By Tim Rowe (Inglis)
The rapid emergence over the past 18 months of the fledgling Australian racing and breeding operation Trilogy Racing – firstly with relative anonymity, before its sale ring exploits became too hard to ignore – has made long-time industry observers, investors and participants stand up and take notice.
Racing has a way of attracting new players, blinded by the glitz and the glamour of the racetrack, the excitement of the yearling sales and the lure of the potential big prizemoney hauls, and many of them can come and go, but the quartet behind Trilogy – Jason and Melanie Stenning and Sean and Cathy Dingwall – are no fly-by-nighters and are determined to ensure the entity becomes a long-term, respected industry name.
With an interest in over 200 horses, a number amassed in such a short space of time and the acquisition of a major stud farm coming soon after, there appears to be no ceiling placed on Trilogy’s stunning growth.
Co-founder Jason Stenning, who grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, was enthralled by the majestic nature of the racehorse and the mystique of the races from an early age, one which has stayed with him since.
“It is a long story, but my uncle was a jockey (Robert Tunsted) and my grandmother used to take me to the races and to the stables from when I was five or six, so it’s in my blood I guess,” Stenning says of his early introduction to racing.
Stenning and his wife Melanie, who has also enthusiastically embraced the thoroughbred racing and breeding enterprise and industry, have established a portfolio of successful businesses including leading Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) manufacturing business Industree Group, as well as real estate and property development ventures. The Stenning’s also own a world-class commercial music recording studio on the NSW Central Coast.
The Stennings and Dingwalls were introduced by a mutual friend, Jon Fleming (now chief executive of Industree Group), around six years ago. Jon and Sean are lifelong friends with Jason having known Jon for almost 30 years. It was this mutual endorsement to both parties by Jon, a highly respected business and family man, that provided the confdence for the partnership to develop, and Trilogy Racing was born.
“I’ve loved racing for as long as I can remember and I’ve always wanted to become an owner and be heavily involved in it, but I didn’t have any personal experience or connections within the industry,” Stenning says.
“So, it was about partnering with the right people to ensure that the model and operations were commercially viable, sustainable and provided the best opportunities for success. When we met the Dingwalls it all sort of fell into place quite organically and just felt right. They are a wonderful family and exceptional horse people. Mel and I feel very lucky to have them in our lives and to be partnering with them.”
Trilogy made its entrance via the 2021 Australian weanling sales, the partnership’s inaugural foray attracting minimal fanfare, but that was not the case when, later that year at the Inglis Ready2Race Sale in Sydney, the quartet went to $320,000 for Lot 1, a Belardo two-year-old colt, now named “Lottwon”, who at the time of print had raced once for a Melbourne Metropolitan third placing.
Under the stewardship of Sean Dingwall and the Stennings by his side at Riverside Stables, they added four more horses to their team for a combined spend of close to $1 million, an entrée to what was to come via its huge yearling sales investment in early 2022.
Dingwall determined that the weanling sales, and then the two-year-old sales, was the best way to introduce his new business partners into the often fast-paced world of bloodstock sales.
“The reason I really decided to do that was that I felt that we’d get some better value – and it just happened to be the year of the Shadwell dispersal and the crop of weanlings was quite strong – rather than trying to take on a yearling sale, so we opted to do that,” Dingwall offers.
“It also allowed Jay and Mel to see how a horse grows out and be able to participate in the development and see the change in the horses over that 12-month period.
“Obviously, we could have pinhooked some of those horses (into the yearling market), but we opted not to. They are all in work now, but like anything in this game, it’s a long-term play.”
Soon after the Ready2Race Sale, Newgate Farm’s Henry Field was introduced to the Stennings at an Inglis function and the trio immediately struck up a rapport, a meeting which led to Trilogy joining the China Horse Club/Newgate colts partnership.
Earlier in 2021, at the Inglis Premier Yearling Sale in Melbourne, Dingwall had sold a colt by Newgate Farm’s Golden Slipper winner Capitalist for $600,000, a significant achievement for the family’s Caithness Breeding business.
“I’ve known Sean and Cathy for a very long time and they’re good people and Jason and Mel, I got on with them well at an Inglis function, and they decided to co-invest in some of the colts with us and hopefully they have the Slipper winner in the group,” Field said.
“Obviously Jason and Mel have been very successful in their own business ventures; they’ve got a passion for racing and they’ve invested heavily in the game, so it’s really important that they can kick some goals, have a great experience, but they’re surrounding themselves with good people and that’s half the battle.”
Dingwall floated the idea of expanding the bloodstock portfolio by joining the Newgate group. “We sat down and had a good chat about it, it seemed a great ft, and I thought it was a good entry point for Jason and Mel to get into the industry in a meaningful way that allows them the opportunity to potentially share in a successful stallion,” Dingwall recalled.
“Henry’s obviously the best at what he does – he’s had great success – and we are honoured to be part of the syndicate.”
This interview takes place soon after the official Sydney two-year-old barrier trials were conducted in mid-September, which provides a glimpse of what horsepower Trilogy Racing has at its disposal, while the partnership also signed a deal to buy Philip and Patti Campbell’s renowned Victorian stud Blue Gum Farm in the same week.
“Part of our plan was to have a high-end property and when we sat down and looked at it, we wanted to buy the best property in Victoria because we’re passionate about the Victorian breeding and racing industry and, in our view, Blue Gum is the best farm,” Dingwall says.
“It’s probably produced the most Group 1 winners, it’s in the right location for us and, obviously, it was a property that has a great history and a great management structure.”
The acquisition of Blue Gum Farm in addition to Trilogy Racing was also a chance for the Dingwalls to indulge their passion for breeding on a full-time basis after almost a decade running water treatment solutions business, Integra.
“We’ve had a business to run and we needed both of us to do that, so that’s been our ongoing duty, but we’ve bred all the time during that period, so we have mares and foals and everything else, but now we’re at a point in our life where we are able to step back from the other business and we want to do something in breeding full time,” Dingwall said.
Blue Gum Farm will continue to operate as a commercial business, agisting, managing, selling and supporting the greatly valued existing client base as well as Trilogy’s horses.
“We need people to know that as a breeding operation, we are a seller. We’ve made a commitment that all our homebred weanlings and yearlings will go through a sale. We won’t be picking the eyes out of each crop and keeping what we think are the best and selling the rest,” Stenning says.
The Trilogy Racing team is spread far and wide: Kristen Buchanan at Wyong on the Central Coast, the rising Ben Brisbourne at Wangaratta in North East Victoria and the established metropolitan trainers of Peter and Paul Snowden, Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, Mick Price and Mick Kent Jnr, Annabel Neasham, Lloyd Kennewell and Clinton McDonald are among the stables on the Trilogy roster.
Dispersing their racing stock to a range of trainers was also “not by accident” as the relationships forged between trainer and owner is a way of encouraging reciprocal support as a vendor when Trilogy/Blue Gum Farm stock feature in sales catalogues in the coming years.
“We’ve got a long list of trainers and we are giving them all a bit of a chance. We’re also supporting South Australian racing with three trainers over there training a few horses each in Will Clarken, David Jolly and Michael Hickmott,” Dingwall says.
“Part of that is we truly believe in the industry and we want to support the industry.”
After a whirlwind 18 months, the Trilogy empire is just beginning, with the Dingwalls to soon take up full-time residence at Blue Gum Farm and the Stennings as captivated by racing and breeding as they were when they first set foot on a sales complex.