Premier Pedigrees lost one of it's most loyal client's with the sudden passing of Mike Stratford during Covid lockdown in 2020.
A client for nearly two decades, Mike would ring me with a list of 10-20 mares each season to be pedigree-matched utilising his favoured Tesio linebreeding techniques.
A builder by trade morphing into a property developer in more recent times, no one experienced the tough periods such as the Global Financial Crisis 2007-9 or the Christchurch Earthquakes 2011-12 more than Mike.
Whilst these major events did not deter Mike from breeding during these times it did mean that he adjusted either by breeding less mares or by breeding more where he could obtain a package deal price from a Stud.
Often his requests would come with the qualifier, "here's my list of mares, which are the best four mares that go genetically with Stonebridge Regal, Gotta Go Cullen or Sir Lincoln" during these times.
During the good times in the building and property development sector Mike had no fear in going to the best stallion's, the likes of Bettor's Delight, Mach Thee, Christian Cullen or Art Major if we felt the mare warranted them.
It was indeed from one of these that "we" were to able to breed Mike's best horse. The mating of his Washington VC mare Suzy's Delight to Christian Cullen produced NZ Derby winner Locharburn.
So where did Mike's passion for breeding Standardbreds originate?
Back in my early punting days through High School and onto University of the mid to late '70's like many others I had favourite horses that I faithfully supported primarily because of their honesty ( they seemingly always gave you a good run for your money ) and secondarily because they nearly always returned a healthy dividend when in the money.
One of these was the bonny Canterbury pacing mare Classiebawn ( Scottish Hanover - Heathmount ) who registered 10 wins when racing against legends of the grit that included household names the ilk of Bad Luck, Trusty Scot, Roydon Scott, Lord Module, Palestine, Rondel, Sun Seeker, Rocky Tryax, Wee Win, Majestic Charger, In Or Out and Sapling to name a small cluster of her illustrious opponents.
As fate would have it, Classiebawn was raced by Mike's father and was to become the foundation mare for the naming of Mike's father's horse stud.
Many of the broodmares that Mike took over to breed from had Classiebawn appearing at some generational level in their maternal lineage.
Most also carried Scottish names such as Penscroft, Stronechrubie, Monaveen etc and it was perhaps no coincidence that even foundation mare Classiebawn was by none other than Scottish Hanover, of course.
This Scottish naming tradition was also ingrained in Mike and something he proudly sustained as part of the Classiebawn legacy. No better later example than Locharburn.
Whilst many of his breedings were simply in the name of M J Stratford, many others were in the name of his company, Cee Bee Holdings Ltd, the Cee Bee naturally an abbreviation for Classiebawn.
It was under the latter banner that he acquired the nice racemare Sagitta to breed from, a move which provided Mike with some of his proudest achievements as a Standardbred breeder.
From this daughter of Nero's BB, Mike was to breed some outstanding racetrack performers including Deimos ( a prolific winner in Australia ) and Smiling Star ( $106,878 ) and from Sagitta's daughter Lilsistar things got even better with the latter becoming the dam of Classiesistar ( $209,799 ) and Just Cala ( $247,547 ).
The sheer number of horses Mike has bred in the last two decades is phenomenal for a relatively small breeder and his success rate also staggering.
The Standardbred family in the years to come are going to miss the breeding endeavours of Michael J Stratford but for now we will still see M J Stratford printed in the racebook or on the Internet as the breeder of horses currently running around such as Cranbourne or Bundoran to quickly name a couple currently doing battle out on the racetracks of New Zealand.
So long Mike, Premier Pedigrees thanks you as an unsung breeding hero and Standardbred participant.
May you rest in peace.
Premier Pedigrees was born out of Ken Mackay's passion for horse pedigrees to offer a very affordable pedigree matching service and valuable recommendations to new and existing Australian and New Zealand clients for both thoroughbred and standardbred mares.