Stephanie Grentell

published: 16 Apr 2013 in Personality profiles

With hurdle jockeys in her family it’s little wonder Stephanie Grentell isn’t afraid to tackle the big obstacles in life including eventually becoming an auctioneer of thoroughbreds and a bloodstock agent. While she chases these goals and runs marathons for a hobby, she’s forging a career in a male-dominated world and is a valued member of the team at Inglis, based in Melbourne.

HOW is this for a career milestone? At just 28 years of age Inglis Melbourne-based bloodstock consultant Stephanie Grentell has the distinction of being the first woman in the world to publicly auction a thoroughbred, with her history-making achievement coming at a Cup meeting at Sale racecourse in Victoria’s Gippsland on October 28 last year.
  “One day I would love to go a step further by auctioneering in the sales ring,” she said, “but it is something I’m not going to rush, because I’m still working on my technique.” However, as well as wanting to complete this year’s Melbourne Marathon, Stephanie’s ambitions stretch beyond her auctioneering and her running, for her objectives include eventually being in charge of the Inglis operation at Oaklands.
  “It is a job I would one day love to do. I am always teasing the boys about measuring their offices so I know how much room I’ll have.” Another target she has is to be on the board of a metropolitan race club or Racing Victoria Ltd.
  “As a young person it is difficult to have your voice heard, but we are all in the industry because we want to make a positive contribution. We want to see some positive changes, and my feeling is that we all need to work together as a team or we will lose the battle against the other outlets competing for the gambling dollar.
  “For example, the moment you cross the border from Victoria into New South Wales there are a whole different set of rules. We need to cut out the segregation, and the way to overcome this is to establish a national governing body so that the administration of the industry can be centralised. Everyone must work more closely together than we have been and we need to have the same guidelines and direction. I would really like to sit on the RVL board sometime in the future so I can contribute in a meaningful way, although I think I would probably ruffle a few feathers.”
  A lively, vibrant redhead Steph, as she is generally known, was embroiled in racing from the time she was old enough to walk. “Both sides of my family have been heavily involved in racing,” she said. Her father Kevin rode over the jumps in Victoria, while his father Tex was one of the best known jumping jockeys of his era with his victories featuring the 1963 Grand National Steeple at Flemington on Sir Cameron. Added to that her mother Lyn’s father Jim Heywood was a punter who had close connections to some of the more successful stables.
  “I think I was on a horse’s back before I could walk, like a lot of people in the industry have been. I think I was about two when I began riding and from there I went to pony club, then shows and that sort of thing. Even as a little girl I’d go to the races with Pa Heywood and, of course, they’d always go to the big jumps meetings. 
Since those early years I’ve always been very passionate about jumps racing and that now includes an annual pilgrimage to the Warrnambool carnival each May.”
  After going to primary school at Chelsea Heights, south of Melbourne, Steph was in high school at Mordialloc when the family moved to Strath Creek, a small town about 100km north of Melbourne. 
“We moved up there to work on a horse property, which was quite a big change for me. We worked for Ben Boxall, who was racing a lot of horses at the time with Ralph Jury.” Foremost amongst them was the Sun Master (USA) gelding Another Excuse, who won four Listed Races in Melbourne including the MVRC Ian McEwen Trophy (1000m) and finished second to Bellzevir, with Clang third, in the 1997 SAJC Goodwood Handicap-Gr.1 (1200m).
  “I started going to Yea High School, not far from Strath Creek, and while I was there I took on a horse course with TAFE. Then Damian Gleeson offered me a full-time job at Phoenix Broodmare Farm at Euroa so I went there and I did my year 12 VCE by correspondence. I did yearling preparation and looked after foaling down in the breeding season, so that was all good experience.”
  Steph was only about eight months into the role at Phoenix Broodmare Farm when an opening came with highly respected industry identity Barbara Ivill at Little Plains Stud at Wangaratta, which led to a move a little further north. At the time Barbara was standing the Gr.2-placed stakeswinning Red God horse Demus who sired the likes of Litmus, Dandy Kid, Fredemus and Godemus.
  “Being at Little Plains was great, Barb was a great help and a great mentor for me. Again I was doing yearling preparation, foaling down in the stud season and all that sort of stuff.” At that stage however, Steph became concerned about where her future might be heading. 
“I decided I wanted something outside the industry, to fall back on and to give me wider experience, so I went to work as a receptionist for a company in Wangaratta,” she said.
  That led to a working holiday in Perth where she handled office duties at a firm in the Central Business District. She was continuing to “follow the horses” when she noticed an advertisement for staff at Gerry Harvey’s Baramul Stud in the Widden Valley. “While I was in Perth my grandpa Jim died and that rather shook me into a sort of wake up call and I had decided I wanted to get back into the industry. The position at Baramul was advertised as office work slash outside farm duties, which I thought would suit me. 
