It's In The Blood


A bush breeder named Boof, an American sire with a name barely known to anyone, a battle for survival on the first day of life – for a foal still suckling from its dam two years later – a frantic dash to the border before a Covid closure, a court case and a Group 1 triumph.

Just where do you start, in the story of Oakleigh Plate winner Queman (Mint Lane)?

It starts out back, at New Crown Station, one of those cattle properties the size of a European country. It’s 3,500 square miles, or two million acres, and has the South Australia-Northern Territory border running through it.

Boof Smith, now 76, was raised there in a family that, like most in those parts, dabbled in racehorses, and were regular winners of the region’s most coveted prize, the Oodnadatta Cup.

“There were four stations where everyone knew the good horses came from, and we were one of those,” Smith tells It’s In The Blood. “My dad, Robert, used to go to Adelaide and bring back a stallion or two to put to the mares.”

One was the perfectly-named Bush Playboy, by Philanderer, who sired one or two of New Crown’s ten Oodnadatta Cup winners between the 1960s and the ‘90s.

“One time Dad brought back three grey sires. One was Arise, and he sired Mr. Rise, who won the Balaklava Cup in 1974,” Smith says of a gelding who was also sent on a Melbourne Cup mission only to fall agonisingly short of requirements in a lead-up race.

These were tough horses. They had to be, for the track rating out there was somewhere way beyond firm. Out there they race on the gibber plain, which would be a great name for a racing panel show, but is also a barren landscape like the Mars Rover might photograph, covered in rocks, or ‘gibbers’.

“We were racing on the rocks, sometimes half the size of your fist,” Smith says, confirming stone bruises were something of an occupational hazard.

When Queman’s trainer Shane Oxlade called Saturday’s Oakleigh Plate a triumph for the battlers, the five-year-old gelding’s breeder was front and centre. Some Group 1 winners are bred by one or another Sheikh Mohammed, Lord Lloyd-Webber or the Aga Khan. Here was Queman, bred by Boof Smith.

He was named in the traditional way – by another Aussie bloke, full of all the sensitivities surrounding the joy of new birth you can imagine.

“My mum brought me back from hospital and my uncle Rollo took one look at me and said, ‘Jeez, he’s a boof-headed bastard!’” says Smith, part of a proud line of Australian sporting Boofs, including Queensland trainer Mark “Boof” Currie, cricketer Darren “Boof” Lehman, and doubtless thousands of other similarly bonced Aussies who achieved no fame.

“My real name’s Francis, but I don’t like it. I introduce myself as Boof.”

Boof bought New Crown from his father several decades ago, and around 2000 sold it on to his own son, Matt, and moved to just outside the idyllic town of Strathalbyn, south-east of Adelaide. He bought a place one 10,000th the size of his old one – 200 acres – and continued hobby breeding and training. Matt sold New Crown on four years ago, and has a place near Young, NSW, where Boof keeps his two mares.

“I don’t miss life up on the station very much at all really,” says Boof, who ends most comments with a laugh. At the moment, it’s easy to see why.

Soon after moving south, he became involved with a mare named Nilreen (General Nediym) with his friend and next door neighbour Tom Hardy, a local bank manager. On the track, Nilreen had racked up a picket fence, of sorts: 11: 1-1-1.

Smith and Hardy sent her to AJC Derby and Epsom winner Clangalang (Clang) and produced Langreen. She reprised her mother somewhat by going 7: 1-1-1, but had some ability and – as we’ll find out – quite some tolerance for pain and annoyances.

“She was really competitive, and always wanted to be in the lead,” Smith says. “She won her fourth start here at Strathalbyn, but was galloped on early in the race. She needed two years out after that, and we tried again, but after three more starts she bowed a tendon.”

When Hardy gave the game away in his 80s, he also gave his half of Langreen to Smith. He went to find a stallion, and here’s where this obscure sire attains his 15 minutes of fame.

Mint Lane, a son of Group 1-winning stallion Maria’s Mon (Wavering Monarch) didn’t have the most stellar of backgrounds for a US sire imported to Australia. Bred by a couple of well known breeders who sound just as Ivy League American as Boof Smith sounds rural Australian – Pope Maclean Senior, and Pope Maclean Junior – he’d won a Group 2 and a Listed, both over 1900 metres, in 2008.

Still, hopes were high when he was imported to Australia in 2010 to stand amid the challenging stallion landscape of South Australia, at Ralph Satchell’s Willow Grove Stud, near Strathalbyn, albeit at a realistic service fee of $6,600.

Mint Lane’s fertility was high – in seasons one and four it was 94.6 per cent and 93.3 per cent – though the mare numbers weren’t as impressive, with 60 and 18 covered in those years.

