Singapore-based industry enthusiast Ben Kwok has had a very eventful week.
He was over the moon about his filly Bellacontte (Burgundy -Devon Doll) winning the Listed O’Leary Fillies Stakes on Saturday, about an hour after Pure Imagination (Darci Brahma – Granadilla) who he has a share in won on debut at Te Rapa. He was also delighted that another filly he has a share in, Flotus (Starspangledbanner[AUS]-Floriade[IRE]), won the Listed Ripon Champion 2YO Trophy in England.
But the thing that most excited him was that Devon Doll was the first mare in New Zealand to be served by Windsor Park Stud’s new stallion Circus Maximus (IRE).
“I’m so happy about Devon Doll being the first mare to go Circus Maximus,” explained Kwok.
“Chrissy (Bambry – the filly’s trainer) has always loved Bellacontte and was always confident she would do well, so for her to get black type at this time justifies our decision to send Devon Doll there.
“I’m very happy and given my relationship with Rodney and Steve it’s very meaningful. I will be sending around 10 mares to the horse along with five mares that I own with Windsor Park. He is a stallion of great appeal his race record is very good and so is his pedigree.”
Kwok’s relationship with Windsor Park’s Rodney Schick and Steve Till developed after he had purchased a horse on gavelhouse.com that was based at Windsor Park, and that online auction platform has played a huge part in Kwok’s emergence as a major player in the New Zealand thoroughbred industry.
Devon Doll (Tavistock- Goodgolly Itsdolly) was sold on gavelhouse.com for $11,000 with Bellacontte at foot, and she is just one of dozens of horses he has purchased from that site. Only this week he was active again buying another three mares.
When asked how his investment in the thoroughbred industry came about Kwok recalled how in his 20’s he raced horses in Hong Kong out of Paul O’Sullivan’s stable.
“I was the youngest registered owner in Hong Kong and one of Paul O’Sullivan’s first clients when he came to Hong Kong, but I gave it away to concentrate on my business,” he said.
He developed a successful business manufacturing electric motors and when he became more established and had time on his hands, he thought instead of racing he might develop an interest in breeding. Due to his previous association with Paul O’Sullivan he looked to New Zealand as an ideal place to start.
“I like online shopping a lot,” commented Kwok, “I didn’t know that you could actually buy horses online until I discovered gavelhouse, and it was in New Zealand, so it was the perfect scenario.
“The first mare I bought on gavelhouse was Angel Del Dinero (My Halo[ARG]-Habalook) and I still have her, then I met all the good people from Windsor Park and NZB and then after that I got involved with David Ellis and the Te Akau horses and I have shares in Sword of State and Amarelinha, and the winner I had last Saturday in Pure Imagination.”
Angel Del Dinero is resident at Windsor Park and Kwok has sold yearlings from this mare at Karaka for the past three years. Coincidentally she is closely related to Devon Doll sharing the same third dam Habania (GB) (Habat[IRE]- Georgina Belle). This is the family of the champion fillies and Group One winners Probabeel, and Savvy Coup, and dozens of other stakes winners including Tootsie, Ocean Emperor, Legless Veuve and La Rose Noir to name a few.
Bellacontte is the second foal out of Devon Doll, and her only winner. She debuted in June with a third at Manawatu after winning a couple of trials. At her next start she finished third in the Listed Castletown Stakes. She followed that run with a win over 800m at Hawke’s Bay before running fourth in the Listed Ryder Stakes, before her victory in the O’Learys Fillies Stakes (1200m).
Devon Doll has not produced a foal since having Bellacontte. She was placed as a racehorse and was the only foal of her dam Goodgolly Itsdolly (Centaine[AUS]-Hyades) to race.
Devon Doll is resident at Ross McKay’s Leanach Lodge along with another handful of mares, but the majority of his 50 odd mares in New Zealand are based at Windsor Park Stud, proving that Kwok has really immersed himself in the industry here as an owner and a breeder.
“I just love it,” he enthused, “Everybody in New Zealand, they are great people.
“I just love to interact with everyone involved there. A very good friend of mine says I am biased towards everything New Zealand, he’s probably right.
“The industry is actually not as robust as it is in Australia but it’s time for people like me to believe in the core values of the New Zealand industry. We need to look at the long term values it’s not just about the money.
“Look at the whole country everyone is doing a very good job to help improve the industry. In the longer term I think everyone will enjoy the success of the Messara Report and the changes it made.”
This year Kwok has 30 yearlings going to Karaka such is his commitment and investment, but he is all about giving back to the industry as well. The proceeds of two of those yearlings will be given to the Catwalk Trust and Beyond The Barriers.
“After meeting Sam and Catriona (Williams) I thought Catwalk was a very meaningful charity and hopefully I can provide a good foundation with funds going forward for the charity,” he said.
“And I am very concerned with horse welfare and continue to support where I can. So, I will also donate the proceeds of another filly to Beyond The Barriers for horse rehoming and welfare.”
It’s almost two years since Kwok has been to New Zealand and naturally he is keen to come back as soon as he can. Being based in Singapore he can only see replays of his horses racing around the globe and will miss Bellacontte’s next start in the Gr.3 HBJC Gold Trail Stakes and possible tilt at the Gr.1 Barneswood Farm 49th NZ 1000 Guineas (1600m).
“I have to rely on my friends in New Zealand to send me replays on WhatsApp,” Kwok said. “When my WhatsApp is active its good news, when its quiet I know it’s not.” -Michelle Saba, NZTBA