Jacqueline Stewart

published: 10 Feb 2014 in Personality profiles

Given her love of speed and passion for horses it seems fitting that Jacqueline Stewart has found a career in the world of the thoroughbred. She made history in January when she was appointed the first female Keeper of the Australian Stud Book.

THE Australian Stud Book is the ultimate reference for the nation’s thoroughbred industry. Its history dates back to 1878 when the publication was compiled by William C. Yuille who, with his son Archibald Yuille, was responsible for the first nine editions.

By Volume Four the work was recognised by the Victoria Racing Club and the Australian Jockey Club, which in recent times has come under the umbrella of the Australian Turf Club. Yuille subsequently sold the copyright and publishing rights to the clubs, with the “express purpose of preserving an official record of the breeding industry in Australia and of assisting to improve the standard of the blood horse in the country”.

This led to the appointment of Archibald P. Wilson as the original Keeper of the Stud Book in 1910. He held the position until 1914 when Leslie G. Rouse was appointed. Rouse died in office and was followed by A. Loddon Yuille in 1928. The highly respected Walter J. “Jim” McFadden was appointed in 1949. 

It was during Mr McFadden’s reign that the ASB in 1976 became a founding member of the International Stud Book Committee. That authority has since met annually to ensure the relativity of rules and, among other matters, work on expediting the international movement of horses. Upon Mr McFadden’s retirement in 1985 Roderick Page became Keeper of the ASB and he fulfilled the role until veterinarian John Digby was appointed three years later in 1988. He made many significant changes during his tenure including establishing the stud book records on a website in 1997, the first stud book authority to do this. On Mr Digby’s retirement in 2004 Michael Ford was appointed.

With Mr Ford’s decision to step down, the mantle of Keeper of the Stud Book has from January 1, been taken over by Jacqueline Stewart who filled the position of Deputy Keeper for eight years. As well as being a tribute to Jacqueline skills and understanding of the rules and regulations of the Stud Book’s operations, it is a remarkable appointment in a number of ways. She has the distinction of being the first female to hold the position in the 136-year history of the ASB and is the first female Keeper of a stud book in any major racing country.

“It was actually a no-brainer selecting Jacqueline to succeed me,” Michael Ford said. “Importantly, as Keeper I needed someone who could implement projects whether I had thought of them, the deputy had thought of them, or the staff had thought of them and Jacqueline has that ability. She knows what can be done, what needs to be done and that she can make it happen. She also has the technical knowledge of stud book management and a practical knowledge of horse management, so she is the complete package.” The selection of Jacqueline is, additionally, a sign that the infamous gender battles of years gone by are continuing to fade away.

“I am obviously very honoured to be chosen as the eighth Keeper of the Stud Book,” Jacqueline Stewart said. “I also appreciate that it is a great achievement to be the first female chosen, particularly as the Stud Book has such a long and distinguished history. Now I am looking forward to the challenges of the years ahead. The Australian Stud Book is regarded with the highest integrity both domestically and internationally, so I am looking forward to continuing to enhance that reputation.” Jacqueline is certainly well placed to deal with this and whatever else confronts her. She is a person of drive, energy and vision. Furthermore she has a bank of confidence built up over virtually a lifetime in and around horses. Her father Russell, who followed the races and liked a bet, has also been a collector of vintage and Harley Davidson motorcycles. 

His influence, plus her mother Genevieve’s exploits as a horsewoman have played a pivotal role in the direction her life has followed. It was during Jacqueline’s years at Our Lady of Fatima Primary School in the southern Sydney suburb of Caringbah that Genevieve began encouraging her and her elder sisters, Anne and Kim, to ride.

“My mother would take me and my sisters to riding camps at Adaminaby in the Snowy Mountains,” she said. In those days she would also ride through Sydney’s picturesque Centennial Park and work in the stables there during the weekends. “I loved the camps and the riding I did at Centennial Park and it wasn’t long before I was captivated.” 

