Inside Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung’s Gold Coast Hinterland horse racing nirvana
Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung’s Aquis Farm at Canungra
ABOUT a year ago, Mark Wooldridge was doing what he does best at the place he had done it for 20 years when the thought first crossed his mind that he wouldn’t mind being part of a revolution.
“Tony Fung sent a couple of mares to a stallion we stood at the (Beaudesert) farm I was working at,” he said of the Hong Kong billionaire who had reportedly paid $15 million for a 447ha property a few valleys over.
“I did a little bit of background on him, as you do, and I thought if he comes in (to the Queensland racing industry) in a big way, I’d love to jump ship and get on board.”
Well, what do you know?
Here we are a few months later and Wooldridge is playing host as the Bulletin is granted an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Aquis Farm, the Canungra thoroughbred facility one billionaire has raised from the ashes of a former billionaire’s failed dreams.
During the past 10 months, Fung and son Justin, who manages the family’s Australian interests, have spent millions restoring the property to its former glory after Nathan Tinkler dreamt big with his Patinack Farm venture but was forced to walk away when the cash dried up.
Having seen the place become a ghost farm for longer than they care to remember, Canungra locals have watched in recent times as facilities have been restored and more and more staff have rolled in.
Among many state-of-the-art innovations, Aquis Farm is now home to a fully irrigated 1800m grass track, 1750m all-weather sand track, aqua walker, 65m lap pool, hospital barn and vet stations, as well as nine separate residences where senior staff live full time.
Most importantly, the stables and fields are filled with more than 300 horses as part of Fung’s vision to create Australia’s premier thoroughbred, breeding and training facility a long way from the traditional powerhouses of southern states.
“You could see the horses they were buying at last year’s sales and where they wanted to take the farm and that was a big plus for me,” said Paul Knight, who joined Aquis Farm as business development manager in June after almost 30 years with Magic Millions.
“Given this is our first season, we’re blown away with the support we’ve had from breeders, which is a credit to the horses we have … we’re trying to attract breeders that would normally have gone to the Hunter Valley and we’ve had a huge amount of business flowing our way.
“We’re also focusing on the Asian market. We want to be the Australian contact for the Asian market and vice versa and there will be horses bred here solely for that Asian market.
“It’s not often you get an opportunity to work for an enterprise of this size without uprooting to the Hunter, Sydney or Melbourne. I feel blessed to work here but still live in God’s country on the Gold Coast.”
Aquis Farm’s range of services effectively covers the life span of a horse.
As stallion manager, Wooldridge is overseeing the final weeks of the farm’s first breeding season, with four sires having covered about 500 mares since September, including internationally renowned Holy Roman Emperor.
“It’s rare to bring a horse like him to Queensland,” Wooldridge said.
“We negotiated (with his Irish owners) to stand him here because of our Asian interests … he’s sired plenty of winners who have gone very good in Hong Kong and Singapore.
“He could have gone straight to the Hunter Valley but Mr Fung has shown the racing industry he’s behind Queensland and this is just the start. There’ll be nothing lower than the quality of these horses stand here.”
As well as caring for mares and their foals, about 120 of which were born there this year, a kilometre north of the stallion barn are the grass and sand tracks where trainers run the rule over horses that have already graduated to racing.
Head of breeding Robyn Wise, who closed her own business to come on board, is also gearing up to present more than 20 yearlings at next month’s Magic Millions, the first time an Aquis-branded colt or filly will be paraded at the sales.
Seeing out the life cycle, retired racehorses are also finding a home at the farm, either temporarily while being retrained in other disciplines or permanently as a reward from grateful owners.
Then there’s the gratitude of the Hinterland community that has seen the farm finally stir from the Tinkler hangover.
“I wasn’t out here then but the reception in the Canungra district has been really good since Mr Fung’s had the place,” Knight said, adding the farm employs more than 50 people.
“You walk into places like the coffee shops with your Aquis shirts on and they’re always welcoming and friendly. They obviously see the investment Mr Fung’s putting into their district, which helps with local employment and all those little shops.
“Justin (Fung) visits about every month and Mr Fung would be here every second month. They definitely have a keen interest in how it’s progressing … new stuff is being built as we need it.”
While Patinack Farm was a passion project for the horse-mad Tinkler, insiders say the Aquis incarnation is a genuine business proposition for the Fungs.
“Tinkler thought he could just spend massive amounts of money and buy success but you have to build it up over time,” one said.
“Tony Fung is looking to build an investment and get a return on it.”
And that’s not a bad thing for Wooldridge.
“The good thing about Mr Fung is the stability,” he said.
“He’s made a huge financial commitment and you know he’s here to stay … after 20 years, it was a huge decision to leave the place I was and I wouldn’t have done it if an opportunity like this hadn’t come along.
“We had huge faith in the whole thing and it’s nice to see that faith justified … it’s going to be great to be here from the start and see the whole thing snowball.”
WHO IS TONY FUNG
Tony Fung, 62, is a Hong Kong-based private investment banker, financier and investor with more than 40 years experience in global financial services and investment, including more than 15 years as an active investor in Queensland.
This includes last year’s acquisition of the Soul penthouse and a number of land holdings in and around Surfers Paradise during the past 12 months.
The second son of legendary Hong Kong banker and investor Fung King Hey, Mr Fung ran the family’s business group following his father’s death in 1985 until it was sold in 1996.
Following the sale of the group, he established his own private investment business and Yu Ming Investments quickly became one of the most successful privately owned and run property investment companies in Hong Kong.
His personal property portfolio comprises shopping malls, serviced apartments and office buildings, as well a land bank in China.
He also has investments in other international locations and is currently selling his Noosa home, which includes a private 18-hole golf course, for about $20 million.
Story courtesy Dwayne Grant – Gold Coast Bulletin