Former plumber turned stud master Rod Woodhouse built one of Australia’s most successful harness racing nurseries from the ground up.
But this weekend will be one of his toughest as he prepares to step away from the top end of the industry.
Woodhouse was raised by his single mum in a housing commission area of Wagga Wagga but as a successful businessman, he went on to create and operate NSW’s biggest standardbred stud, Yirribee, just outside the Riverina city.
The stunning property went on the market earlier this year, and is now under offer, but it’s this weekend that the “living and breathing” behind the business, more than 107 broodmares, racing stock, juveniles and weanlings, will go under the hammer in an online dispersal sale.
An open day last weekend in the leadup to the dispersal sale attracted a huge crowd— no doubt a large number of whom were equally interested in looking over the state-of-the-art property.
“There was a massive number of people; it was unbelievable,” Woodhouse said.
“Our track is 835m around with a 200m straight and the cars were parked the full length of the straight as well as around the corner,” he said.
“The decision to put it on the market created a huge amount of interest. At the moment it’s come down to two interested parties—one involved in the industry and the other not.
“Yirribee has certainly been a major part of our lives, but there comes a time when you have to start weighing it all up. We’ve got nine grandchildren and as we all know, they grow up pretty quick,” Rod said.
Woodhouse lived in the Sydney suburb of Peakhurst but moved to the Riverina when he was 12.
“Mum was an asthmatic, so she decided we’d move to Wagga in the hope of better health. We lived in a Housing Commission home, and I was lucky to get a plumbing apprenticeship,” he said.
“I did my apprenticeship at the same time (Yirribee co-founder) Ian Walsh did. We became great friends and eventually business partners.”
The pair ventured into a plumbing business together as well as owning a couple of pubs before later establishing Yirribee “virtually from bare ground” together in 1985. It was officially opened by industry notables Darren Binskin and David Aiken the following year and American stallion Jeremy Lobell was purchased to stand as the foundation sire.
“He sired Jofess who took out the Inter Dominion in Perth in 2004, as well as the Victoria Cup and Treuer Memorial 2002,” Woodhouse said.
“We’ve had a lot of other stallions stand in the barn since, including Genghis Khan, Pet Rock, Lazarus, Village Jasper, TinTin in America, Fear The Dragon, Warrawee Needy, Million Dollar Cam and Mister Big.”
Ian retired from his interest in the property in 2009 and sadly later passed away after a long battle with illness.
“When Ian died from cancer that impacted greatly on me. It was never quite the same after that,” Woodhouse said.
“I guess that longing to be able to spend more time with family is the main reason behind our decision now.
“None of our four children have shown an interest in taking it on in the long term. Brett is a trainer-driver and Scott is into the horses as well, but they’re happy with what they’re doing. When I spoke to them about it, they said if the property was handed to them, they’d sell – so they suggested why didn’t I do that?
“I guess that planted the seed. I chewed it over for 18 months and probably changed my mind one hundred times.
“I’m healthy and could keep going for a while, but I really feel the time is right. I am hoping it can stay in the industry though.”
Rod’s partner Di Sutherland said leaving the Murrumbidgee River property would not be easy.
“Every time I look out here, I’m proud of what’s been achieved,” she said.
Highly regarded studmaster Roger Strong has been at the nursery since 1998, while Peter McRae who shares training duties with Woodhouse and is the stable driver, has been at Yirribee for three years.
Yirribee is on the Murrumbidgee River and is offered for sale as a whole or in two separate parcels—Yirribee is 68 hectares and Iona comprises 78 hectares.
The superb Yirribee facilities include a stable barn, 31 stables with day yards, 13 walk-in shelters, four foal-down yards with shelters, eight horse water walker, 10 horse walker, quarantine collection facility and an 835-metre training track. The double-storey main homestead has five bedrooms, all with views of the property.
**Hoofnote: Brett Woodhouse trained and drove a winning double at Wagga Wagga last night with Unsully (Warrawee Needy) and Our Rebel Yell (Betting Line).
The Nutrien Equine catalogue for this weekend’s complete stock dispersal sale can be viewed by clicking here.
by Terry Gange, for Harnesslink