James Harron

published: 12 Nov 2013 in Personality profiles

James Harron began riding at six in Northern Ireland and it wasn’t long before he was “horse mad” and determined to make horses his life. Now just 28, he’s already achieved that dream, has had many memorable moments in the thoroughbred industry, and is at the helm of his own bloodstock agency in Sydney.

JAMES HARRON has a lot to celebrate these days. Although only 28 years-old, the native of Northern Ireland who has been firmly settled in Australia for the past three years, has already achieved an incredible amount in his young life.

With the benefit of experience with Coolmore and the likes of Gai Waterhouse, the redoubtable George Smith, and internationally renowned bloodstock agent Hubie de Burgh, he has quickly gained a reputation for making accurate calls. These have most prominently included the purchase of Foxwedge and Satin Shoes, among others, for Dr Edmund and Belinda Bateman.

This meteoric rise enabled him to establish James Harron Bloodstock, with offices in Woollahra, not far from Royal Randwick, in January 2011. Since then James has become a major buyer at the nation’s yearling sales, often in association with Gai, and at weanling and broodmare sales. He is also recognised as a notable buyer in the northern hemisphere with acquisitions including the 1.5 million Euros sales-topping filly by Dubawi from the Cozzene mare Hit The Sky at Arqana Yearling Sale at Deauville in August.

In another triumph, James earlier in the year worked with the owners of Pierro to broker the deal which enabled Coolmore to come out victorious in the battle for the superstar’s stud services. As James says, his agency’s main focus now is on “dealing with quality people and quality bloodstock” that will have JHB’s clients at the forefront of the equine industry.

‘We have an international network which allows us to offer a global perspective,” he said. “That in turn presents opportunities to acquire bloodstock from all over the world as well as providing an insight into global markets and trends, which is vital when participating in the industry today.”

As part of that process, as well as attending all the important sales in Australasia, James flies into the United States, France, England and Ireland for feature sales in those countries. The agency additionally specialises in the selection and placement of racehorses for the Asian market. With that all in place James is now forging ahead with a plan to develop his agency into an innovative “one-stop shop” for those people at home, in Asia or the northern hemisphere, interested in investing money in the thoroughbred industry.

“Our intention is to be an agency which can provide a complete service. We are working on expanding our service to be able to facilitate everybody’s bloodstock needs and also other services that are required. These will include everything from management through to bill paying, to racehorse management and race programming, mating advice and stallion selection for broodmares, stallion management, independent valuations and private sales through to general industry advice.

“So, slowly and surely we are trying to become a one-stop shop for investors who want that type of service. We have clients we are doing everything for and we have others who like to do certain things themselves. Essentially we are building up our skill sets to accommodate whatever needs people in the industry have.”

It is all part of the goal James began targeting as a teenager. Born in Belfast, the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, in 1985 James began on the pathway his life has since taken at a very early age. “I began riding at the age of six,” he said. “It wasn’t long before I was horse mad.” This evolved into having ponies on a couple of acres the family had at Carrickfergus, which is just north of Belfast.

While progressing from ponies to horses he competed in show jumping competitions at national level. Then at 15, while on school holidays from Carrickfergus Grammar, he began working for Coolmore at Ferthard in County Tipperary. “It was quite a trip from the north down to Coolmore and I stayed there for the school holidays,” he said. It was in the days when Sadler’s Wells was establishing himself as one of the immortal sires and others including Ahonoora, Be My Guest, Caerleon and Last Tycoon were standing under the Coolmore banner.

“Coolmore is very good at giving work experience, and at that time my first job was with the foals and the weanlings. I did the foal sales at Newmarket and did some yearling sales for a couple of the Coolmore farms.” 

With his future direction firmly set on a career in the thoroughbred industry James began an equine course at Enniskillen Agricultural College while also “riding out” for a number of trainers. On completing his studies at the college he began working for Paul Shanahan, the “right hand man” for Coolmore supremo John Magnier. “While I was with Paul I worked on yearling preparations for him and I did the sales for him,” James said. That in turn provided James with the opportunity to have a stint at Coolmore Australia’s base at Jerrys Plains in the Hunter Valley in 2004.

“I was 19 when I came out to Australia for the first time and I did the Easter yearling sales in Sydney. I was given the opportunity to travel, by Coolmore, and I had the choice between America and Australia. I decided on Australia because I felt just about everybody was doing America and I’d always wanted to visit Australia.”

An introduction to Gai Waterhouse opened the way for James to be given the opportunity to spend two weeks gaining work experience at her Randwick stables. “After a week Gai offered me a bloodstock assistant’s job,” he said. “That involved working with her at the track in the morning, clocking horses, supervising riders and that sort of thing. Then I would work in the office in the afternoon.” 

It was, as always with Gai, and exciting time with horses such as Aqua d’Amore, Dance Hero, Desert War, Grand Armee, Thesio and Sunday Joy in the stable. Importantly, the time with Gai also presented James with the opportunity to work alongside the revered George Smith, who after his days at the late Ken Cox’s Stockwell Stud in Victoria has become the most respected yearling adviser in the country.

