Jo McKinnon Column

Stallion parades a time to celebrate all that the industry is

Stallion parades are quite the thing these days and, for many, have become a must attend on the Australian racing calendar each year. The recent sequence of parades held in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, the nation’s thoroughbred breeding mecca, were a big hit once again with thousands of thoroughbred fans seizing the opportunity to go inside the gates of major farms and get up close with the famed stallions that help shape our industry.

Without fail, Arrowfield Stud puts on one the best stallion shows and for the past 13 years Susan Archer has led the presentation of their equine superstars.

Her knowledge and commentary is second to none and makes for one of the most engaging and professional stallion parades you will see anywhere in the world.

“I think it’s our favourite event of the year. It’s social because it comes at that part of the year when we look back, spring racing has begun and we are revved up. The first foals have arrived and stallions are about to breed again. It’s the fulcrum of the year,” said Archer.

A long-time employee of Arrowfield, Archer remains humble about the pivotal role she plays in the success of these showcase days.

“I like to describe it as an all-team feat of logistical sweat and magic because it does involve a heap of people on the farm,” she said. 

Last weekend Arrowfield welcomed close to 1,000 people to view eight stallions, including their four-time champion Snitzel, The Autumn Sun and Hitotsu, a new addition to their powerful roster.

“We have three fathers and sons on the roster, all at different price points, which is pretty cool,” Archer said. “I think Hitotsu surprised everyone with how quickly he’s let down and a homebred coming back is special.”

For stud farms, while the promotion of stallions as commercial breeding prospects is a priority, public parades are not just a hard sell of nominations. Open days are also a prime opportunity for farms and the many people involved behind the scenes to connect with key players in the industry as well as racing fans and the local community.

“It reminds us that we have very special magic and we need to share it with as many people as possible. It’s story telling. We are telling a story of the stallions and the sport and we have an obligation to do that,” Archer said.

“We certainly do get business out of it. It helps people confirm their decision. If they are tossing up between stallions it helps them make that decision.”

With the pandemic now well behind us and people freely travelling again, Arrowfield attracted visitors from all over Australia this year.

“Lockdowns made us realise we treasure that personal contact. It was lovely to see families and people from Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia and of all ages,” Archer said. “Michael Li, who is a vet student with Gai [Waterhouse], came out by train and bike to see our horses. He was so keen and said ‘I have a day off and I want to see the stallions’.”

With such a diverse audience of varying levels of racing and breeding knowledge, Archer’s presentation is the glue that holds the day together. Her and the horses have the stage.

“You don’t want the horses going around and around and around. I like to keep it tight. It’s not all about stats. The facts you choose should be weighted and presented in a way for people to absorb it,” she explained. 

“There’s nothing better than an engaged and enraptured crowd that loves the stallions. I love it.”

Over the years, Archer has developed a strong connection to the horses.

“On the first day I looked up and saw The Autumn Sun, I said ‘oh my God’, as he was channelling Redoute’s Choice. I had to keep my focus because if I looked at him too long I would have started to cry. It’s emotional as he’s probably the last horse we will stand by Redoute’s.”

Archer’s presentations are enthralling and effortless. And while she appears calm, she admits to getting a few butterflies before she takes to the microphone.

“I always get nervous beforehand and my father, who was an All Black, said you should always be, otherwise you don’t care enough. As soon as I start I’m fine,” said Archer.

“I feel very supported by the team and an immense responsibility to speak for the horses and us and I want to hold the audience for the whole time. I don’t talk conformation. It’s good to let people form their own view. I’m adding to what they are seeing.”

The social aspect of the day is a highlight for those in attendance, too, with many culinary delights served up. On their opening day last weekend Arrowfield handed out 160 croissants, 100 yoghurt cups, 240 muffins and churned through four kilograms of coffee beans.

Mementos are also popular. In past years they have given away Redoute’s Choice key rings, donuts iced in the red and green racing colours of The Autumn Sun and, this year, to celebrate Hitotsu, they offered lollipops in his racing colours – the navy blue and yellow-spotted silks of Ozzie Kheir. 

“There’s always something quirky. We have even had origami statues for the Japanese stallions in the past,” Archer said. 

Knicks knacks and croissants aside, the real horses are the stars of the show and Archer relishes the chance to introduce them to the public.

“Sometimes people that come, they love racing, but have never been on a stud. It’s a precious opportunity to share what we do with people like that and you never know where it would lead. It can lead to a passion or a career in the industry as a trainer, a jockey, a journalist or, who knows? And how good is that.”

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