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When did the current line of the family get into racing?
My grandfather Fred Smith, not the very famous Fred Smith, trained in New Zealand in 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and he started the racing bug in the family. He had a few Group quality horses and won a Hawkes Bay Cup with a horse called Diadochi (Targui) but he was definitely a battler. He, and then my father, only ever trained for themselves and family, they were never commercial operations at any point. So my father grew up with horses around him, then he worked in stables carrying on the line which was then passed on to me. Dad was working at Trelawney when I was born.
Can you remember your Dad having success that might have inspired you to follow him into Thoroughbreds?
It would have to be when he came close to winning the inaugural Karaka Million with a horse called Maureen Dorothy (Spartacus (IRE)).
When New Zealand Bloodstock announced the Karaka Million, Dad said he wanted a crack at this so we went around the sales and picked out two horses to buy with that race specifically in mind. For him to make that plan, put his own money on the line and then get one of those yearlings to the race twelve months later, we thought it was quite an accomplishment. Maureen Dorothy was only beaten a long neck by Vincent Mangano (No Excuse Needed).
I had just finished high school and was helping out in the stables every day and I was working at Waikato Stud around the same time. It was certainly something at that stage of my life that reaffirmed to me it was the game I wanted to be in.
I see from the Bevan Smith Bloodstock website that you lived in Japan for a while as a child, what was that like?
The family moved over when I was four and we spent four years there which was interesting and something different. The culture, and even the way they run farms over there was very different. My father was given a job to manage a farm for a private owner that had 40 or 50 mares along with their foals, weanlings and yearlings where he was tasked to do everything from foaling down through to breaking in and pre-training. This was in the mid 90’s when the Japanese industry was just gaining momentum into the juggernaut that it is.
I’m always curious to hear from participants how tertiary education dovetails with what is a very hands-on industry. How do you think attending Massey University has helped you?
The University course has definitely helped me to get to where I am. One of my first lecturers told the class “this degree will get you a job interview, it’s the person that you are that will get you the job”, and I found that true for me. If I hadn’t gone to University I doubt I would have worked at New Zealand Bloodstock, and if I hadn’t worked at NZB I wouldn’t have met Guy Mulcaster and then gone out on my own, so for me it was a very defining point.
I did a Marketing and Sports Management degree and ended up working in Marketing at NZB. The attraction for me was I could do a practical at Awapuni Racing. Study was something I was glad I did but by the end
of it I was ready for a change. As soon as I finished I thought I would do a yearling prep in Australia for three months and ended up staying about three years!
What was in store for you in Australia?
This was my first real job working for Woodside Park, Eliza Park and Musk Creek Farm. I started there just doing a yearling prep but stayed on to do a breeding season. I was the one that would hang back after work trying to learn things from the farriers, the vets, the managers; you know, the annoying kid in class that just keeps asking questions! I just tried to be a sponge and absorb everything about the industry.
What I learnt over those couple of years was watching horses develop and how they grow out, seeing them from foals to yearlings and then following them as two year-olds through their racing careers. I love young horses and love buying foals and I learnt they don’t always look pretty twelve months of the year. I think having that hands on experience holds me in good stead these days.
Then it was back home for a stint?
A marketing job presented itself at NZB. That was a shock to the system going from working hands-on on the farm everyday with little office work to going full time nine to five.
The focus was on the communication aspects of the business, writing press releases etc which meant I had to really sharpen my skills in that area quickly. At the time Petrea Vela was at the head of the NZB ship and I learnt an incredible amount from her. Her attention to detail was second to none and something that she really drove home. I’ve taken that into my business today, leaving no stone unturned and double, even triple check what you are doing. She had the passion and drive to make NZB the best possible and having my own business now I can fully understand it. Obviously, it’s a different scale as I work for myself, but I’m always questioning how I can get better, what needs to be done to improve, something she always wanted to do with NZB, and never sitting still.
How did you broaden your international knowledge?
In 2017 I got on the Sunline International Management Scholarship which is run by the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association and is basically a mini Darley Flying Start program. I got to spend three months each in England, Ireland and America.