“I worked closely with George,” he said. “He taught me a lot about conformation and a lot about the selection of horses. I think George is among the people that I’ve learned the most from since I started out. I will always be grateful for that.”

After spending about a year under Gai’s tutelage James returned to Ireland where he had an interview with Coolmore which resulted in offer of a position in nominations and sales at Jerrys Plains. “I was more than happy to accept and after seeing the family for a few weeks I travelled back to Sydney and took up that job.” 

He began his career at Blue Gum Farm at Euroa, Encosta de Lago was by then really making his presence felt and Fastnet Rock was just embarking on his already exceptional career as a sire. “I was at Jerrys Plains for two years after that and it was a very, very good two years. “Working with top class stallions in an amazing operation such as Coolmore was really the fantastic opportunity for me. “I’d done the racing with Gai and I was doing the breeding and sales part of the business at Coolmore. We did a lot of sales because there were 19 stallions on the roster and we were selling more than 150 yearlings a year. I was also learning a lot about Australia and how everything worked here, so it was quite brilliant.”

With his objective to become an agent in his own right, James made an approach to Hubie de Burgh, who had first come to prominence in Australia when accepting the Melbourne Cup on behalf of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid al Maktoum after At Talaq’s victory in 1986. A regular at the nation’s major yearling sales over the years since, Hubie was most agreeable to taking James on board at his de Burgh Equine Ltd, which has its base in County Kildare.

“Although I went back to Ireland, I continued to do all the major sales in Australia. While I was with Hubie’s agency I travelled a lot . . . I think during that time I sold horses in 16 countries around the world.”

It was while working with de Burgh Equine that James secured the filly by Flying Spur from the Barathea (IRE) mare Apparel for the Bateman’s for $730,000 at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale in 2009. This filly turned out to be Georgette Silk, who would later win the AJC Widden Stakes-LR and now has a foal by Foxwedge. The following year the Batemans really struck pay dirt at Easter when James, again signing in the name of de Burgh Equine, bought the colt by Fastnet Rock from the Forest Wildcat mare Forest Native (USA) for $925,000 and the filly by Flying Spur from the Volksraad (GB) mare Star Satire (NZ) for $700,000.

The colt of course was Foxwedge and the filly was named Satin Shoes. A winner of five races featuring the MVRC William Reid Stakes-Gr.1 (1200m), in which he defeated Hay List and Buffering, Foxwedge also registered two Gr.1 placings and provided Edmund and Belinda with a lot of excitement on his way to becoming a much sought after sire. Now a very valuable broodmare, Satin Shoes won six races including the ATC Silver Slipper Stakes-Gr.2 (1100m) and three Listed races as well as being placed in the VRC Ascot Vale Stakes-Gr.1.

Interestingly, Foxwedge just about returned his purchase price with earnings of $952,450, though factoring in his stallion value makes that figure pale in comparison, while Satin Shoes exceeded her cost with stakes winnings of $798,300. Then, as 2010 was coming towards its end, two factors were pressing on James. These were a desire to be in Australia on a full-time basis and his ambition to found his own bloodstock agency. Both those objectives were attained in January 2011, when James Harron Bloodstock Pty Ltd opened offices.

“I went out on my own with the blessing of Hubie and we still do lots of work together,” James said. “He helps me over there and vice versa. We’ve been fortunate to have good supporters since day one and the biggest of those have been Dr Edmund and Belinda Bateman, who have been with me right from the beginning. Gai is a huge supporter too and I’ve been working with her at the sales. It’s great working with her and Denise Martin of Star Thoroughbreds.”

This and support from others has enabled James to employ Anna Ryan who worked with Magic Millions managing director Vin Cox in his days as a bloodstock agent. Anna, who has a degree in Equine Science, also gained experience in the business working on studs and with trainers in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia. “As well as helping at all the sales Anna runs the office and keeps everything under control,” James said. “She’s brilliant.”

James and Anna have more recently been joined by Darley Flying Start graduate Stephen Heath, whose curriculum vitae includes two years with British form analysis company Timeform. He also has had experience working on studs in Britain and the United States. Stephen’s main responsibilities revolve around analysing possible purchases in the major racing countries, together with providing detailed analyses for clients on their current racehorses and breeding stock. Stephen also handles the marketing for the company and for clients wanting assistance with their own marketing efforts as James Harron Bloodstock moves towards achieving the “one-stop shop” concept.

“I realised that we needed to hire someone who could both help with providing more in-depth and exclusive service in terms of providing information for clients,” James said. “As well as this, Stephen has enabled us to expand our marketing efforts and the abilities of James Harron Bloodstock.”

It is only the beginning for the young company, but there is no chance James Harron Bloodstock will be resting on its laurels as the years go by. “Anyone in the horse business soon learns that every day is a new day in this game. If you ever think it’s easy, then I always imagine you are probably not working hard enough! My primary aims are for the company to continue to expand its reach both on a geographical plane, as well as in terms of providing the best and the highest class service possible for our clients.”

While these objectives seem quite grand, James puts the future intentions of the company in simpler terms saying, “we just want to see the colours of our clients passing the post in front . . . after all that’s what it’s all about!”