That led directly to Jacqueline becoming a boarder at the New England Girls School in the historic university city of Armidale once her primary schooling was completed. “Even from my youngest days I’d had this passion for horses. I knew I wanted to be involved with horses and the New England Girls School was one of only two schools in New South Wales, which had a Higher School Certificate involving horses, so I was able to take my horse with me to boarding school. “During my boarding school days I knew I wanted to work in the horse industry and I went on to do an equine business degree through the University of Sydney’s agricultural campus at Orange. I did work experience at Coolmore at Jerrys Plains while I was doing the course, which was a great learning curve. Also my father had started taking me along to the races at Randwick while I was a teenager.”

With her interest in racing spiked Jacqueline fondly remembers Sunshine Sally, a daughter of Cheraw (IRE) who won the 1989 STC Reisling Slipper Trial-Gr.2 and finished second to Domino in the AJC Oaks-Gr.1 (2400m) in 1990.

“Sunshine Sally was the first horse I followed as far as racing and breeding was concerned. I am not sure whether I became interested in her because our family dog was named Sally or because her dam Lady Genevieve had my mother’s name. I remember Sunshine Sally running second in the Oaks and she went on to produce two stakes winners (Millie and Touch of Sun), so she was quite a successful broodmare. I’ve followed quite a few other horses closely since, such as Lonhro who is such a champion not only as a racehorse but as a sire, and Black Caviar, of course.”

During her university studies Jacqueline considered several different career paths. The first, given her love of competing in dressage and show jumping events, was to join the mounted police. However, this idea was deflated when her father pointed out there was a requirement to serve up to four years in the general police force before being able to apply to join the mounted police.

Jacqueline then thought about becoming a horse dentist but this went by the board after a week of work experience, as did thoughts of being an equine chiropractor when she realised she did not have the physical strength for that. It was as she was coming up to her final year at Orange that Jacqueline felt a desire to return to Sydney so she arranged to complete her course by correspondence.

It was a fateful decision because a friendship that had begun in her primary and high school days blossomed into a romance with her partner David Scullard.

Also, from an employment viewpoint, the move soon provided the foundation for her subsequent career path. To generate some income she took up “a job” working part-time in the owners and trainers bar at Randwick on race days.

“I knew I wanted to work in racing and I thought that was going to be a start. Then in September 1997, while I was still doing my final year at university, a position became available at the Australian Stud Book when one of the ladies was due to start maternity leave. I was employed on a casual basis, basically working as a clerk.”

The following year Jacqueline became a full-time employee at the Stud Book. It was not long before her duties revolved, primarily, around supervising the international department, which entailed looking after the importing and exporting of racehorses, stallions, broodmares and so on.

“All thoroughbreds imported to Australia are identified by DNA typing for official racing and breeding purposes. As supervisor I also had to ensure that all Australian-bred thoroughbreds exported were identified in accordance with our international obligations. That way the horses could easily be accepted into the country they were entering.”

Her task was made easier with the change over from blood typing to DNA typing for parentage testing. “Before DNA typing was introduced two vials of a horse’s blood had to be sent to the University of Queensland for testing and processing which could take up to six weeks before a parentage result was produced,” Jacqueline said. “With DNA typing, 30 mane hair samples are collected by our 1000 or so approved ASB veterinarians at the time of micro chipping and are posted to the university, where parentage results are reported in two days. It was quite a process in the earlier days, but now it is much simpler and more efficient.”

During those years Jacqueline was able to find some time from her busy schedule to compete in motorcycle races before “I came to my senses.”

“I inherited a love of riding motor cycles from my father and a love of the fast lane from David who is an avid motor cycle racer,” she said. “However then I decided I would prefer not to live my life with steel plates and screws in my body as David has.”