In England I was based at Cheveley Park Stud at Newmarket and while I was working hands-on on the farm, the idea was to gain as much exposure and make as many connections as I could through the course. So, while I was at Newmarket the Craven Sale was on and I shadowed Alex Elliot and spent mornings with William Haggas watching his horses work. I then spent time at Coolmore in Ireland and made some good connections there and got to spend time at Primus, their advertising arm. Then when I went to Kentucky where I was able to work for Taylor Made Sales in their yearling season. They are the biggest consignors in the States and sold 500 yearlings alone at the Keeneland September Sale while I was there.
Given where you are now it sounds like the American leg would have been exciting for you. What did you take away from that experience?
The Taylor’s, led by Mark Taylor, are just a marketing machine. They spot a buyer and they have all the information to hand. They are real salesmen but in a genuine way, trying to help people by asking the client what they are looking for, then advising this suits, this doesn’t, and so on. They are exceptionally good operators who have excellent relationships with their clients and that is why they have become the biggest consignors in the world. I was working hands on most of the time, but to see them in action gave me an idea of how those big guys work the sales.
Do you enjoy the American sales?
I’ve been back a few times since and with the numbers involved it is a sale where there is a lot of work involved and you have to work quickly. It’s a fun sale to work, not in terms of a Saratoga or a Gold Coast where there is a lot of social activity going on, it’s a fun sale to try and see 250 to 300 horses a day. Since I went out on my own I have bought a few Breeze Up horses out of America.
So what came after the Scholarship?
I had already arranged to work with Guy Mulcaster so I pretty much flew back from America for the Horses In Training Sale and spent the next two and a half years working with him. That was a great learning experience, working with one of the world’s leading agents. It was also interesting to have a close insight into Chris Waller’s operation, and again it was just a case of learning as much as possible and taking on board what I could from Guy, Chris and everyone involved.
I travelled the world with Guy but the main focus were the yearling sales in Australia, watching him buy a lot of good horses like The Autumn Sun (Redoute’s Choice). The journey with him was pretty cool. While I wasn’t involved in the purchase of Winx, she was bought the year before I started, that whole experience was pretty phenomenal.
And now you’ve put the shingle up yourself.
The time came in 2019 when I was ready to go out on my own. I was truly fortunate to be based in Australia throughout COVID and that really has been the making of my business. The Australian industry is so vibrant and there are so many people willing to give young people a crack. Sometimes I’ve turned up at sales without an order, but just by being there people have contacted me and I’ve been able to get what they wanted.
I was fortunate to pick up some good clients early on including Ben Kwok who has become the nearest and dearest client as well as being a good friend. He was the first to come on board and having a great client makes getting a business started much easier. Michael Clements also came on board very early on and at the first round of breeze-up sales we must have bought a dozen two year-olds which was a great leg-up, helping me get my name out there and start to build a profile. From that dozen we’ve had Starlight (Headwater), one
of the first horse’s I ever bought, as a Gr2 winner which has been a great help. That year Ben Kwok and I also bought the Gr1 winner On The Bubbles (Brazen Beau) as a weanling. It gave everyone confidence that I knew what I was doing and it set the foundation for my business having those two gentlemen on board and I couldn’t be more thankful to have guys like that supporting me.
You have a reputation for being innovative, is there something you think gives you an edge at the sales?
For the two year-old sales I work closely with Jay Kilgore testing stride analysis and heart score biomechanics. It’s like having a cheat code going into those two year-old sales because it gives us something quantifiable as to why a horse’s stride is good. It’s not just the stride length but it also gives us data on the efficiency of the stride and is a tool to give us confidence we are buying a good horse.
What’s the one thing Bevan Smith is most proud of?
That’s a difficult question. I could probably name a few horses, but the relationships that have I built with people is the thing I most proud of. I mentioned Ben Kwok and Michael Clements as the first two clients that I had and they are still with me now, touch wood they aren’t going anywhere, and to be able to build that loyalty makes me proud. I pride myself on integrity and passion and I think people can see that and they know that when they are dealing with me they are getting an honest answer. To build relationships with good people is what I’m most proud of.
What for the future?
I hope I’m still doing this in twenty years’ time, maybe not the same way, but if I’m still buying horses, hopefully with the same guys, that would give me immense satisfaction. I want to be in the game for a long time and don’t want to be a flash-in-the-pan and that means coming up with innovative ideas to move forward and not be standing still. This year we came up with a few new syndicates and we will expand on those next year.
What advice would you give to someone entering the industry?
It’s a cliche but there is no such thing as a dumb question so ask as many questions as you can. Knowledge is power so find ways of absorbing it.