Classic Yearling Sale 2020.
Q: From your draft of 14 horses which yearlings would you consider your highlight lots and why? (Also, if you could send us your complete list of horses along with commentary for each, we would be happy to publish the same as is.
A: Our highlight lots are:
LOT 230 filly by Divine Prophet x Kiss Me Goodbye. From the first crop of MRC Caulfield Guineas Gr 1 winner and the 2nd foal of a 2-time winning half-sister to 2 stakes-placed getters. Her first foal is a recent trial winner. This is the immediate family of Sweet Deal. This filly is an absolute standout and the farm foaled, raised and sold Divine Prophet on behalf of one of our clients so we obviously are very excited about how his progeny perform on the racetrack. Divine Prophet’s progeny have sold extraordinarily well thus far both as weanlings and his first yearlings at Magic Millions so hopefully this will flow through to Classics.
LOT 24 filly Lonhro x Bouzy Rouge (being sold on account of Retreat Farm). By a Champion sire out of a stakes-winning mare who won 9 races. Her first foal to race is placed this season. This is a quality filly from a small family but they all run. She is out of an outstanding mare.
LOT 335 colt by Cable Bay x My Magic Miss. From first Southern Hemisphere bred crop of Gr 2 winner. First foal of 6-time winning multiple stakes-placed mares. This is the immediate family of Gold Symphony. This is a late maturer bred on a AAA cross as advised by Ric Jamieson - the man responsible for breeding (amongst others) World Champion Sprinter, 15-time Gr 1 winner and the undefeated (25-time winner) Black Caviar, 3-time Gr 1 winner Jameka and Gr 1 winner and successful sire All Too Hard.
LOT 18 filly by Extreme Choice x Blazonry (as agent for Balance Thoroughbreds). From the first crop of the dual Gr 1 winning son of Not A Single Doubt out of a stakes-winning mare.
LOT 81 filly by Rubick (same sire as Everest winner Yes Yes Yes) and a half-sister to 4 winners (from 5 to race) including stakes-placed getter Mayan. This family (particularly further back in the pedigree) has worked extremely well with a strong influence of Northern Dancer so this mating is an interesting one.
LOT 127 filly by Flying Artie x Exceed and Excites. From the first crop of VRC Coolmore stud S. Gr 1 winner out of a 5-time winning Exceed And Excel mare.
LOT 244 colt by Press Statement x Lago Joy. From 2nd crop of dual Gr 1 winner. This colt is a half brother to 2 winners (from 2 to race) including the stakes-placed Grand Challenge.
LOT 406 colt by Smart Missile x Real Jazz. By a proven Gr 1 producing sire out of a 4-time winning imported mare.
LOT 580 filly by Star Witness x Airways. By a proven sire out of a mare whose 2 foals to race have already produced the stakes-placed Smooth Landing. This is the immediate family of Champagne Cuddles and Violate.
LOT 606 filly by Dissident x Arabian Diamond. By a Champion Racehorse and the first foal of an unraced sister to Diamond Oasis, half-sister to SIWA LADY.
LOT 624 filly by Divine Prophet x Bit and Bop. From the first crop of MRC Caulfield Guineas Gr 1 winner and the first foal of a winning Exceed And Excel mare.
LOT 633 filly by Sizzling x Chestnut Star. This filly is out of a good producing mare; her 5 winners include dual stakes winner Chinchilla (dam of stakes-placed getter Lanigera), 7-time winner Beaumaris and 3-time winner Excellar.
LOT 696 colt by No Nay Never x Leelinchin. By a proven sire in the UK and US; 2nd crop yearlings in Aus. Out of a mare who has produced 5 winners from 7 to race.
LOT 707 filly by Foxwedge x Marvellous Miss (as agent for Balance Thoroughbreds). By a proven Gr 1 producing sire out of stakes placed producing mare.
LOT 737 filly Divine Prophet x Ready Diva. From the first crop of MRC Caulfield Guineas Gr 1 winner out of a winning Redoute’s Choice mare whose first foal to race is a winner.
Q: Which was the most expensive & the most successful horse you've sold at this sale previously?
A: “In terms of prize money earned Kimberley Star (Star Witness x Kiss The Sun) is our flag bearer. She was foaled at the farm, went back to her owners then returned to be prepped for the sale and consigned. When she came in for the prep. she was x-rayed and her x-rays immediately revealed that she was high risk. She had arthritis in her joints so we couldn’t exercise her normally in terms of putting her on the walker or lungeing her. She just had to be hand walked. But goodness could this filly walk!
