Riverbank Farm hovers on a ton of winners

Riverbank Farm, in Victoria’s Benalla district, is a small operator by definition. It stands seven stallions, but none are more than $5500 (inc GST) in service fee, and books are rarely larger than 50. However, the farm is having a vintage year, with 99 winners this season alone. It’s a goliath figure from modest numbers, but unsurprising for studmasters Russell Osborne and wife Caroline Duddy. “We really target the owner-breeder, so the large majority of our clients will retain progeny to race themselves,” Duddy said. “We’ve got a large client-base around this area, and a lot of trainers and owners support us in sending their own horses. So we’ve found ourselves a little niche in the market.” From such support, Riverbank’s 99 seasonal winners have included the likes of Noir Jack (Skilled), a last-start winner in Townsville for trainer Chris Parry, and Come On Carl (Skilled), who won last week at Ballarat. Redente gelding Redsnap was winner number 99 on Monday when he won at Mornington for trainer Brett Scott, and there has also been King Dick (Redente) at Kyneton and homebreds Dancing Duck (Von Costa De Hero) and Flying Finch (Redente), the latter winning on Scone Cup Day last month. Dancing Duck broke his maiden at Swan Hill last Saturday after 27 attempts, but landed Riverbank a tidy $20,000 VOBIS Gold Bonus, on top of prizemoney just shy of $19,500. It was a significant reward for an outfit keeping it real in the breeding industry. “At the end of the day, we’re not targeting commercial breeders,” Duddy said. “And that’s the things about the stallions we’ve got here – they are consistent producers of good racehorses, and they may not be taking out many Group races, but they keep turning up at the races and bringing home a cheque and, for a lot of people, that is what keeps them going.”

We are what we are

Riverbank Farm’s seven stallions include poster-boy Redente, along with Anacheeva, Skilled, Von Costa De Hero and Wayed Zain, as well as the well-related Snitzel half-brother to Winx (Street Cry {Ire}) in Boulder City, and the first colt from Black Caviar (Bel Esprit) to enter stud, Prince Of Caviar. It’s a rich and varied bunch, some among the best Australian families in the modern Studbook, and others among the farm’s bread and butter. Redente, Anacheeva and Skilled stand for $3300 (inc GST), while Von Costa De Hero and Wayed Zain are at $2200 (inc GST) a cover. Prince Of Caviar kicked off his stud career last season at $4400 (inc GST), while Boulder City is asking $5500 (inc GST) for his fourth crop this season. “We price the horses at a value that we think is fair to people for getting a good racehorse,” Duddy said. “We’re not inflating prices to make the horses look better than they are, and I think we’re pricing them to the market. There’s no hidden agendas.” Duddy said there is little wriggle room when it comes to negotiating with breeders about service fees, because the stallions are reasonably priced already. “We are what we say we are,” she said. “We’re not setting the world on fire by any means, but we’re getting the winners, and that’s what we want to do here. We want to produce racehorses that you can take to the races and know you’ve got a chance.”

Pin-up Redente

Of each of the stallions, perhaps Redente is the farm’s pin-up. By Redoute’s Choice, he is the eighth foal from the stakes-winning mare Stella Cadente (Centaine), who won the G1 Australia S. and G2 Tea Rose S. in the late 1990s, as well as the G3 Furious S. In 2010, she produced the filly Brilliant Bisc (Elvstroem), who won the G1 Gimcrack S. at Randwick in 2012. Redente was unraced. Bred by Bob Scarborough at Wood Nook Farm, the colt had a coffin joint problem as a yearling, and he went straight to stud as a 3-year-old in 2009. When Duddy and Osborne took over Riverbank Farm from Osborne’s parents, Adrian and Dorothy, in 2014, Redente was one of two resident stallions. “He has very much put us on the map,” Duddy said. “He is punching above his weight, and he has done it the hard way to small books of lesser mares, and he just keeps bringing out winner after winner. He’s a very consistent horse, and I have no doubt that if he’d had large books of top-shelf mares in his early days, he would be standing for a whole lot more than what he is now.” Redente’s figures are excellent. From 377 live foals, he has had 197 named horses, 149 runners and 79 winners of 201 races. His progeny has earned close to $5 million, and he has had seven metropolitan winners, including Beautiful Bee, Just Stellar and Redentes Edge, the latter a winner of nine races all up. “His strike-rate is always in the 60 per cent,” Duddy said. “He does a great job for us. He just slowly got better and better, and I think he’ll have another good season this year because he’s just had a nice run of good winners recently.”

Big coup for small farm

That Riverbank Farm stands two of the best-pedigreed horses in the country is something a little bit incidental, according to Duddy. Boulder City and Prince Of Caviar head the farm’s stallion roster for the upcoming season by both price and pedigree, but neither Duddy nor her husband set out for that fact. “Right place at the right time, I think,” she said. “We get approached every year about different stallions, but we’re aware that we’ve got quite a heavy stallion roster. When Boulder came along, we just couldn’t say no, and it was the same with Prince Of Caviar. It was a big coup to have the heavyweights of the racing world's direct relatives for the farm. We just could not pass that up.” Boulder City covered 94 mares in his debut season in 2018, with a smaller book of 60 the following year. Prince Of Caviar covered 51 mares last season. “They haven’t changed things a whole lot,” said Duddy, commenting on the arrival of these prolific stallions. “Mostly because we’ve got some really loyal breeders. We often think about what we’d do if one of them suddenly became a very commercial horse, but we really are very focused on the target market we have.” Duddy said the Black Caviar group has heavily supported Prince Of Caviar, and added that it was good to have a new stallion come into the fold every two years or so, that it keeps breeders' interest. “That’s how we approach it, really,” she said. “But we are really, really happy with the stallions we’ve got here now, and they each have earned their place and their right to be here.”

Eternal optimists

Riverbank Farm has found its corner of the breeding market and is comfortable there, and that is down to the grassroots attitude of both Duddy and Osborne. Russell Osborne, as well as studmaster, is a licensed trainer, and has handled his recent winners Flying Finch and Dancing Duck with patience and persistence. Duddy is a qualified Equine Stud Veterinarian, and a native of Ballyclare in Northern Ireland. She studied in Glasgow, and has worked in Ireland, England and the Hunter Valley before settling in the Benalla districts. The couple has twin boys, while Osborne also has twin girls Olivia and Sarah. Olivia is an assistant trainer to her father, making the whole of the Riverbank operation a family affair. “It’s a lifestyle for us,” Duddy said. “For us to race our own horses has always been a dream, and running the farm enables us to do that. We put our heart and soul into it.” The couple will be watching the races closely this week for Riverbank’s 100th seasonal winner. They had Royal Music (Teofilo {Ire}) in their colours at Albury on Tuesday, as well as Hey There Presto (Redente) and Flying Finch. None pulled up that important century, but it’s very likely to happen sooner rather than later. “It would be really nice if we could get to 100,” Duddy said. “And you have to be optimistic, otherwise you just would not do this, out in paddocks in the driving rain in winter. We are all eternal optimists in this business, aren’t we?”