When Grenville Stud sold a Wootton Bassett colt, the half-brother to The Everest winner Think About It, for $900,000 at the Gold Coast on Wednesday, it was a tale ready-made for TV.

The ‘battling’ Tasmanians, who had put their three yearlings for the Magic Millions sale on the Spirit Of Tasmania before New Year’s had come up trumps with none other than Tom Magnier of global giant Coolmore signing for him.

Run by father-son duo, Graeme and Bart McCulloch, the stud is based at Whitemore, 30km southeast of Launceston in the picturesque Meander Valley.

Graeme fits every image you would have of a northern Tasmanian breeder and trainer. Understated, but friendly, his laid-back nature defies the fact he is a Hall of Fame trainer and the breeder of such stars as Australian Derby and Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan, a horse, coincidentally, he co-bred with Coolmore.

When the Seven Network’s Hamish McLachlan sought Graeme out after the fall of the hammer on Wednesday, he played the role of the ‘folksy’ vendor nicely, comparing the feeling to when he made a century in local cricket in his youth.

What Bart, who at 198cm can’t help but stand out in a sales ring, shares with his father is a reserved nature and a shrewd eye for a horse.

At 33, the former Brisbane Lions listed ruckman has spearheaded a remarkably successful strategy of acquiring mares whose progeny can make the grade in mainland yearling sales.

It was at the end of a long day at the 2021 National Broodmare Sale in the same Gold Coast sales ring that the McCullochs were licking their wounds after being outbid for a mare they had wanted. They hung around for one more on their list, a Flying Spur mare named Tiare whom they eventually took home for $150,000.

As luck would have it, that mare had already left a then unraced So You Think colt. Think About It’s ascent to the status of Australia’s top sprinter came rapidly during the past year, as did the upgrade to the pedigree of Tiare’s Wootton Bassett colt.

For every upside there would seem to be a down in the breeding game and Tiare died in July, leaving the McCullochs with an as yet unnamed two-year-old colt by Pierro and the colt from the first Australian crop of Wootton Bassett, who will now be trained by champion trainer Chris Waller

The $900,000 was a suitable reward for the McCullochs for their multi-year plan to improve their broodmare band.  

“The strategy has always been to invest in better quality bloodstock. You are always aiming to improve and buy mares that are going to be good racehorses,” Bart McCulloch told The Straight.

“Certainly with Tiare, there were a multitude of reasons why we were attracted to her. She was related to a Group 2-winning, Group 1-placed mare, (Keen Array). She was by Flying Spur, but we’d never imagine we could end up with dam that could produce an Everest winner that has won over $11 million.”

Since 2019, Grenville Stud has spent just over $1 million on 21 mares to add to their broodmare band.

Their first big reward from that strategy came at the Inglis Premier Sale in 2021 when a Deep Field colt out of Bousquet, a mare they purchased for $40,000, sold for $550,000. Last year, a Street Boss colt out of Encostar, a mare that cost $50,000, sold for $270,000, while a So You Think colt out of $34,000 mare Time Commands sold for $280,000.

Bart, an agribusiness banker with ANZ by day, has applied his analytical skills to his family business.    

“You are obviously looking for a mare that you think will leave a racehorse and set you up for a longer-term prospect. That’s what Tiare was. She was a younger mare that had some ability on the track but was well-related,” he said.       

“We can’t really afford stakes-winning mares with our budget but as long as they have some ability on the racetrack and some black-type in the family there as well.

“We were somewhat well rewarded with some of those first smaller purchases, where we started to have some better sales and take that next step and spend a little bit more. You can’t go out and upgrade your broodmare band overnight, but as long as you keep improving then that’s all you can ask.”

Grenville, which will also sell at the Adelaide and its home Tasmanian sale this year, now has a broodmare band of around 40, with 20 of those added since 2019. It’s a strategy they are set to continue with when it visits the broodmare sales later this year.

“The strategy has always been to invest in better quality bloodstock. You are always aiming to improve and buy mares that are going to be good racehorses” - Bart McCulloch

“It shows that as a little stud in Tasmania, that you can get good results. It’s very encouraging to have that bit of money for the mare sales as well,” he said.

The McCullochs hope their success can inspire other Tassie breeders to look to increase the quality of their broodmare bands, and therefore the quality of horse that Tasmania produces.

“We’ve always said it is one of the best places in Australia to grow-out horses. It has a cool climate, green grass year around, it is very similar to New Zealand who are so well known for punching above their weight,” he said.

“I think for the small broodmare band we have in Tassie, we do punch above our weight as well.”