“When we took her to the sale James Harron must have come back to look at her 14 times. He loved her. He had his vets look at her x-rays and knew the risks but he took a punt on her. He paid A$40,000 for her and she won 3 times for him - twice at 2 - and earned A$383,885. She finished 2nd in the ATC Silver Shadow S., Gr.2, Inglis Nursery, RL, Gosford Guineas, L, and 3d in the ATC Tea Rose S., Gr.2, NSW Tatt's RC Ming Dynasty H., Gr.3, Scone RC Inglis 3YO Guineas, L, and 4th in the City Tatt's RC Nivison S., Gr.3, and ATC Fireball S., L. I often think that people can get too caught up with x-rays so her story is a good one.
2YO filly Mildred (Hinchinbrook x Tempest Tost; A$45,000 2019 Classic grad.) is also showing extraordinary promise. She has had 3 starts for 2 wins. She won the first 2yo race of the season and has also won the VRC Maribyrnong Trial S. L. Her prizemoney currently sits on A$146,200. She won a trial on 14 January and will race in the Chairman S. Gr 3 tomorrow as one of the favourites.
Our highest-priced yearling was Grand Challenge (Not A Single Doubt x Lago Joy) who sold to Sun Bloodstock for A$220,000 at the 2017 Inglis Classic Sale. He was a winner at 2 and finished 3rd in the MVRC Inglis Banner S. L.
90% of the horses we consign were foaled and raised on the farm. The thoroughbred industry - and certainly at our farm - has a long history of long-term clients - so there is so much satisfaction seeing good results in the ring then watching these horses go on to perform on the track.
Q: Which sale did you present at earlier this year and which was your top-selling lot?
A: Middlebrook Valley Lodge has had a good start to the sale year. We consigned 4 yearlings at the Magic Millions Gold Coast January Yearling Sale - 1 under our own banner and 3 on behalf of the estate of the late Paul Whelan (Luskin Park Stud). Our Pierro filly out of Chatham House sold to Hall of Fame Bloodstock for A$250,000 and we sold a Flying Artie x Twelve Pack Shelly colt to Edmonds Racing/Kestrel Thoroughbreds for A$160,000; the 2nd highest priced yearling by Flying Artie at the sale.
Q: How do you decide which horses should be sent to the Classic Yearling sale?
A: “The Inglis Classic Sale is very much a ‘type’ sale so Dave [Metcalfe] and I look at each individual before we assess pedigrees. Given the nuances of the commercial market, it’s increasingly important to advise owners which horses are best suited to each sale and we try and place the yearlings where we think they will sell the best.”
Q: Which sale will you be attending next and what are the highlights of that draft?
A: “The next sale we will be consigning a draft to, will be Inglis Easter.
“We don’t sell huge drafts of horses hence why we were so delighted to see our black-type results for last year. The farm produced ten black-type graduates for the 2018/19 season including the first 2YO winner of the year who then went on to win the VRC Maribyrnong Trial S. L - MILDRED (Hinchinbrook x Tempest Tost - a 2019 A$45,000 Inglis Classic yearling).
“For Easter this year we have a small but quality group of horses including an outstanding Not A Single Doubt filly out of Sorel Point as well as an I Am Invincible filly out of Siwa Lady.
“I’m not sure we can reach the lofty heights of the A$1.1m we received at Easter in 2017 for the aptly named Priestess - the Exceed and Excel half-sister to Divine Prophet and Proisir - but you just don’t know do you?”
Q: How is your farm coping with the challenges of the bush fires and has anyone been affected?
A: The bushfires have been devastating. There is no other word to describe them. In a sense, everyone in Australia has been impacted as we all know someone whose property, friends or family have in some way been affected. Ironically perhaps, the severe drought we have been living within the Upper Hunter for the past 3 years has, if anything, protected us from the fires because there has been nothing to burn.
“Whilst areas within 150kms of us have been touched by flame - usually due to lightning strikes - we have faced an equal life-threatening challenge - lack of water. Towns around us are - literally - running dry. We face the uphill battle of sourcing increasing amounts of feed, the huge costs of hay and its transportation, and that ever-present fear of what happens if we need to start carting water.
“The horses look fabulous - sleek and glossy - despite the dust and dirt. We actually had 60 ml of rain 2 weeks ago and the farm has transformed into an oasis of green. It has lifted everyone’s spirits with it. It certainly hasn’t broken the drought but gee it makes a difference.”