Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association Scone: History

I thought this might be worth revisiting; and be of some interest?

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The facts are that only five (5*) of the original committee are still extant! Two of them are advanced octogenarians; virtually wheelchair bound and in care. Almost none are still actively engaged in the industry with the one possible exception being Hilton Cope. I still write if that’s engagement? The promo was written originally to celebrate the first-time major sponsorship of the 1996 Scone Race Club Cup Carnival.  Noel Leckie was the instigator. Much has changed since then; but the overarching philosophy prevails. There’s a new broom at the Race Club now.

*Note: With the recent passing of Betty Shepherd and John Harris the ‘original’ committee team of twelve (12) is reduced to three (3): Hilton Cope, David Bath and the author (WPH)!

Note 2 (25/04/2022): David Bath passed away earlier this year also. I call Hilton on occasion to make sure he’s still there!

The Hunter Valley Bloodhorse Breeders Association

The major sponsor for the Scone Race Club Cup Carnival is for the first time (1996) the Hunter Valley Bloodhorse Breeders Association (HVBHBA) with the $40,000 HVBHBA Scone Cup (1300m) and the $50,000 HVBHBA Dark Jewel Quality Handicap (1400m) for fillies and mares on Friday 17th May 1996.

The incumbent committee is to be warmly and sincerely congratulated on this magnificent initiative to promote their local industry.  It begs the question of the origin, incentives and objectives of the organisation.

Research has revealed that a meeting convened in Scone on 31st November 1951 led to the formation of the Upper Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Society.  Present at that meeting were G.A. Christmas (Oak Range), L.R. Morgan (Redbank), A.H. Young, Scott Johnston (Tyrone), R.M. and J. Bowcock (Alabama), A.W. (‘Bert’) Riddle (Kia Ora), Cliff Duncombe (Kingsfield), W.M. Bate, R.A. Basche, and Noel Hall (Cressfield).  Apologies were received from F.W. Thompson (Widden), L.B. Israel (Segenhoe) and J.W. Johnston (Tyrone).  The stated objectives of this embryonic society were to promote the thoroughbred racing industry in the Upper Hunter.  Presumably, this association did not have a long lifespan as it appears to have fallen into liquidation within the decade.  This may well have been attributable to the (also) recent formation of the Bloodhorse Breeders Association of Australia (NSW Division) some of whose major protagonists were common to both committees.

The Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association of Australia, Statistical Abstract 1st August 1952 to 31st July 1953 lists the New South Wales Division Committee as: L B Israel (Segenhoe, President), M V Point (Sledmere, Vice-President), R M Bowcock (Alabama, Hon. Treasurer), F W Thompson (Widden), E N Larkin (Wilberforce), N Wheeler (Kia Ora), A V Meehan. Clearly this is dominated by representatives from the Upper Hunter.

The next significant and energetic drive to galvanise the industry and achieve consensus was achieved by Murray Bain and John Kelso who combined to convene a series of meetings designed to discuss mutual problems based on scientific (veterinary and management) presentations.  The first of these seminars was held at the Scone Bowling Club in July 1968.  Out of this, sprang the Murray Bain led crusade which culminated in the construction of the first set of yearling boxes on White Park.  This was financially backed by William Inglis and Sons and Pitt Son and Keene as well as local Stud Masters and Veterinarians.  Gough Whitlam’s ‘RED’ Scheme was to further augment this construction between 1972-75.  Later, Peter Morris (Derby-King Ranch) and Bill Howey formed the ‘F2 Club’ with a similar legacy to promote regular meetings of thoroughbred breeders at the beginning and end of each breeding season and to meet socially.  (The ‘First and Final’ Service Club!!?!).

By the mid-1970’s a ground swell of opinion began to emerge, partially orchestrated from what was to become a familiar source, that the philosophy of this type of seminar should be expanded to include a far wider range of topics for discussion and  decision by regular like minded gatherings.  It was left to Peter Hodgson (Chamorel Park Stud, Upper Rouchel) and Jack Sheppard (Gyarran Stud) to systematically drive the genesis of what was to become The Bloodhorse Breeders Association of Australia, New South Wales Division, Hunter Valley Branch (HVBHBA).  Peter and Jack constituted a formidable duo combining ‘new age’ acumen and vision with traditional knowledge and values

A series of well-attended and enthusiastic meetings were subsequently convened in Scone and in mid-1978 the Rules of The Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association of Australia, New South Wales Division, Hunter Valley Branch were formally adopted.

Rule 3 states:

The objects (sic) for which the Branch is formed are:

(a).       To promote and advance the interest of the Breeders of the Bloodhorse in the Hunter Valley district.

(b).       To regulate or assist in regulating the days of sale, order of sale and procedure in connection with the Hunter Valley Branch Yearling Sale or Hunter Valley Branch Sales.

(c).       To co-operate with and assist all other divisions and Branches of the Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association of Australia.

