Steve Moran

Steve Talks To David Price

That metamorphosis was accelerated, in part, by his 2001 Inglis Classic sale $55,000 purchase – in conjunction with John Foote – of a robust son of El Moxie (Conquistador Cielo). He was, of course, to be named Silent Witness and sold to Hong Kong where he won his first 17 starts and was the world champion sprinter in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Fast forward to Classic 2016 and Price secures the recent Blue Diamond Preview (C&G) (Listed, 1000) winner Property (Starcraft) for $130,000. “I can assure you we did not have one more bid,” he says.

Throw in the multiple Group winner Contentment (Hussonet), and runner-up to Maurice (Screen Hero) in last year’s Champions Mile (Gr 1, 1600m), who was purchased at the same early year sales for $65,000 and you can understand that Price has a special focus on ‘Classic’ notwithstanding that he buys dozens of yearling at various sales around Australasia.

“Classic is a prime target. It does throw up winners, it’s as simple as that. I’d imagine we’d buy five or six there this year. I’ve done the whole book and I’m just trying to put it all together now and come up with some sensible figures. If you want to remain in the game you have to have a limit,” he said.

That’s hardly a shock as Price is a realist. But he’s also passionate about the game and that enthusiasm is occasionally confronting but certainly admirable. He has no time for the prophets of doom and has a rare ability to tell you, very plainly, that ‘you’re wrong’ but somehow manages to do that without offending and then – often as not – convince you that you were indeed wrong.

He argues that the level of interest in Australia is still ‘great’ but just ‘not as visual’ as it was when crowds flocked to the track every Saturday. “You can follow it from anywhere now, you don’t have to be on course. And here in Hong Kong, turnover continues to escalate. Last Sunday it was up 21 per cent on the same meeting last year,” he said.

Price has long displayed an uncanny knack for finding a winner – which I’m sure he’d put down to hard work – either from a form guide or a sales catalogue. His business was initially form and betting driven when he moved to Hong Kong in 1993 but the bloodstock interest has grown consistently and has now generated some 490 winners of more than HK$500,000,000 in prize money.

He now describes himself as very much a trader. “We’re here to sell winners,” he says of Price Bloodstock.

“I’m often asked ‘what do you do if you get a really good one’?,” he said, “you charge more is my reply. They’re all for sale.”

Price says he can’t remember how much Silent Witness was sold for to Hong Kong. “I really can’t, it was probably 200 horses ago but obviously that sale gave us great credibility even if he did set the bar a bit high,” he said.

He, of course, remembers the time fondly. “I liked El Moxie and he was out of a good mare (Jade Tiara) and he was sold for about our average spend at the time. My first memory was that he was such a big, strong horse,” he said.

One of the first hints that he had the ability to match his physique was in a trial at Ballarat in August 2002 when then trained by David Hall and ridden by Patrick Payne.

“I remember that,” Price said, “Victoria Shaw called the trials, Paddy (Payne) rode him and he won easily. Paddy said he’d sell him to a friend and Hally (David) wanted to buy him so I thought we might have something.”

Silent Witness won his first start in Hong Kong, by almost four lengths, on Boxing day in 2002 and remained unbeaten until may 2005. “We were in Melbourne and listened to that first win on the wireless,” Price said. Oh, come on David – it wasn’t that long ago.

“He was an amazing horse and the level of interest up here (Hong Kong) was extreme. You could say he was a version of Black Caviar here. When he was really flying he was right there with the best of the best. His dominance was incredible and he did some amazing things. He dropped the jockey and galloped a lap of the track the day before he won the Sprinters Stakes in Japan.

“To me, he was a bit Manikato like given that he was so big and strong and powerful. The day he won his seventeenth straight race, the noise the crowd made was real goosebumps material,” he said.

Price says the timing of Silent Witness’ emergence played a part in his popular acclaim, perhaps similarly to Phar Lap being hallowed in the depression era.

“There was an economic slump in Hong Kong at the time and we had the outbreak of SARS…..and here was this horse who just kept winning so the public jumped on board. It shows that horses can still captivate people,” he said.

Such was the popularity of Silent Witness that on the day he won his 17th straight race, a rush for free Silent Witness caps resulted in 21 people being injured at the races at Sha Tin and seventeen of them were taken to hospital.

Contentment hasn’t quite generated that level of following or hysteria but also been a good advertisement for Price’s business. “He’s a good horse, who’s now won more than HK$24,000,000, I think we bought well. People were turning their noses up at Hussonet which I couldn’t understand given he’d had almost 100 stakes winners. Sometimes best to think away from the norm.”

Price, this weekend, will leave final inspections and bidding to long time associate Foote – as is generally the case – but will be tuning in to the action at Newmarket and most likely to Caulfield where Property is nominated. Presumably by something more sophisticated than the wireless. 

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