The Golden Slipper - A Breeders' Dream

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29th September 2005

THE GOLDEN SLIPPER - A BREEDERS’ DREAM

The late Dan Buffier was a third generation Aussie and one of the most respected breeders in a great era in the history of the thoroughbred industry.

Just before he died, well-known thoroughbred identity Graham Orr wrote this (edited) article about the great man.

You might wonder what the article has to do with insurance, here’s why; Dan Buffier was a long time client of Logans, insuring many of his famous horses and at one time winning a Breeders’ Bonus when in 1982 Sir Dapper won a Triple Crown Series for 3 year olds. This $100,000 Bonus was insured by Logans.

Dan was a great “tail” man, always lifting and checking the strength of a horse’s tail before he made a purchase.

This is a story which “fits” any era; Dan’s stallion selection policy, steroids in yearlings, 2 year old racing; it is also a trip down memory lane - now read on...

Ask most expert breeding men and women and they will quickly tell you - Buffier is a name which is intrinsically tied to the ‘Slipper’. Yes, he’s the man who bred two Golden Slipper winners - Birthday Card (1962) and Sir Dapper (1983).

This is the story of the third generation Aussie/Franco `nobleman’ - Dan Buffier one of the most respected breeders of our era, yet a man who shunned the limelight throughout his life.

His quiet ‘revolution’ spanned a period of some 50 years in the industry. In a tight circle of close friends, Daniel Buffier was a man of great achievement - but to the media and the general public he is as little known as when he first started looking at horses a lifetime ago.

“I don’t remember setting out to breed in particular a Golden Slipper winner” Dan Buffier told me. Sitting in the study of his home in Mudgee and surrounded by a myriad of richly earned trophies collected over the years, Dan slowly overcame his natural shyness to allow me to learn more about the man I had known for 25 years.

He was more at home when the horses were doing the talking for him - first of all when he bred winners at the family farm, ‘Bangaroo’ at St Marys and later from ‘Wingarra Stud’ at Bylong, east of the famed breeding area of Mudgee, N.S.W.

“From the time I stood my first stallion Dutton (GB) in 1959, I set out to breed early comers - two-year-olds. Not only does it give your broodmares a quicker chance to produce winners but it enables your yearling buying clients to recoup their initial capital outlay a lot earlier.

“It’s all very well for the press boys to go around moaning about us not breeding stayers but the plain fact is by the time that horse matures fully, both the breeder and the new owner are bankrupt!

“I have always sent my mares to ‘outside’ stallions if they were precocious two-year-olds themselves and were standing at a reasonable fee. I have patronised Widdens’ stallions back to the days when old A. W. Thompson, Bim’s grandfather, was in charge. That was the reason I patronised Edmundo (GB) and Vain to produce Birthday Card and Sir Dapper!”

The true story behind the acquisition of Birthday Card’s dam Magnificent Lady has never been told. Had luck gone against Dan Buffier, it is quite possible that not only would he have missed breeding his first Golden Slipper winner but Jim Fleming senior, father of the present Jim Fleming, the master behind the power of the Sydney Turf Club who conduct racing at Rosehill, could well have been the owner-breeder of all Magnificent Lady’s foals!

You see, Magnificent Lady was bought by Dan Buffier only hours before she was due to be loaded onto a float that was to take her to Fleming senior’s property `Kilkee’, at Koorawartha.

The acquisition of a good, sound, well-bred mare is critical to the success of a breeding venture. I bought both Magnificent Lady (dam of Birthday Card) and Sikri (dam of Sir Dapper) because of this policy.

“Both had the right conformation but no race form. It was due to the efforts of my cattle carrier, Reg Bond, a noted judge of cattle and horses that I bought Magnificent Lady. I gave him a commission to buy this mare called Whistling Wind at the broodmare sale in Sydney because I was attending a cattle sale.

