It was in 1997 that Toowoomba project developer Ron Gilbert established Highgrove Stud on the Gore Highway at Westbrook, but he did not envisage at the time the decision would give him so many reasons to celebrate.
Highgrove Stud has since achieved such an exceptional degree of success that Ron Gilbert is now firmly entrenched as one of the Australian thoroughbred industry’s leading breeders.
With buyers having complete confidence in the yearlings produced by the stud, they are consistently sold for six figures and, quite often, soar over the $1 million mark. Most importantly, the Highgrove graduates have performed on the racetrack with two of them – Wanted and Jet Spur – continuing on to become highly prized stallions after showing their class as racehorses. Another among the host of feature race winners bred by Ron is Porto Roca, the Group One-winning mother of Monterosso, who won the world’s richest race – the $US10 million Dubai World Cup in 2012.
Along the way his achievements as a breeder have led to him becoming a much sought-after administrator with positions including chairmanship of Aushorse, which promotes and markets the Australian thoroughbred in Australia and around the globe. “Even in my wildest dreams I didn’t imagine we’d have the type of success we’ve had,” says Ron, who is a happy, energetic character.
As he explains, his journey to the forefront of the breeding industry began when he purchased a filly named Verocative at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale in Sydney in 1993. “Verocative won a valuable race in Melbourne for my wife Debbie and myself and when she finished racing I wanted to find a home for her,” he says. “That’s when I bought the property which is now Highgrove, which is named after Prince Charles’s Summer home. Later I bought a nearby property which is named Balmoral after the Queen’s Summer home.”
A series of astute purchases soon provided the foundation for his spectacular spiral into the upward echelons of the nation’s breeders. Casting his mind back over the years, Ron says that if there is a secret to this success it is, “ensuring that everyone connected with Highgrove always gives 100 per cent. We aim to have the best of everything . . . the best feed, the best staff, the best veterinarians, the best farriers and so on. That’s easier said than done but if you don’t have the best then you are not going to be competitive at the elite level, which means you are not going to be commercial.”
As part of his plan to continually be on the improve, Ron has, over the last five years, extended Highgrove’s activities into the United States, where he works in conjunction with Knockgriffin Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. “We have been buying mares in foal,” he says. “When the mare foals we leave the foals on foster mothers in America and then sell them as yearlings. In the meantime, the mares have been brought to Highgrove where they join our broodmare band before being mated with leading stallions.”
Among them is the royally bred, Tears I Cry, whose filly by champion sire Redoute’s Choice is one of the 16-strong draft the stud will be splitting between the Magic Millions Yearling Sale on the Gold Coast in January and the Easter Yearling Sale.
Words by Graeme Kelly | Images by Andrew Coates