The inaugural committee elected in Scone to implement these objectives included the following:  Peter Hodgson (Chamorel Park), Jack Sheppard (Gyarran), John Harris (Holbrook), ‘Bim’ Thompson (Widden), John Kelso (Timor Creek), James Mitchell (Yarraman Park), David Bath (Bhima), David Casben (Yarramalong), Peter Morris (Woodlands D-KR), Hilton Cope (Kelvinside), Betty Shepherd (Trevors), John Clift (Kia Ora), Ray Gooley and Bill Howey (Veterinarians).  Their success or failure may be judged against today’s values.

Among many of the early deliberations were the promotion of racing at Muswellbrook, sales at Scone, co-operative buying groups for goods and services and a ‘black list’ of bad debtors! The legal profession under current legislation might have discovered fertile territory had some of these come to fruition?

Perhaps the major early significant achievement was the promotion of the First Annual Yearling Sale, White Park Racecourse, on Sunday 4th March 1979 at which 204 lots were catalogued.  There was a BBQ and parade of yearlings at 6.30 p.m. on Saturday 3rd March 1979.  This followed the Denman Race Club Meeting at Skellatar Park, which was sponsored by the HVBHBA with the Upper Hunter Breeders Improvers Handicap (fillies and Mares), 1200m., $1000 prize money with a Winners Trophy of $200 and Breeders Trophy of $100.  Woodlands Stud, Balfour Stud and Yarraman Park Stud were also major sponsors on the day.

The sale was officially opened by media personality Mike Willesee who purchased his first yearling, Lot 115, the Chestnut Colt by Coolness ex. Liquid Fire consigned by the Holbrook Partnership, Widden Valley.  The liquor licensing laws of the period demanded that on Sunday, alcoholic beverages and refreshment could only be provided by ‘committee’ from the minute bar at the Scone Race Club.  There were some very interesting accounts and ‘shouts’ from that arrangement which the combined tyrannies of time and distance fortuitously prevent accurate recall and/or redress!?! It was measure of the calibre of the man that ‘Bim’ Thompson voluntarily elected to vacate some of his ‘choice’ boxes on course to accommodate well presented yearlings consigned by Sledmere Stud who had been allocated the less favourable tie-up stalls. (TAW). Would this be likely to happen today!?!

The social highlight of the year for the HVBHBA had undoubtedly been the Annual Dinner and Presentation of Awards during the Scone Horse Festival in May.  Unique accolades are the ‘Murray Bain Service to Industry Award’ and the President’s Award for Industry Achievement.  In the spirit of the ‘F2 Club’, very successful

Christmas Parties have also been held!!  Occasionally, as needs arise, very important industry collaboration has taken place whenever new disease or other threats appear. Paramount among these was the gathering of 400+ at Scone Bowling Club in July 1977 when the ‘twin disasters’ of ‘Jubilee Clap’ (CEM) and Viral Abortion were anticipated and repelled.

Perhaps the most significant of all ‘new beginnings’ to emerge from the original HVBHBA conceptus has been the nascence of the Hunter Valley Equine Research Foundation (HVERF) in the mid-1980’s.  This was the brain child of the author and Brian Agnew of Wakefield Stud and as history has displayed, has been the underpinning organisation in the startling, impressive and holistic development of the Hunter Valley Equine Centre at Satur.

The HVBHBA has followed a circuitous path to arrive at today’s crossroads and is a rather different organisation than that originally envisaged and constituted.

However, it has been constant in promoting races even since its inception, and surely the scale and magnitude of the promotion of the Scone Cup Meeting 1996 and the quality of the catalogue for the HVBHBA Yearling Sale, Sunday May 1996 represent the culmination of effort and pinnacle of achievement to date?


Bold Scone Venture

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Featured Image: Robyn and Peter Hodgson with a favourite mare at their ‘Chamorel Park Stud’, Synone, Upper Rouchel, Aberdeen in January 1978

The following article appeared in the Hunter Manning Magazine, Issue No 40; Fortnight beginning February 6, 1978. It’s essentially about the formation of the then nascent Hunter Valley Blood Horse Breeders Association. One of the main drivers was Peter Hodgson. Peter was a ‘new chum’ in the industry coming off a very successful business career in Sydney in the Electrical Engineering industry. He was a genuine ‘new broom’, highly literate and bringing a very fresh approach with novel ideas.

‘Paddling their own canoe’

Peter Hodgson is convinced that unless breeders “get off their tails and do something” the Upper Hunter Town of Scone is going to lose its tag of as a traditional horse breeding centre.

“It’ll slip through our fingers,” he says, fingering the folder of documents he has accumulated on the subject.

And it appears that the breeders agree with him.

Spearheaded by Peter, and operating under the title of the Hunter Valley branch of the Blood Horse Breeders Association of Australia, they’ve planned a bold attack on the over-productive industry. “Bold” because it’s never been done before.