“From memory, I think I gave him about a 1000 guineas ($2100) to spend. That night he rang me and said the mare made 1250 or 1350 guineas but that he had seen another Ajax mare that he liked much better. Her name was Magnificent Lady and she had been passed in for 900 guineas with a reserve of 1000 guineas. I got hold of Norman Larkin, a great vet, to look at her and he passed her 100%.

“So I rang John Inglis and bought her just hours before she was loaded to go to `Kilkee Stud` which in those days was owned by Jim Fleming senior!”

It is interesting to note that John Kelly, of ‘Newhaven Park’, at Boorowa, purchased Whistling Wind (also by Ajax) and in 1959 she gave birth to The Tempest who won a Doomben Ten Thousand. That was the same year that Birthday Card was born to Magnificent Lady.

“Edmundo was probably the most brilliant two-year-old to come to Australia since Star Kingdom. I sent him my best mare in his second season which was, of course, Magnificent Lady, and in 1959 I foaled down the mare and the result was a beautiful chestnut filly. I must say from the outset, I am not a ‘theory’ breeder. I try and breed fast horses. The stock must suit each other on conformation but as far as ‘dosages’ and `nicks’ are concerned, well, I don’t really believe they are of paramount importance when you are trying to breed athletes.

“The Edmundo (GB) - Magnificent Lady filly was entered in due course for the 1961 Easter Yearling Sales but a few months before the event the late Joe Taylor came to St Marys to look at my yearlings and fell in love with her. Apparently, his daughter had sent him a birthday card just a few days before and the horse on the card closely resembled Birthday Card. Both were chestnuts with long white blazes on their faces and it must have been an omen to Joe because he would not leave without me selling her to him.

“I have loyalty to the Inglis family and would not dream of selling the filly. But Joe persisted and it is history now that Joe Taylor’s filly went into the stables of Reg Ferris and at her eighth start brilliantly won the 1962 Golden Slipper Stakes equalling Todman’s race record. And into the bargain, she broke the sire stranglehold of Star Kingdom on the race”.

It was the sixth running of the Golden Slipper and Birthday Card earned $10,000 for her very happy owner and a well earned commission for jockey Roy Greenwood. She beat a crack field which included Proud Miss, Grammar Lad, Bogan Road, Jan’s Image and Regal Peace.

Sadly, Birthday Card did not produce any outstanding gallopers despite her mating with sires like Todman and Gaul. She is, however, the grand-dam of some very useful gallopers.

The basis for the birth of Dan Buffier’s second Golden Slipper winner, Sir Dapper, was laid as long as 15 years before we saw Vain’s greatest son race away to win the 1983 Golden Slipper in race record time.

And it was former top miler Broker’s Tip who inspired the birth of Sir Dapper. Here’s how came about:

“I bought a filly, a three-year-old at a mixed sale of bloodstock in Melbourne, mainly because she was related to Broker’s Tip, one of the best milers I have ever seen on a racecourse (Broker’s Tip won six Group One races in Australia including a Doncaster and Epsom in the same season, and also won stakes events in America). She was by Golden Plume a very speedy horse, out of Miss Sikri, a Summertime mare.

“Miss Sikri was a full sister to Broker’s Tip. I only paid $1600 for her. I called her Sikri. In 1979 I decided to send her to Vain for a couple of reasons. One, I thought she deserved a real chance at stud as she had thrown a couple of useful winners to average sires including Billy Jo, a stakes winner by Gunsynd. And, two, despite what a lot has been said and written, Vain was standing at a very reasonable fee - I think from memory around $5,500, which I could afford.

“I have always been a great admirer of Vain, both as a racehorse and as a stallion, and he fitted into my criteria for the type of yearling I like to sell. Of course, the resultant foal was a colt and there is a bit of a story about his sale as a yearling which has never been told before.

“A few months before the 1982 Easter Yearling Sales, I sent my entire draft of yearlings down to Ross Flynn, at ‘Shipley Farm’, near Cobbitty.

“Ross knew no peers when it comes to preparing yearlings - you will remember those grand Red Gauntlets and Gauls that used to come down from Oakleigh Stud in the old days Graham, but the Vain colt got cast in his day yard just days before the yearlings were due at Newmarket.

