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Mark Tarry

Mark Tarry

Mark Tarry has an enviable record as a bloodstock agent.  Indeed, his strike rate of Gr 1 winners to horses bought in the name of Quest Bloodstock is probably the highest of any agent in the world, with Gold Onyx and Happy Archer having completed a Gr 1 double on one memorable afternoon at Greyville on Vodacom Durban July day in 2010.  Mark’s interest in what makes good horses tick was sparked by the mighty In Full Flight some forty years ago, and the ensuing four decades of studying pedigrees in great detail has obviously paid off handsomely.  This took a lot of hard work in the days before the Internet and other 21st century tools, but nobody said that success has to come easily and Mark Tarry remains a tireless student of pedigrees and one of the most hard-working people at the many sales which he attends.  His take on what has made him such a success makes for interesting reading, and with the National Yearling Sales now less than a month away we can be sure that our Star of the Week has already spent many hours dissecting the catalogue.

What is your name and age? Mark Tarry, aged 51.

What is your star sign and birthdate?  30th August-Virgo.

Where were you born? Johannesburg.

Where do you live?  Bedfordview, Jhb.

Tell us about your family? Come from a family of six. I am the eldest. Lebanese origin. My  Father was a director of SA Druggists and my mother a house wife who started a real estate company when my father died from a  heart attack at age 54. I have four sisters and my youngest brother is Sean.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? No.

Favourite food? A Lebanese dish called kibi.

Favourite drink? Tap water, no ice.

Favourite music? Pop music and ballads.

Favourite sport? One day cricket.

What is your favourite holiday destination? Anywhere at the coast. Sun, sea and relaxation.

Tell us how you got involved in horse racing? My father used to take jackpots with a regular flutter on the Durban July. He had a share in a horse called Dodge City. One day listening to a race commentary with my dad, I locked in on the winner In Full Flight.

You had a soft spot for the champion In Full Flight. Tell us how your interest in him brought you into horse racing and more specifically into the breeding industry? When In Full Flight died, I was devastated and was desperately looking for a way to hold on to him. I used to go through the Computaforms and SA Racehorse looking for possible siblings and other progeny of New South Wales. I became a New South Wales fanatic. Eventually my knowledge grew and I began to study the structure of pedigrees to see if there was any link between top class racehorses all over the world. In those days pedigree construction was a laborious process and it would take months to do any little

piece of research. Eventually I started dabbling in breeding, starting with poor performing mares and mating them to stallions who were teasers.

You are an avid studier of pedigrees. What are some of the pertinent factors which you have discovered about pedigrees which you apply to your bloodstock business? The most important thing to realize is that any pedigree is made up of individuals, good and bad. It is necessary to understand these individuals, to be able to recognize the desired characteristics in their descendants. Affinities are consistent and often the same elements appear again and again in the best progeny of a particular stallion, and are consistently absent in many of the mediocre progeny of the same stallion. A good mating will succeed consistently, but at varying levels. The power in the pedigree must be consolidated and not diluted. Champions tend to have more symmetry in pedigrees than ordinary horses. It is, however, not necessary to see this in the first five generations. Planning a mating is like a game of Sudoku, you need to get all the lines to win the game.

You are a regular buyer in Australia. Have you bought there this year and do you intend going to any of their forthcoming sales? I was at Magic Millions in January and struggled to buy my selections at the level of spending that I am comfortable with. I did, however, buy a magnificent Dubawi colt, which will shortly be coming out of quarantine. I do intend to keep attending sales in both Australia and the USA in the near future.  There is value at every sale if you go through every pedigree and look at every horse.

In direct contrast to many who look for big strong physical specimens to buy, you are quite the opposite in that you have bought successful ‘smaller’ horses. Can you name a few that spring to mind which were neglected at sales due to their size? I think at least half of the yearlings I have bought have tended to be small, as this is the one area that you are almost guaranteed, to get value. Size is immaterial to me as I tend to buy the pedigree. If I am buying a Holy Roman Emperor or Dubawi, I would be happy to look at small. Remember that Northern Dancer, the father of the modern thoroughbred, was barely 15 hands. Happy Archer, Gold Onyx, Sorevof, Lyric’s Wonder, Taiki Dancer, Crown Heights, Peregrine, Bamako and Sound Of Angels are examples of horses we bought cheaply because of size. But-there is so much more to looking at a racehorse, than size. Athleticism is a priority.

