Robin Swain’s sentimental breeding win up north
By Duane Ranger
The Big Lebowski’s (Mach Three) win at Alexandra Park on May 19 provided yet another satisfying, yet pensive breeding moment for Knapdale horseman, Robin Swain.
The Big Lebowski, warming up down south, now racing (and winning) at Alexandra Park Photo Credit // Bruce Stewart
The 63-year-old Southland harness racing legend said the 6-year-old Mach Three gelding was the first standardbred that he bred solo after the passing of his employer of 40 years – the late Colin Baynes, who died in October 2015 aged 94.
Swain worked for Baynes from 1975 until 2015 and said any horse from his boss’s breed was special, because Colin was more like family than a boss.
“Colin said I could have the pick of three mares in his Will, and I went for The Big Lebowski’s mother – Cool Maiden (an unraced 2003 Safely Kept – Cool Yankee – Yankee Jolter mare).
“Starling (2002 maiden Live Or Die – New York Star – New York Motoring mare) was the second one, and the third was Opera Doon (2003 Armbro Operative – Nellie Doon – Noodlum mare), who never raced.
“I’ve bred from all three and it’s always very satisfying to see any horse that Colin or I have bred go on and do well for the new owners. Everyone is happy that way and hopefully the owners keep coming back,” Swain said.
“That has been the case for Merv and Meg Butterworth who Colin and I have been selling horses to for decades. That must be 30 horses all-up now. I think Blackbird, a Bettor’s Delight son of Darling might have been one of the earlier ones – and he was born in 2007,” he added.
The Swain bred and Butterworth owned The Big Lebowski absolutely brained them in race 10 – a R57-R70 – by 11 lengths. Blair Orange did the driving for Pukekohe trainer, Ray Green.
It was The Big Lebowski’s sixth win in 29 starts. He’s also placed eight times and banked $52,875 in purses.
Swain said Baynes gave him several breeding tips over 40 years, most were unsaid and were subtle, but he did remember this one bit of advice:
“Don’t be scared to go back to the same stallion, even if he failed. I remember him telling me, and it’s something I’ve always remembered,” said Swain.
He then cited the Moonshiner – Sly Brewer example.
Both Sly Brewer (foal five) and Moonshiner (foal seven) were out of Ferndale Star (1960 Smokey Hanover – Starbeam – Light Brigade mare), and Colin had her served by Sly Yankee to produce both of them.
Swain said they won nine and eight races here respectively and then both won several more in the United States.
But Swain admits The Big Lebowski was born out of luck rather than breeding prowess.
“I got a free return to Mach Three and Cool Maiden was the only mare I was breeding from that year, so that’s how he came about.
“It was a coincidence really and that was the only time she was served by Mach Three, but it worked out all right, didn’t it?”
He said Cool Maiden had left 10 foals between 2007 and 2021, but sadly she succumbed to old age earlier this year.
“Time caught up on her and she found it difficult to breed in her later years. In fact, she only left a Raging Bull yearling filly since The Dark Night (one placing from 10 starts) was born in 2017,” Swain said.
“I haven’t broken the ‘Raging Bull’ in yet, but she looks like a nice type, who we will race and then hopefully breed from one day. She’s the only female we have got left out of Cool Maiden,” Swain said.
The Big Lebowski, who is the eighth of the 10 foals, is the second most successful sibling out of Cool Maiden. The best so far has ironically been foal one – the Pegasus Spur nine-win trotter ($108.706), Cool Cobber, who placed in the Group One 2014 Anzac Cup.
“That was a bit of Colin Baynes breeding genius. Her second foal wasn’t half bad either,” Swain added.
That was the 2009 Courage Under Fire gelding, John Of Arc, who placed in all three of his New Zealand starts, and then went on to win 19 of his 47 races in Australia ($318,060), including a 1:53.4 mile.
John Of Arc was an Interdominion competitor, who ran second behind Chicago Bull in the Group One Western Australia Pacing Cup in 2017.
Swain is also breeding from Starling and Starling has left 12 foals between 2007 and 2022. The best Swain said was her first foal, the 2007 Bettor’s Delight gelding Blackbird, owned by the Butterworths.
After placing four times from 10 starts here, Blackbird, Our Blackbird as he was known in Australia, went on to win 18 of his 112 starts ($288,647) there. The black gelding also placed 26 times and recorded a 1:55.1 mile.
“I usually like to breed from my mares every two years. Starling has a nice Betting Line yearling colt and a 2-year-old Sportswriter colt, while Opera Doon has a Sportswriter yearling filly and a Shadow Play 3-year-old filly.
“Opera Doon’s first foal, The Phantom (2012 Christian Cullen gelding), never raced here but then placed in the Chariots Of Fire (2012) and the Tasmanian Derby (2011).”
The Phantom won 15 of his 63 starts ($150,066) in Australia. He also placed 10 times and recorded a 1:55.5 mile.
So, what is the name of the best horse that Swain has bred?
“Oneinamillion (1992 Son Of Afella – Ripping River – Surmo Hanover gelding) would be right up there. he won two of his four starts in New Zealand.
“He won 36 races in Australia and then a lot more in the United States. In fact, I think he was the first New Zealand-bred pacer to go under 1:50 (1:49.6),” Swain said.
In Australia, Oneinamillion won 36 of his 125 starts and placed in 31 others for $247,155 in stakes. He placed in Group Two 1997 Geelong Cup.
For the record, The Big Lebowski is a 1998 American comedy movie directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, which stars Jeff Bridges and John Goodman.
Hollie Swain at the Joules at the Maltings Corner at Burghley 2022. Credit: Peter Nixon
For the family, recently Robin’s daughter Hollie competed with Solo NZ at the Badminton Horse trials. Hollie went to the UK in 2012 and four years ago set-up her own yard. This was her first Badminton.
After the cross-country she said:
“Getting from the stables to the warm-up was the bit I thought might be hardest – I am very grateful to the three hunt horses who accompanied me. Looking back, I really enjoyed the first half, he was really listening, and then it was a matter of riding home. He was super. He really knew his way through the flags.”
Solo went up from 62nd to 28th after cross-country. Well done Hollie.