“It was a freak accident and he badly scraped his leg. So we decided not to send him down with the others and gave him every chance to recover. Two of our biggest yearling buyers who were trainers, came down to look at him and, of course, he was not in his box. Sadly, they did not come back and I was left with very little competition on sale day.

“The Vain colt was all tucked-up and looked at his worst despite all our efforts on April 15th when John Inglis took up his gavel for the day’s sale. Fortunately, Les Bridge and Peter Horwitz could see the injury was only superficial and bought him for just $17,000.

“I was widely criticized by all-and-sundry for taking that price, let alone putting him in the ring, but I am a seller and a bird in the hand is worth a lot at sale time! And I don’t race colts either.”

Realistic and loyal, the mark of a good breeder, that was Dan Buffier, a shining example to breeders all over Australia!

It’s on the record now that the Vain colt registered as Sir Dapper (after the first name Dapper was rejected by the registrar) and retired to stud in 1984 was the winner of $619,000 in an illustrious career of 13 wins including the 1983 Golden Slipper in 1 minute 9.9 seconds, which clipped one-tenth of a second off Luskin Star’s former record.

After the Golden Slipper, Sir Dapper was syndicated to go to ‘Trans Media Stud’ at Cootamundra, the farm purchased by Michael Willesee from Ferd Calvin. His record could have been even better but for a freak accident.

It happened during the running of the All-Aged Stakes with the third clash between Sir Dapper and Emancipation.

Ironically, Sir Dapper was galloped on by the mare Tempestuous who was owned by Willesee. Not only did it cost the colt the race - he was beaten less than a length by Emancipation, but it spelled `finish’ to his racing career.

Interestingly, Sir Dapper and Tempestuous met again at stud. On November 1, 1986, the mare dropped a colt at ‘Trans Media’ to the stallion.

That colt fetched $15,000 (with me the underbidder at $14,000 for Celebrity Thoroughbreds) at the Easter Sales last year. He has a lot to live up to!

It is perhaps typical of Dan Buffier that he was the least media-exposed participant in the success of his horses. But he was the man who broke the ‘click’ that had control of racing end breeding from more fashionable areas, to breed not one but two winners of the Golden Slipper Stakes.

Well, my first recollections of Dan is the yearling filly buyer who would come around looking at our draft from ‘Segenhoe’ in his never ending pursuit of quality at the value price. That was in the early ‘sixties. He had been doing it for 40 years, very successfully as the winners he bred over the years will testify.

Dan Buffier was born at Randwick in 1922 and on completion of his education at Waverley College in 1939, joined the family property `Bangaroo’ at St Marys, west of Sydney.

“My family bought about 3000 acres in St Marys in 1880 for around one-pound-two-and-six an acre ($2.25 to us!). Back in the early 1800’s, my forebears were wine-makers in France before moving to Bremen in West Germany. Later they migrated to Australia.

“Initially they were based on a dairy near where the huge brick chimney is at St Peters and were buying and selling cattle and horses at the Quay Markets, which were later moved to Homebush.

“You will be interested to know that other men dairying at the time who later became breeders were Bob Crosby, who also moved to Bylong and bought ‘Wigelmar’ where he stood Welsh Border, Golden God and Peruvian Silk, and Tom Flynn whose ‘Oakleigh Stud’ in the Widden Valley became the home of High Caste, Red Gauntlet, Gaul, Regal Light, Bold Buccaneer and others.

“You know, Graham, in the early days there were over 400 dairies in the metropolitan area, from Vaucluse to Bankstown. We had to know a lot about horses because of the milk runs and it is no surprise that a lot of our competitors across the Tasman in New Zealand were dairy farmers before turning to thoroughbreds”.

