Thompson recognised at National Breeding Awards

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  • July 25, 2023
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Rich Hill Stud proprietor John Thompson admitted he was caught off guard at Saturday night’s Property Brokers National Breeding Awards at Karapiro, where he received the Entain NZTBA Personality of the Year award.

The award recognises an industry participant who has made a significant contribution to the New Zealand thoroughbred industry, with Thompson, who is also the current New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association President, humbled to be recognised in such a manner.

“I was totally surprised and a little shocked when I finally twigged they were talking about me in the pre-amble to the award being announced,” Thompson said.

“I was listening to what was being read out and wondering who it might be, when a lightbulb sort of went off about halfway through.

“I had no idea and when my daughter Emma had asked me a few questions about the family in the early years during the week, I just didn’t put two and two together.

“On a night that is designed to recognise excellence, it is quite humbling to be recognised by your peers, so it is a moment that I will cherish.”

The son of Colin and the late Irene, Thompson is one of seven siblings and grew up in Matamata before boarding in Auckland.

Massey University followed where a student lifestyle was enjoyed and a Bachelor of Agricultural Science attained, along with a work-hard, play-hard reputation.

“We lived in Matamata and I have five sisters and a brother who have all had an interest in the land to varying degrees,” Thompson said.

“Mum and Dad bred from a few mares and did quite well. We sold yearlings at Trentham and we had some great friends in the breeding industry.

“To be fair, I was probably a little more interested in sports, while my brother had the passion for the thoroughbreds to such a level that he used to collect stallion brochures from all the local studs.

“With Dad being a vet I guess it was natural I would gravitate to an agricultural education, so I went to Massey with the intention of becoming a vet as well.

“I passed all my courses but just didn’t have the grades to get into the vet side of things, so I ended up finishing off a degree in Agricultural Science.”

It was there that Thompson would form many lifelong friendships as he recalled the pleasures of his university days.

“I was the typical Kiwi bloke and our flat consisted of five males who became very close,” he said.

“Interestingly they all have gone on to make their mark in a variety of occupations with Kim Crawford being a well-recognised vintner, Callum McCallum is big in oyster farming while Graham Scott has a thriving accountancy practice in Cambridge.

“I can’t divulge many stories from my flatting days, but we had a hell of a good time.”

Once graduated, Thompson travelled overseas which set him on a path to a successful career in the thoroughbred breeding industry.

It was also around this time he met an Irishman who would become another life-long friend, Gordon Cunningham who is now the proprietor of the successful breeding nursery Curraghmore.

“Gordon had come out from Ireland to work at Fieldhouse Stud for David Benjamin,” Thompson recalled.

“Dad took him under his wing and invited him around for a barbeque one night and we have been mates ever since.

“When he returned to Ireland in 1985 I went with him and got some work at a variety of studs while I also played a lot of rugby over there.

“From there I ended in the US where I got to work for some great places in Kentucky and the like which really helped build on what I had learnt in Ireland.

“I was always going to come back to New Zealand, but it was a real eye-opener in Kentucky, however New Zealand is the best place in the world to farm and that was my real passion.”

A job at Cambridge Stud with Sir Patrick Hogan helped round out his knowledge, while it also provided the next momentous moment in his life as he met his future bride.

“When I got back I got a job at Cambridge Stud which was a dream come true as when you are overseas it was Cambridge Stud and Patrick Hogan that were the icons of the New Zealand industry,” he said.

“Patrick had Sir Tristram at the time and the stud was a real ground breaker.

“I had worked for some great farms and people and learnt so much from them all and we have systems in place at Rich Hill now that I was exposed to back then.

“Patrick also gave me a piece of advice I’ve always remembered.

“He recalled that he had two colts in a paddock with one by Champion sire Oncidium and one by a less heralded stallion called Blueskin that he stood.

“When people asked him what the good-looking colt was by, he told them Blueskin as they never asked which one.

“His advice was to be honest, never tell a lie but every now and then it was ok to twist the truth.

“It was also around then when I met my wife Colleen.

“Marcus Corban was the stud manager and his wife Catherine invited me around for dinner one night, where her sister Colleen was going to be there.

“She was a teacher at that time and we hit it off and the rest is history as they say.”

The final piece of the Rich Hill Stud puzzle was also put in motion with Thompson introduced to successful Auckland lawyer and thoroughbred breeder Alan Galbraith, who was serving as a director for the ill-fated Blandford Lodge and several other entities that were listed as public companies.

“I was managing Blandford Lodge when it went into receivership,” Thompson said.

“Alan was a director and when that all went down, we were talking about where he was going to put the mares he had.

“I approached the farmer who bought Blandford Lodge and manged to lease some of the land where we ran mares and prepared yearlings.

“We knew the Evergreen Lodge property and stud was coming up for sale, so Alan and my parents and I went into a three-way partnership, bought it and Rich Hill Stud was born.”

On August 1, 1994, Rich Hill Stud officially commenced and now nearly 30 years later has grown from a farm with four horses and one staff member and developed it into a Group One producing farm of 320 acres with five high-class stallions and a significant broodmare band.   

It also began a 30-year involvement with the NZTBA from Waikato branch committee member to President, to national Councillor and later the President for Thompson.

“Rich Hill Stud has been a labour of love although in the early years we had plenty of struggles, typical of most stud farms I would expect,” Thompson said.

“We soon realised the way to get ahead was to stand our own stallions, so we managed to source an international Group One winner In Pentire, who practically provided the resources to grow the farm when he hit his straps with his first crop.

“Michael Otto was working as the local agent for Shadai Farm in Japan who were looking to get into the shuttle stallion business, so he ended up offering us two options which were Carnegie or Pentire.

“Pentire was a real high-profile horse and his first crop sold exceptionally well. We struggled a bit after that as you tend to do with staying types as they just don’t have the two-year-olds on the ground like some other stallions.

“He didn’t get a lot of support in his third year and we only got 20 mares, but it was then that his progeny starting kicking goals with horses like Pentastic and Pantani in his first crop and then closely followed by Penny Gem, Recurring and Xcellent.

“He ended up with 16 Group One winners and really set us on our way.

“We have had about 10-12 stallions over the years and formed wonderful relationships with people like Katsumi Yoshida (Shadai Farm) which led to breeding a Melbourne Cup winner (Prince Of Penzance) and to the farm still standing a Shadai Farm stallion.

“We have also formed a very close relationship with Tony Falcone who bred and raced Proisir.

“I went over to Australia and met him. We ended up putting a syndicate together to buy him and his is the making of another tremendous success story given he started from a $7000 service fee and has been leaving horses like Levante, Riodini, Legarto, Pier, Dark Destroyer and Prowess.

“Tony was at the dinner on Saturday night and it was fantastic to have him there.”

Thompson has had a chance to reflect on the award he has received and what it means to him, however in typical fashion he is modest about the achievement as he looks to the future.

“As I said it is just tremendous to be recognised but it won’t change my approach to life and the passion I have for horses,” he said.

“The aim is to stand a champion stallion and we are thankful for what we have managed to build so far.

“I’m also incredibly lucky to have a wonderful family and the friendships we have made along the way.

“We managed to buy a property in Mount Maunganui recently and when we do get a little time off, which isn’t that often, it is magical to wake up and go for a walk on the beach and grab a coffee in one of the outstanding cafés over there.

“In fact, if you asked me to describe my perfect day that would be it followed by a stint on the couch watching Trackside and seeing a horse we bred win a Group One.” – NZ Racing Desk

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