Breeding is now your passion and you believe that it is necessary to go through the pedigrees yourself without resorting to the help of computers. Is this because you like to compare the physical aspect of the horse in accordance to what sort of horse you expected to see?  A computer is necessary to isolate the desired/necessary ingredients, but I haven’t found a way to ask the computer to interpret a pedigree. I do not know what I would do without the Tesio Power program as an interface to view the pedigree. Unfortunately there is no program on the market that can do what I need done.

What are some of the better horses you have bought in South Africa and overseas? I have bought very few horses since re-entering the industry in 2006, I think under 20 at this stage. Among them are Happy Archer, Gold Onyx, Crown Heights, Taiki Dancer, Nikki T, Peregrine, Lyrics’ Wonder, Bamako, Tandragee, Filly Bushwacker etc. Also involved in the stallions Black Minnaloushe, King’s Chapel and King of Kings, bred current juvenile star, Reign As Kings. Responsible for planning the matings that produced Pomodoro, Golden Chariot, Quest For Gold, Autumn Gold, Apple A Day, Silver Age, Goat,

Through your studying of pedigrees you have seen that there are patterns which show that a champion may be produced. How clear to you are these patterns? The patterns are quite clear, but present themselves very differently in different champions, as a result of varying ages between the ancestors in a pedigree. More consistency can be established by focusing on tried and tested affinities. It is very similar to studying racing form. After studying the pedigrees of both champions and useless racehorses for over thirty years, I have seen that there are many correlations which can be seen repeatedly in champions which are seen infrequently in poorer performers. Bear in mind that statistically the probability of producing a Group 1 winner is one in a thousand, and the probability of producing a top class horse from even the best mating, is lower than that of producing a bad horse from the same mating. All we can hope to do is increase our probabilities. There is no sure fire way. Nor will there ever be.

In the mid 90’s you bought Divided Loyalty for R2000 and he went on to win about R600 000. What attracted you into purchasing her? The pedigree pattern in her pedigree was awesome based on a theory that I was focusing on at the time. The price was right and she reminded me of an immature, gangly combo between Comic Blush and Dancing Champ. At that stage I was a Comic Blush fanatic and knew him very well. A variation in the same pattern can be seen in the pedigrees of Spook Express, Perfect Promise and Irridescence.

Are you asked by up-and-coming trainers for advice in terms of breeding? There are quite a few breeders who ask me for advice, but very few trainers. I guess for a trainer to get any horse into his yard that he likes physically makes him happy.

You are known to have a close relationship with Gavin van Zyl. Do you advise him on pedigrees and which promising horses have you assisted in him purchasing? Gavin generally asks me for assistance when he is spec’ing. We started off buying Legal Maxim for R50000. He won three in a row before being sold to Mauritius for about R300000, Yaskawa bought for R10000 won her first start impressively. I bought Filly Bushwacker for R 15000, Flirtation and Alderry in the Yellowwood Handicap Group 3, both placed. Recently we had, The Last Samurai, Tandragee, Shogunner.

Right now Gavin has a very exciting prospect in Slumdogmillionaire who contests the South African Classic this Saturday. In your opinion has he got all the breeding attributes which would have made you want to buy him as a yearling? When I saw Slumdog, my words to Gavin were “this is a BOMB”, He has a strong international family and is a half-brother to three stakes performers, I rated his mating at least as strong as the one that produced Cycad.

How do you think he will shape in Saturday’s race?  I think he is a top class racehorse with no obvious chinks in his armor.  He was very unlucky to be beaten in the Guineas and will be at least as effective over the extra distance this time. He will go very close.

You bought the Gr 1 winner Happy Archer when her sire Dubawi was relatively unknown. What young sires have caught your eye in the last couple of years? There are so many champion racehorses with all the right credentials that I don’t focus on the stallion as much as the mating and the individual. The success of a stallion is purely the product of his opportunity with mares designed for him. For example, I love the stallion Hussonet, but find it difficult to buy them in Australia because most of them are out of Danehill line mares.

Your brother Sean is having the best season of his career. How much influence do you have in the horses he buys? We worked as a team before I became a professional in the industry. At the National Sale 2005, we bought ten horses including Fort Beluga, School Assembly, Atlantic Inn, National Colour and Matreshka. Sean has a very good eye for a horse and will generally only buy a horse that I am adamant about if he likes it physically. Seventy percent of the horses I have bought are in Sean’s yard.

Which of Sean’s horses do you think has the most potential from a breeding point of view? In order to answer that question, I would have to do some serious homework on the horses in his yard.