The breeders want to establish Scone as a national thoroughbred selling centre. Their first step in this direction – a quality yearling sale – is presently planned for next February (1979).

They have invited Mr John Inglis, head of William Inglis & Son, the biggest bloodstock auctioneers in NSW, to conduct the sale. It obviously augurs well for the future if he accepts but according to Peter Hodgson, a refusal will not be considered a setback.

The decision to form the new Hunter Valley Branch was made unanimously at a Scone meeting last October (1977) attended by about 54. The branch covers the established horse breeding territory from Maitland to Murrurundi and has 85 “interested breeders.” These 85 said Peter represent the majority of breeders in the area and includes all the major breeders.

According to Peter, the aim of forming the branch was to give the breeders more say in the running of their industry. Its aims are to promote the Hunter Valley thoroughbred, to provide services for breeders and primarily, to promote regular yearling sales in the area.

He does not see the planned Scone sale as replacing the major Sydney sale but as “probably reducing the quantity of yearlings sold in Sydney.

Quality, he says, will be the key word to its success. “If we can provide quality we will have a successful sale and attract people from far and wide.

“To date none of the sales held out of Sydney have attracted quality. The breeders themselves are running this sale and it is in their interest to provide quality”.

In theory, the case for a successful quality Scone sale is strong. About 60 per cent of the yearlings sold in NSW each year, said Peter, re bred in and around the Hunter. At present it costs and average of $600 to sell a yearling in Sydney whereas the new Hunter Valley body says it can put on a quality Scone sale at a cost of $150 a yearling.

At present “decent pedigreed” yearlings bring big money but from there the drop is dramatic. “Of the 563 yearlings catalogued at the last couple of weeks of summer sales, less than 10 per cent were top sales of $10,000 and more.

“Of the 563, 153 that made reserve figures such as $800 and $1000 were passed in. These people not only had the expense of taking the yearlings to Sydney to sell them, but they didn’t sell them.

“Of the 400 sold, I would say half the prices were not acceptable to the breeder. The service fee of a reasonable stallion is $1000 and $1500.”

Quality dictated sales will solve the problem at present plaguing thouroughbred breeding in Australia – too many broodmares. The past six years, which saw the boom period, also saw an increase of 12,000 to 24,000 brood mares in Australia.

This figure compares with 300 brood mares in Ireland, 6000 each in England and between 30,000 and 33,000 in the USA.

According to Peter, Australia would be the only country in the world where thoroughbred yearlings are sold in the capital centres. “In Australia, for some reason, we cart them to the capital cities and incur all these costs,” he said’ adding: “It will get to the stage where people will not be able to afford to send yearlings to Sydney unless the yearling is designed to bring more than $10,000.”

He asked why Scone could not attract buyers. The branch intends soliciting race course associations and trainers and promoting the sale on a large scale. “If we can put out a catalogue we will attract buyers, no doubt about that,” he said. One thing Peter is assured of is that people who attend the sale will be interested. “In Sydney half the people there are spectators,” he said.

On present plans, the association plans to hold the sale over a week end in February. It will parade the yearlings on the Saturday morning; hold a race meeting in Scone for visitors on Saturday afternoon; start the sale probably with 75 lots on Saturday evening; another parade of yearlings on Sunday morning; and a sale of the balance of the yearlings on the Sunday afternoon. Visitors will be able to see the studs where the yearlings are standing prior to going to sale.

A major airline is considering sponsoring the sale in South-East Asia. “The airline has good connections in the breeding and racing industry in this area and it feels it can attract a tour to the sale,” said Peter. “They even intimated they will provide travel to South-East Asia for one of our members to promote the sale,” he added.

Another project the branch is backing at present – and which has received good State and Federal Government response – is the establishment of an equine research centre, as a Department of Sydney University Faculty of Veterinary Science, in the Hunter. A site it is looking at is the AI centre at Aberdeen which is to be sold this month.

There is also bid afoot in Scone to establish and equestrian centre.

All these proposed developments lead Peter to believe Scone could be a big equestrian and selling centre in five years. The Hunter Valley branch of the Blood Horse Breeders Association would put any proceeds from its sale into supporting these ventures, he said.

All eyes, however, will centre on Scone next February when the branch members “paddle their own canoe” with their first sale.

Peter Hodgson’s final say is: “Provided the breeders stand firm with their commitment to our local association, there is no way it won’t be a roaring success.”


Sadly Peter Hodgson passed away at far too early an age. He was a true visionary and a close friend. His optimism did not materialise into full fruition. I have been intimately involved myself; even today after over 50 years. Although much has be achieved I am a somewhat disappointed that ’the breeders did not stand firm with their commitment’ as Peter hoped and predicted. It’s a pity to end on a mildly pejorative note. However there are some promising signs on the horizon; yet again! Stay tuned and remain positive!