How did you change from dairy cows to thoroughbreds?
“I have always had a deep respect and love for horses. They were our stock-in-trade as dairyists and farmers. My Grandfather raced a few and my Dad was a keen racegoer, but the real story for me starts with a mare we had on agistment at the farm. The client owed Dad four pounds 10 shillings and rather than pay up, he said: ‘Give the mare to the boy!’ That was me. I had been a regular rider at the shows for years but this was my first thoroughbred.

“Looking back, she wasn’t much - but she was mine. She had already had a couple of crooked-legged foals so I sent her to a tough horse called Sion, a son of Valais (GB). I sold the foal to Baden Hasler for 300 pounds and she won a lot of races as Phalaran.

“Mum and Dad had begun buying a few yearlings in Sydney and they allowed me to pick one. I selected a Medieval Knight (GB) filly. She won a race at Randwick as Belle Dome and became one of my best mares!

“For me, Belle Dome bred Rhumba (AJC Gimcrack Stakes and later the dam of Jet Gun), Valiant Prince (winner of 13 races - five at Randwick) and Expensive (the dam of the marvellous old Cups horse Income Tax).

How did you come to move from downtown St. Marys to out-of-the-way Bylong?
“In my travels, I used to come through the Bylong and Rylstone Valleys quite a lot. I always admired the quality of the country and the high quality of the beasts grazing on the land.

In the old days, Bylong produced some super horses and Heroic was seven times Champion Sire from his base at ‘Tarwyn Park’ which is not far from the property I fell in love with and bought in 1959 - ‘Wingarra’.

“Cec Frost, one of the best stud managers I ever met and head groom at ‘Widden’, always maintained that Bylong area had no peer as a producer of good stock.

“My wife Pat and I moved up here with Dutton (GB) and 20 mares in 1959. If was about 1900 acres in those days but grew to 2300 acres when we sold-out.

I don’t believe in running horses in small paddocks. They need space to stretch out and run around. ‘Wingarra’ had a blend of flat and hilly country so essential to breed thoroughbreds. However, I must say that Birthday Card was born at ‘Widden’ and raised at St. Marys - not Bylong. I had her and High Vista (AJC Breeders’ Plate winner) in the same paddock when Joe Taylor came up to look them over.

“Just before we moved up here, I ‘bought’ Bellborough (GB) through Inglis’ only to find out that the New Zealanders had beaten me by a couple of hours. I missed a good one but replaced him with a son of Tudor Minstrel in Dutton. Over the years, I have stood Honeyline (GB), Belgrave Square (GB), Make Haste (GB), Sovereign Ruler (GB) and Rebel God (GB). However, my two best were locally-bred sires - Osmunda, who went to stud in 1973, and Oenjay Star, who served his first season in 1981.

What do you look for when buying a stallion?
Type, conformation and pedigree for me with race performance the least important factor, really. With Osmunda and Oenjay Star, it was a bonus they were both very good racehorses but their other attributes far out-weighed that.

How I got Osmunda came about at the 1973 Easter Sales. I had spent a fair bit of money when Darryl Strong came up and mentioned that Osmunda was available. I snapped him up. But I needed a partner to finance the purchase. The late Jim Renfrew, a true gentleman in every sense of the word, came in for half without any written agreement. Just a handshake!

“Monreale was in Osmunda’s first crop; Black Opaque in his second; while Black Shoes came along in his fifth crop. Still, it was always hard to run his yearlings because they were not big. But they could run!

“I had admired Oenjay Star for a few years and was delighted when he became available as a stallion. I love fast, dominant sire-types like Royal Yacht, sire of Oenjay Star. The family reeked of class. He got Lets Get Physical (VATC Blue Diamond Stakes) in his first crop and we never looked back.

What advice can you give the young studmasters of today?
“You must be totally dedicated. On the job all-the-time. Buying sires from stallion families, sired by the best sires available. Choose fillies and mares from running families.

“Don’t put your faith in black-type! Be commercial by all means, but never forget that nature has a lot to do with raising good horses.

“Young horses must be raised on large tracts of land. Never run them in small paddocks. And I don’t like to see them broken-in too quickly after going through the trauma of a Yearling Sale. Don’t forget - always get the best staff around you.

