Many racehorse owners spend their entire life in search of their star athlete, but for Philip Brown, he has been fortunate to have two in a short space of time – Levante and Legarto.
Levante kicked off the journey for the Ancroft Stud principal, who was in search for a filly to race with his mates at the time.
He foaled down Levante at his property for breeder Scott Williams, and he decided she was the one for his new syndicate.
“We had raced one that had won a race, but not to great heights. I thought it was time we got another one. She is the one I picked for the team and thank goodness I did,” Brown said.
“She was born and reared on the farm and I bought her off her breeder for not a lot of money.
“My wife (Catherine) asked me ‘why have you bought another filly? We have got a paddock full of them’, and now she is glad I did.
“It has been a wonderful run and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”
While they had great hopes for Levante, Brown knew they had something special on their hands after watching her first trial.
“When she had her first trial she got back last and flashed home for third. I thought ‘gee, we are going to win some races’, not realising we were going to be winning multiple Group One races,” he said.
The daughter of Proisir went on to win 12 of her 23 starts for trainers Ken and Bev Kelso, including two editions of the Gr.1 Telegraph (1200m) and Listed Counties Bowl (1100m), the Gr.1 Otaki WFA Classic (1600m), Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint, and Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m).
She also put in brave efforts across the Tasman when fourth in both the Gr.1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) and Gr.1 Darley Champions Sprint (1200m).
While she gave her owners some great thrills, she also gave them some heart palpitations with her get-back style of racing.
“That was her pattern of racing, getting back, and we didn’t want to change it,” Brown said.
“She certainly gave us some scary moments when she got back. A lot of the time she did get up and it was huge.”
Levante was initially entered for the Magic Millions broodmare sale but has been retained and will head to the breeding barn in the spring.
“She is retired from racing and she is at Arrowfield Stud,” Brown said.
“She went there on June 1 and she is definitely going to Snitzel this year and possibly again (next year), we will just see what sort of foal she throws.
“They have got some other lovely stallions as well, so I am sure we will find a mate for her there as well.”
While still in the infancy of Levante’s career, Brown made his annual pilgrimage to New Zealand Bloodstock’s National Yearling Sale, where he came across a filly in Highline Thoroughbreds’ draft that he thought was a doppelganger of Levante.
He duly went to $90,000 to secure the filly he would later name Legarto and he said her resemblance to her stablemate wasn’t just looks.
“Legarto is very similar (to Levante), that is why I bought her,” Brown said.
“When I saw her I thought ‘Levante’. That was the only thing I put in my catalogue. I didn’t write any other notes about her.
“I can remember when she had her first gallop on the grass, Ken (Kelso) and I were watching and she just flattened and lowered exactly like Levante does.
“We looked at one another, it was a surreal moment. Neither one of us said anything to each other, but I knew what we were both thinking.
“Ken (later) said to me ‘can lightning strike twice?’, and sure enough it has.”
Legarto won her sole two-year-old start before returning last spring where she won four consecutive races, including the Gr.3 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m), Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) and Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m), before jetting off to Australia in autumn where she won the Gr.1 Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington.
Her connections have once again set their sights on Flemington this spring and Brown is excited about what lays ahead for his rising four-year-old mare.
“It has been an unbelievable thrill for my partners and myself. It is dream-like stuff,” Brown said.
“She is definitely going to Melbourne in the spring and her first run will depend on what the track conditions are like here (New Zealand).
“There is the Tarzino (Gr.1, 1400m) at Hastings, or there is the Let’s Elope (Gr.2, 1400m) at Flemington, either of those two will be her first start.
“I think that Flemington is the track that really suits her because it is just a big roomy track that she can get clear air there and do her thing.”
Brown is daring to dream of loftier things with Legarto, and while he has tasted success in the Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m) as a breeder, he would dearly love to get his hands on the silverware as an owner.
“We bred El Segundo, he won a Cox Plate. I wouldn’t mind a Cox Plate, but the Champions Stakes, which was the old Mackinnon, over 2000m, is another good race.”
Both of Brown’s stars have played an instrumental role in the rise of their sire Proisir in New Zealand’s stallion ranks, with the Rich Hill Stud stallion set to usurp Savabeel as the country’s leading sire.
Brown has naturally become a fan of Proisir and has patronised the stallion over the last few seasons with a number of mares.
“When I first saw him (Proisir), I thought he was a nice horse. It was only when I bought Levante that I started following his career. I thought he was a very serious stallion,” Brown said.
“Levante was the catalyst of my love affair with Proisir and I am breeding a lot of mares to the horse.
“I am a huge fan and I think he is a terrific sire, and he is going to carry on, there is no question about that."