Nielsen’s journey started in Cape Town

Nielsen’s journey started in Cape Town

August 01, 2019 / 9 months ago

Nielsen’s journey started in Cape Town cover image
Bjorn Nielsen with Stradivarius (Racing TV)

Bjorn Nielsen, owner-breeder of staying superstar Stradivarius, was born and raised in Cape Town. 

As a child in the mid-1960s, he used to listen to thoroughbred races on the radio, as there was no television in South Africa at the time. One of the horses he would hear about a lot was Sea Cottage, who would turn out to be the one of the most famous thoroughbreds in South African history. 

Sea Cottage sparked in Nielsen an interest in thoroughbred racing that has lasted to the present day. When his family moved to Epsom Downs in England, he finally had the opportunity to see the kind of horses he had heard so much about on the radio. 

Nielsen lived close to the Epsom Downs Racecourse and would visit before the great Derby days and watch the contenders take their final spins. These were the days of famous trainer Vincent O’Brien, trainer Noel Murless, and jockey Lester Piggott. 

“Being in Epsom I saw the horses most days walking around town, it was a much bigger training centre back then. I used to go to the Downs the day before the Derby and see Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott— they’d take the horses for a stretch around Tattenham Corner in those days.” 

Ever since Nielsen began breeding thoroughbreds, his goal has been to breed the winner of the Derby. He said: “There’s more history and more talk about the Derby than any other race so that’s why I’ve always been focused on it.   

“The whole Pattern system is really built around the Epsom Derby. There are plenty of other great races to win but that is the race to win, that’s my focus. For me it’s still the greatest race. It used to be that you won the Derby and then as a 4-year-old you’d try to win the Gold Cup. Obviously, times have changed but it would be great to see that again.” 

Despite his future accomplishments as a thoroughbred breeder, that wasn’t Nielsen’s original career path. He actually started out as a trader on the Commodity Exchange in New York, a job that he is still involved in today. 

In the early 1990s, Nielsen decided to follow his childhood interest in racing, and he began buying racehorses. He quickly realized that it was difficult to find horses with the type of pedigrees he desired, and so, the solution was to breed thoroughbreds himself. 

After studying pedigrees and learning how to breed successful thoroughbreds, Nielsen would eventually buy the mare My Branch at the Tattersalls December Sale in 2002, as well as her daughter Tante Rose the following year. My Branch and her offspring would turn out to be key parts of Nielsen’s horse family. 

Throughout his career in thoroughbred breeding, Nielsen’s favourite part has been trying to determine what mating is going to give a mare he owns the best chance of producing a champion. His most successful racehorses, in chronological order, have been  Assessor, Tante Rose, Masked Marvel, and now the mighty Stradivarius. 

These four have all been Group I winners, with Masked Marvel having provided Nielsen with his one Classic success in the 2011 St. Leger.  

Today, Nielsen lives in Palm Beach, Florida, but he spends a good amount of time in England during the Flat Racing Season. He mostly travels around to see the family and horses. 

Many of his horses are stabled in England where they are managed by three different trainers – Ed Walker, Roger Charlton, and John Gosden. Ed Walker trains for Nielsen and other owners at Kingsdown in Lambourn, England. 

Nielsen also invested in South African thoroughbreds at the Cape Premier Yearling Sale earlier this year, and his runners will be going into training with Justin Snaith.  - extracts from