He ran at 48 per cent winners-to-runners through his first four years, and in his fifth he finally cracked a stakes winner, when Willi Willi took out the 2018 Albury Cup (Listed, 2000m).

But that was pretty much all she wrote. Mint Lane’s fee fell to $2,200 for a couple of seasons, then $3,300 off the back of that Albury Cup. He was sold and stood the 2019 season at Victoria’s Glen Eden Stud at that price but – presaging a legal dispute with his new owner, he covered only nine mares for three live foals. (Glen Eden’s Sonia O’Gorman yesterday told It’s In The Blood that Mine Lane was returned to his owner in South Australia. His 2019 listings are the 19-year-old’s last in the stud book).

In 2016, Boof Smith went to Willow Grove to consider matings for Langreen, and he hit upon Mint Lane.

It wasn’t for the pedigree match-ups. There wasn’t much of that sort of thing canvased in the breeding learnings of the outback.

“Nah, all that trying to match them up, I don’t worry about that. I just look for what I want in a stallion,” Smith says. “Ralph had Host standing there, but he was getting a bit old, and Mint Lane had a fairly good pedigree, and physically he looked alright.”

The $2,200 fee looked alright too, and almost a year later Langreen bore her first foal. Sadly, he didn’t survive, but Smith tried again with the same sire, and sent his mare to his son Clint’s farm near Young. In October, 2018, arrived a headstrong young colt later called Queman.

It’s a good thing this particular battler immediately had the determination seen in his home straight battle with Hypothetical (Pride Of Dubai) last Saturday, and in his other eight wins from 21 starts.

“He was born about 10am, and when I rang Clint about 6pm he said the colt still hadn’t had a drink,” Smith says. “The vets were called. The mare was playing up a bit, and her teats weren’t protruding. They were just gonna give up after a while, but about 10pm the mare suddenly stood up, and the foal hooked on.

“It was still looking a bit dicey. He didn’t get much of a drink. There was just enough coming out to let him know where the teat was. The vets said he might need to go in for a colostrum shot the next morning. But the next morning, he was there having a drink, and things looked OK.”

The colt took to the practice with quite some relish. Thanks to Covid and some other factors, he was still on his mother 26 months later.

“When he was about a year old I was about to drive over and pick him up. My wife said if I waited a week she could come with me. During that week, Covid hit, and the borders got closed, so we couldn’t go anywhere,” Smith says.

“In the wild, a stallion would come along and the mare gets in-foal and cuts the weanling off. But that wasn’t the case with us, and the mare wasn’t going anywhere, so we just left him on her.”

Rather than the indulged only child, Smith feels there was a semblance of Queman’s later racetrack aggression at play, as much as that can be wearing on a mum.

“He used to give her a kick to make her stand up and give him a drink,” he says. “I just think it’s like his determination to win. He likes to get what he wants. His mother was like that too, always wanted to lead.”

Early in 2020, with Queman 26 months old and just broken in, Smith finally headed to Young to bring him home.

“We were there about 2pm one day and got the message that the South Australian border would be closing at midnight that night,” Smith says.

They packed up in hurry, gave Queman a quick introduction to a horse float, and at 3pm bolted for the border.

“We didn’t stop for dinner, just grabbed some hot chips somewhere,” he says. “We got there at 11.50pm – in the nick of time.”

Without that version of The Cannonball Run, who knows when Queman might have finally become a racehorse?

In the end, he debuted as a three-year-old gelding, but with still some unruly ways, with Smith the trainer, in August, 2021. After running third in a Murray Bridge maiden, a hand injury to Smith led to his transfer to his mate Oxlade.

Three starts later, he’d won twice at Morphettville, and Smith received a $330,000 offer from “somewhere in Asia”.

Mint Lane, despite his moderate record in Australia – which now reads 58 winners, and two stakes winners, from 107 runners – has been popular in Asia, where he has strong winners-to-runners ratios in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Korea. Granted, that’s from a low sample size, but in Malaysia his six winners have amassed 33 victories, and they include the gelding Violet, who’s won 13 times, twice at black type.

Smith, of course, rejected the offer. With Queman having earned $906,000 and two stakes wins for him and his co-owning sons Matt and Clint, he’s “bloody glad” he did.

“I thought my time was gone. I didn’t ever think about a Group 1. I thought we were well past making a horse like that,” he says. “He’s one out of the box.”

And still there’s hope for one more. Langreen, having not been served for three years after the demanding Queman’s birth, is now in-foal to Peltzer (So You Think) and has what Smith calls a “beautiful” yearling filly by Denman (Lonhro).

“The filly ran into a post the other day and put a big cut in her shoulder,” he says. “She’s got to get over that, but she’s healing up. We’ll keep her, and she’ll be our next broodmare.”

The injury is probably a good sign. This is a family that seems to thrive on a bit of adversity.

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