(From left) Dean, Leigh and Sean Hawkins with their Tavistock half-brother to Kermadec.
It was no surprise that Des and Janet Hawkins were on track at Caulfield on Sunday to cheer home their mare Shenandoah.
While the couple watched the Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young-trained Darci Brahma four-year-old cap a couple of thirds with a sound win over 1800 metres, their Wentwood Grange operation in Cambridge was ticking over smoothly in good hands in the countdown to the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales, which starts on January 28.
Shenandoah’s win boosted interest in her half-brother (Lot 418) by exciting first-season sire Brazen Beau, being offered in their Wentwood Grange Book 1 draft at Karaka. In total, Wentwood Grange has 23 yearlings in Book 1 and a further 15 in Book 2.
Since establishing Wentwood Grange in 2000, it’s been all hands on deck, but over the last couple of years there has been a changing of the guard with Des stepping back from the helm of the Wentwood operation and leaving their sons, Dean, Sean and Leigh, to have more control in its destiny.
“He and Mum love going to the races and watching our horses run, and now they’re able to do that whenever they want,” said Dean Hawkins (34), the stud manager at Wentwood Grange.
“He started to step back a couple of years ago and has had less involvement since then. He still does half the foaling, drives the tractor and does odd jobs around the place. He’s says it is all care and no responsibility.
“It’s great that he and Mum can get away on holidays and go to the races whenever they want. That’s what they wanted to do. And it’s a vote of confidence in us three sons.”
Sean Hawkins has taken over the title of Marketing Manager at Wentwood Grange and runs the Maungatautari branch of the operation and though eldest brother, Leigh, still continues his long-time role as business manager at Windsor Park Stud he has taken up the same position once a week at Wentwood Grange.
“It’s all about working together and keeping the whole operation running smoothly,” Dean said. “We even all got away together last June – eight adults and six kids under six – to watch Shenandoah run in the Queensland Oaks. It was a great way to celebrate Mum’s 70th birthday over there, even though we had no luck with Shenandoah.”
Des and Janet Hawkins were dairy farming in Wales when, as Dean puts it, “they had a midlife crisis and wanted a change in direction.” Packing up the three young boys, they shifted to New Zealand and in 1992 bought The Oaks Stud, which had been founded by West Australian businessman Laurie Connell in the 1980s.
After six years at The Oaks, they moved on and bought their Wentwood Grange property and had a lease arrangement with Westbury Stud. When Westbury Stud shifted to Karaka, Wentwood Grange was established in 2000 and has since extended to three farms with a total size of 166 hectares.
The three sons all completed their schooling in Cambridge and went their separate ways, but all were destined to end up in the thoroughbred world. Dean worked for Windsor Park Stud and Coolmore Ireland, as well as a stint with Newmarket trainers Michael Jarvis and Roger Varian, while Sean went dairy farming and playing rugby in Canada and Leigh continued along the accounting and business management path.
“Later on we had a dairy farm at Otorohanga and Sean managed that, but it was always the plan we would be back home and take over the operation one day,” Dean said. “That’s happened now and we’ve watched it grow.”
Starting off with just a handful of broodmares, Wentwood Grange has increased its broodmare band to 60 and has up to a dozen racehorses in work under its Llanhennock Trust banner.
On the racing front, Llanhennock Trust’s first major success came when their home-bred mare Miss Raggedy Ann shocked punters in the 2011 Gr. 1 Railway Stakes at Ellerslie at odds of 86-1.
Four years later the Wentwood Grange crew was at Te Rapa to see three-year-old filly Valley Girl, another of their home-breds, carry the Llanhennock Trust colours to success in the Gr. 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes.
However, the biggest highlight for the Hawkins family was between times as Llanhennock Trust became the first New Zealand breeder to breed a Group One winner at Royal Ascot when Little Bridge won the 2012 Gr. 1 King’s Stand Stakes .
Enrichment, Little Bridge’s granddam, was one of those first mares bought when Wentwood Grange was established and all the family, bar Sean, was on hand at Royal Ascot that memorable day.
“It was absolutely amazing, especially coming from over there,” Dean recalls. “It was an unbelievable dream come true.”
Kermadec (by Teofilo), winner of the 2015 Gr. 1 Doncaster Mile and George Main Stakes, is another of Llanhennock Trust’s breeding triumphs, which also includes Signify, winner of the Gr. 1 Telegraph Handicap.
The farm also sold Gr. 1 Australian Oaks winner Gust Of Wind on behalf of breeder Winston Chow.
“We followed Kermadec right through,” Dean said. “I was over there when he won the Doncaster, and what a thrill that was.”
Wentwood Grange has been a strong supporter of Kermadec since he was retired to stand at Darley Stud after finishing third in the 2016 Gr. 1 All Aged Stakes. “We’ve got a colt from Valley Girl and we sent four mares to him that year and another three this last year,” Dean said.
Wentwood Grange did enter Kermadec’s dam, Hy Fuji, at the Magic Millions sale a few years ago, but she didn’t meet her reserve. She was then sent to Kermadec’s sire, Teofilo, but didn’t get in foal, so returned to New Zealand and had a late covering by Tavistock. She is now back in foal to Teofilo.
That Tavistock half-brother to Kermadec is now entered in Book 1 at the National Yearling Sales and is described by Dean Hawkins as “our blue-eyed boy” because of his relationship to the Group One star.
Wentwood Grange’s draft includes eight first-season sires with Sacred Falls and Charm Spirit both having two representatives, and Deep Field, Hallowed Crown, Dissident, Brazen Beau, Proisir and Atlante one apiece.
The Hallowed Crown yearling is a filly from Miss Raggedy Ann (Lot 397) and Wentwood Grange is also offering a Burgundy half-brother to Sully, who last year was the farm’s second runner-up in succession in the Gr. 1 Victoria Derby, following on from Sacred Elixir, who was born and sold through the Wentwood Grange draft.