These days Jacqueline “happily supports” her partner’s hobby, as a spectator or as a member of his pit crew whenever time away from her Stud Book duties permits. While going through her motorcycle racing phase Jacqueline began working closely with Michael Ford, who had been elevated to Deputy Keeper on Roderick Page’s retirement. When Michael became the Keeper of the ASB on John Digby’s retirement from the position he chose Melanie Hill from Racing Victoria as his assistant. In 2005 Melanie vacated the position when she married John Sunderland, who is general manager of Darley Woodlands, and moved to the Hunter Valley.

“Jacqueline’s talent had been noticed earlier on,” Michael said. “Because of that she had been fast tracked through the grades to a supervisory position, but she had not been exposed to the duties and responsibilities of the Deputy Keeper’s position. Melanie mentored her so that by the time she left Jacqueline was ready to replace her. It all worked out very well.”

As Deputy Keeper Jacqueline was in charge of managing the office, situated in the grounds of Randwick, while also focusing on website projects. “We haven’t had any upgrades to our website for quite a few years but we have a lot of data available that could be used to update our communication tools,” she said. “My aim has been to provide more information on our website, including making it more user-friendly to ensure Australian thoroughbred breeders continue to access one of the world’s best stud book services.

“I also want to optimise the website for the mobile and tablet generation, turning the site from computer-friendly to mobile-friendly and making the content visually appealing for optimal searching.”

In her position as Deputy Keeper Jacqueline has, for the past five years, been attending the annual International Stud Book Committee meetings, comprising nine world stud book authorities, at Newmarket. “These meetings of the major stud book authorities are mainly centered on making sure the rules are consistent across all countries, and that identification methods are consistent,” she said.

Over the years a number of ASB initiatives have been adopted by the ISBC. These have included determining the age of a foal based on service date, improving international tracking with a permanent life number for every horse, streamlining export procedures to expedite the international travel of horses, simplifying pedigrees with country suffixes after every horse’s name and defining a specific rule prohibiting artificial breeding practices.

“The meetings are very interesting and they are a great place to network,” Jacqueline said. “It’s the same with the Asian Conferences, which are held about every 18 months. I’ve attended the past two of those in Sydney and in Instanbul. “A lot of horses are being imported into Turkey these days and it was quite an experience going there. For instance on the race day we went to, they had races for thoroughbreds and separate races for Arabian horses, as they do in Dubai.”

One of the subjects to receive an airing at these conferences is the decline in Australian foal numbers, a trend which is being felt by most stud books around the world. From 1993 to 2006 an average of 18,300 foals were born each year, but with the equine influenza outbreak of 2007 followed by the global financial crisis the final tally for last season is expected to be around 14,500.

However, this is not a problem as far as Jacqueline is concerned. “It is a situation we are continually monitoring. I think there was probably an over-supply in those earlier years but I feel the number of foals born now is adequate to fill race field requirements. 

I can’t see the decline in numbers becoming a problem in the near future but it something that we, along with the racing authorities, need to keep an eye on.

“I really believe the industry remains optimistic on the future of breeding trends on the back of the rise in confidence displayed at recent sales around the world. There have also been increases in the interest of Australian-bred racing stock, particularly in countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and China, which suggests that confidence is increasing.

“The breeding industry has clearly not regained the losses from the EI outbreak, nor the financial crisis but with sale prices, medians and average up worldwide, it is a great indicator that our breed is in demand and hopefully this confidence cascades to increases in broodmare numbers.

“It is a view shared by Michael, whose passion and knowledge of breeding is quite remarkable. He offered me a lot of encouragement and has been a great supporter of mine. I have been very fortunate to have someone like him as my mentor.

“As I have said I am very honoured to be appointed the eighth Keeper and together with the joint proprietors, we are dedicated to providing independent breed integrity through the Australian Stud Book as has been done for more than 115 years. Foresight and dedication will ensure the Australian Stud Book strives to continually improve the services for breeders, and that it remains a world leader in its field.”