He has the daughter of Dynasty, TRESCO contesting the South African Fillies Classic on the weekend. What are her chances? Sean has always thought highly of Tresco and her last win was very impressive. She will make her presence felt.

In addition to that, he has five runners in the male equivalent. They are POMODORO, HEAVY METAL, BARACAH, E-JET and WHITELINE FEVER. How has their preparation gone and which of them is your personal fancy? I have always believed that Pomodoro is the best three year old in the country. Unfortunately he fluffed his lines in the Guineas. Hopefully he will show what he is made of here. I believe that Sean has a very powerful contingent here. There is no weak link.

In the Man O’ War Sprint over 1100m Sean has two entrants, EXTRA ZERO and MARY STUART. How do you think they will fare? Two talented fillies. Both have obstacles to overcome.

Which stallions excite you and whose progeny do you make a point of looking at? I try to look at every horse at most sales. I think Silvano, Dynasty, Black Minnaloushe, Trippi, Var, King of Kings, Horse Chestnut are all very exciting.

You like to look for value when buying horses. As an owner your biggest purchase was R20 000 yet in one season you were the 6th most successful owner in South Africa. Due to the current hike in prices do you think it is still possible to buy relatively cheap horses and make a success of being an owner? I don’t think there has ever been a better time to buy good horses cheaply in South Africa. We have the best quality breeding with the best stock we have had in more than fifty years. Breeders are putting more thought into matings than ever before. Production costs are high, yet sale after sale we see nice horses being sold for under fifty thousand rand.

You were responsible for bringing the New Zealand horse Kings Chapel to South Africa to stand at Bush Hill Stud. Tell us what made you buy him and how has his progeny progressed? I first noticed King’s Chapel when he failed by a short head to run down Grand Armee in the George Main Stakes Gr1. Grand Armee was rated the world’s best miler at that stage. He had been a top class two year old, winning three out of four starts. He was Champion Sprinter/Miler, Champion Miler, Champion Three Year Old and Horse of the Year at three. He was extremely versatile and had breathtaking acceleration. On top of this he is as good looking a horse as it is possible to get.

Considering that a bloodstock agent’s reputation is very much made or broken by the results of the horses he picks. How have you fared in this regard? I was off to a great start when Happy Archer and Gold Onyx both won Grade 1’s on the same day. At that stage I  had only seven horses to run so it gave me a phenomenal strike rate of grade 1 winners to runners. Since then we have had a number of recent runners with many stakes prospects among them including Tandragee, Peregrine, Nikki T, Bamako, Mythical Palace, Crown Heights, Black Is Black, She’s A Lady and the unbeaten Lyrics’ Wonder. We also regard the maiden Zap The Stars very highly.

Which has been the most successful horse you have been involved in purchasing and what races has it won? At this point Happy Archer must be regarded as the most successful of them having won two Grade 1 races-the Garden Province Stakes and the Thekwini Stakes. Bear in mind that most of the horses we have bought are either unexposed three year olds or two year olds at this stage.

How successful are you as a punter? Extremely unsuccessful. Good form studier but I am a bad punter.

Do you think horse racing is well-policed? In certain areas it is but attention needs to be given to jockeyship in races.

What are your ambitions for yourself as a breeder/bloodstock agent? I aim to have the world’s highest strike rate of Group 1 winners to horses bought.

What do you think could be done to create excitement into racing to create more enthusiasm for the game by the public and more especially amongst younger people who could become owners? Horse racing in South Africa is an under-marketed product. We have one of the most glamorous and exciting sports around but we are constantly preaching to the converted. I once did a survey in a big mall to see what awareness there was about racing. I found out there was very little despite the negative sentiment being propagated quite well. Most people I spoke to said they would love to go to the races one day if they were given the opportunity. Increase the passion for the sport and you will increase the income from it. A comprehensive far reaching strategy needs to be implemented taking advantage of every form of social media and attention attracting device available. We need to start educating children and stimulating their interest-the horse will do the rest. Make the horse the Hero. Everyone is looking for a hero and an idol. Horse racing has its own ready-made idols. Ownership is another story. I have a dream that every horse racing enthusiast and punter will one day be able to own a share, however small, in a racehorse. Gavin Van Zyl has done some good work in this respect. QUEST RACING is currently putting together five small horse syndicates in which we hope to get the smaller owner involved. Anyone can own a share in a racehorse if the share is small enough.





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