Who in particular, would you say helped you over the years?
The Inglis family, first of all. Our families have been closely allied for a long time. Dick and John would come to ‘Bangaroo’ during school holidays, and I have been selling horses and cattle through the company all my working life.

“The staff at Inglis were always ready to help, especially Peter (‘Pedigree Pete’) Nicolle, Os Roberts and Reg Swan, but it was John I always turned to for sincere advice.

“A.W. Thompson was a great horseman and breeder, and was always ready to help me in my youth with advice and service fees. I bred a lot of horses at ‘Widden’.

“I had three fine young men work with me at ‘Wingarra’ over the years - Ron Webb, later at ‘Red Hill’ (a subsidiary of ‘Newhaven Park), Ron Shirtliffe, now the stallion man at ‘Trans Media Park’ where Sir Dapper stood, and the late Jack Hogan. All were - and are, great horsemen.

It was Ronny Shirtliffe who urged me to stand a son of Star Kingdom at stud. How right he was!

“Another man I must mention is Warren Mobbs, now at ‘Clearview’ at Bylong when Spectacular Spy (USA), in whom I had a large share holding, stood. Warren in a grand fellow to work with.

“You just cannot do it all yourself. Good staff is an absolute essential.

Who were the leading studmasters in your era?
Undoubtedly, Percy Miller who owned ‘Kia Ora’ at Scone. Percy Miller bred many, many champions and his mares, who were by Delville Wood, Midstream, Le Grand Duc, and so on, were all quality. Beautiful mares that stood out in a mob. Percy’s advice to me was ‘ ....cull, cull, cull!’. You may lose the odd good one but you do get rid of a lot of bad ones.

“‘Woodlands’, ‘Oakleigh’, ‘Widden’, ‘Segenhoe’ - all great stud farms, were owned by very shrewd men.

The best sire in your time?
Star Kingdom was the best, bar none!

“I could never afford (to send mares to) him but he was the best all-round sire I have ever seen.”

Any breeding theories?
“No!”

What are your views on Steroids?
“I have never used Steroids. Don’t like them at all. Feed your horses well, exercise them and you will never need needles to force growth.

“I believe they do tests on the Olympians. They should do the same on all yearlings consigned to the Sales - and publish their findings!”

Every good horseman has a good woman behind him. That might be a hackneyed phrase but it still holds true in the modern day.

Dan Buffier is no exception. His wife Pat, without any shadow of a doubt had been an enormous help to Dan throughout his life with horses.

“Pat was the underbidder on Cele’s Image as a yearling,” rued Dan Buffier. “Pat picked out the Nullabor (GB) - Arch Lass (Ire) filly as a yearling and we went to 500 guineas ($1050) for her, only to be beaten by an old school mate of mine. Jack Donohoe, who purchased her for Jock Graham at Coolac!”

Cele’s image made 525 guineas and won the AJC Warwick Stakes (defeating Wenona Girl and Sky High) and QTC Stradbroke Handicap before being retired to stud where she foaled Tina’s Joy (AJC June Stakes), Phantom Dollar (Tatt’s Carrington Stakes) and the STC Canterbury Guineas, STC Rosehill Guineas and AJC Derby winner Imagele who was next door to a champion.

There were few more gracious ladies in the industry than Pat Buffier.

Pat and Dan had their ups-and-downs but never lost hold of their humour and sense of dignity. As Pat pointed out: “You win some and lose some. Dan bought Mother of Pearl as a yearling for $6,000 and she won the Queensland Oaks!”

Once upon a time stories always had a happy ending. This story is no different to the classic fairy tales we were raised on. Still, there is no final chapter to the Dan Buffier Story because it hasn’t yet been written.

The Buffiers lived in ‘semi-retirement’ in a lovely home at Mudgee whilst owning 40 mares and holding shares in many stallions.

And guess what? There’s still time to breed another Golden Slipper Stakes winner. That, indeed, would be a record that would be hard to beat.