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Lime Country brand heading offshore as Griffins make bold move

Think Big Stud is set to become the new base for Lime Country Thoroughbreds.
Think Big Stud is set to become the new base for Lime Country Thoroughbreds.

A golden opportunity to directly involve themselves in the Australian thoroughbred industry has led to Hawke's Bay couple Greg and Jo Griffin's decision to relocate to New South Wales.

In less than a decade the dynamic pair have developed their Lime Country Thoroughbreds brand as a frontline player in the bloodstock industry. From small beginnings they set up a base at the Lowry family's historic Okawa Stud property offering the full range of agistment, broodmare care, breaking, pre-training and sales preparation services.

In 2013 they raised the business a further notch with the purchase of the highly rated Encosta de Lago stallion Niagara, who covered 100-plus books in each of his three years at Lime Country.

But earlier this year came a turning point when Greg Griffin was forced to step back and undergo crucial heart surgery. That meant transferring Niagara to The Oaks Stud, realigning other aspects of the operation and in time taking a long hard look at exactly where their focus belonged.

Greg's return to full health was the first positive; the next was the possible availability of one of New South Wales' most renowned thoroughbred properties, Think Big Stud. Located near Bowral on 122 hectares (300 acres) in the state's southern highlands, Think Big Stud is the superbly appointed facility developed by Malaysian businessman Dato Tan Chin Nam.

The property is named after Dato Tan's New Zealand-bred dual Melbourne Cup winner, one of his three Melbourne Cup victors prepared by the Cups King, Bart Cummings. With a list that also includes So You Think, Saintly, Viewed, Faint Perfume, Catalan Opening, Eurozone and Norzita, since the 1970s Dato Tan has been one of Australia's most successful owners.

"We believe the chance to establish our own business there is the opportunity of a lifetime."

Think Big Stud has been part of that story, but Dato Tan and his family have decided that the time has come to plan for the future. Greg and Jo Griffin's relationship with Think Big Stud Pty Ltd manging director Duncan Ramage led to initial discussions, and after travelling recently to Malaysia to enter formal discussions with Dato Tan and his family, the Kiwi couple will take over the property under a lease arrangement next February.

"Think Big Stud is an iconic property on the Australian thoroughbred landscape and we believe the chance to establish our own business there is the opportunity of a lifetime," Jo Griffin told The Informant this week when announcing the move across the Tasman.

"The Lime Country brand is a big part of what we are and we will be taking it with us. From the time we started with five acres and nine horses in 2007 we've been building relationships and growing the brand, so we don't want to lose that recognition."

The Griffins' shift in focus included considering their options in New Zealand, but the lack of a suitable property in their preferred location of the Waikato added a new aspect. "We had been looking from the time we realised we were going to have to find a new home for Niagara, but the difficulty was finding something that fitted our needs.

"That's why we began to cast our net wider and led to the decision we've made for the move. Apart from the wonderful reputation that Think Big Stud has developed over the years, as New Zealanders about to move to Australia the property has huge appeal given its similarity to what we have been used to at home.

"The farm has lacked for nothing in its development with aggressive pasture management, full irrigation with 2.4 kilometres of river frontage and water rights to match, a 1200-metre turf track and all the necessary facilities and buildings.

"We intend keeping some of our New Zealand staff along with others who have been part of the Think Big Stud team. Stallions have stood there in the past but that won't continue when we take over. The two current stallions Pendragon and Prince Arthur will remain on the stud in retirement.

"Apart from that we'll be providing a full service across breeding, rearing and sales prep as well as agistment, breaking and pre-training. Once we've presented our final National Yearling Sales draft at Karaka in January it will be straight into business at the new property with a six-horse draft for the Sydney Easter Yearling Sale.

"Our star lot will be Dato Tan's Redoute's Choice colt from his Victoria Oaks winner Faint Perfume, however one that he and his partners will be retaining is the So You Think colt out of their dual Group One winner Norzita, who produced a Fastnet Rock colt this year."

To the resident broodmare band the Griffins will be adding their own and clients' mares, including several purchased over the past year or so. "Part of our business has been trading in broodmares and young stock and that's something we intend building on," says Jo Griffin.

The decision to up stakes and hang their shingle in a brand new setting hasn't been easy, but it's one that the Griffins are both realistic and enthusiastic about.

"Our move isn't a slap in the face to New Zealand, but the international vibe that is now such a part of the Australian industry with people from all around the world now involved – why wouldn't you want to be part of it?

"When the day comes we know it's going to be hard to leave. The Hawke's Bay has been such a fantastic place and the support we've had, most of all from the Lowry family, is something we'll never forget.

"Completing the paper work earlier this week and knowing that was it, we were both feeling pretty sad. Nothing would please us more than to see someone else move into the spot we've vacated at Okawa – there's still a mountain of opportunity to be found here." - Dennis Ryan, www.theinformant.co.nz


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