I applied and got the job.
  “Part of what I was doing included compiling the fertility status on all the mares. I was looking after 500-plus of them, including Savabeel’s mother Savannah Success. Another mare was Bislotto, the dam of Bel Danoro, who was actually there as a yearling when I was at Baramul. “Bel Danoro went on to win races like the Bobbie Lewis Quality and the Aurie’s Star Handicap at Flemington, so he proved himself to be pretty handy. I also helped out with the yearling preparations and went to the Easter sale with the Baramul draft in 2003, which was quite an eye-opener.”
  Then about 12 months into her stint at the stud Steph felt she was “ready to return to Melbourne” and grasped at the opportunity when a friend, Amber Goodall, said there was an opening with the Lloyd Williams stable at Flemington. Ironically, after only being back in Melbourne for four weeks, she was asked to accompany members of the stable to Brisbane for the winter carnival.
  “The reason I was sent to Queensland was that they needed people to ride the horses at the beach. I explained to Lincoln Curr who was running the stable that I wasn’t a very good rider, but I could sit on so I was co-opted for the job. I was up there for a couple of months and we had quite a few winners, so it was a good trip all round.”
  Most notable of the horses consigned to go north for the warmth and sunshine as well as the racing was Zipping, who notched up the first win of his career in a two year-old maiden at the Gold Coast. He, of course, went on to register another 15 victories featuring four MRC Sandown Classics which is now named in his honour, as well a VRC Australian Cup-Gr.1 and Turnbull Stakes-Gr.1.
  Among the other names racing for Lloyd during her time with the stable were Efficient (Steph left for Inglis a few months before his 2007 Emirates Melbourne Cup triumph), the Sydney Cup winner Gallic, and a personal favourite in Singular, who like Zipping is by Danehill (USA). “Singular was one of the horses I looked after during my three and a half years at Flemington. He won a couple of races in Queensland while I was up there, but then injury got the better of him. Now he’s my little pet and I have him in a paddock at Gisborne and have nick-named him Johnny.
  “I have fond memories of my days working for Lloyd because I met two people there, Andrea Brown and Mitchell Beer, who have become very good friends and have been influential in the direction my career has taken.” Importantly while working for Lloyd Williams she had been able to attend yearling sales at the Gold Coast and the Melbourne Premier, which added further to her curriculum vitae and that opened the way for Steph to accompany renowned veterinarian John Peatfield on inspections.
  “I only spent a few weeks with John, but it was incredible what I was able to learn from him,” she said. “He is just so knowledgeable. I also have to thank Lloyd because he knew what I eventually wanted to do and he gave me the opportunity to work the sales, which he didn’t have to do.”
  Wanting to further extend her resume she began an advanced course in horse management at the North Melbourne TAFE while continuing to work at Flemington, but after six months that was “beginning to wear a bit thin” when an opening came at Inglis.
  “I had sent in a letter to Inglis with references from people like Barb Ivill when I was 18 or 19 and I’d been interviewed by Jonathan D’Arcy. I’d kept in contact with Jonathan and when a job became available to sign up at sales I applied and I was put on. I worked a couple of sales and then Peter Heagney rang and said a receptionist was going on maternity leave and he was wondering whether I was interested in replacing her. At that point I had turned my life around so much to take the university course that I was reluctant to give it up so I told Peter I would have to think about it but it was unlikely I’d accept.
  “Anyway I rang my mum and she said ‘you idiot, ring him straight back and say you’ll take the job’ which I did. I left Lloyd’s, quit the course and started on reception. That was August, 2007.”
  Not one to hoard secrets Steph was soon revealing her “corny but true” ambition had always been to be a bloodstock agent at Inglis and that this was going to be her immediate goal. In addition to furthering her experience in the practical side of the industry, she had by then become deeply immersed in the study of breeding patterns and developing her understanding of pedigrees.
  “When I was working at Strath Creek I would talk for hours and hours and hours about pedigrees and matings, with Ben Boxall who has passed away now. 
At the time we didn’t have all these wonderful things like Arion and all the rest of it, so I would make up my own tabulated pedigrees on spread sheets . . . they would take me forever, but that’s what I’d do. Although I think the interest was always there, I guess it was Ben who really provided the foundation for my understanding of pedigrees, breeding patterns, and 
that sort of thing.”
  When her temporary position at Inglis was coming to an end Steph began looking around for some other employment and was snapped up by Cranbourne trainer Greg Eurell as his stable’s racing manager. “When I was just about to leave Inglis I spoke to Simon Vivian, he knew what I wanted to do and so did Mark Webster. That led through to an interview with Mark and he said he wanted to keep me on the team, so they created a role for me as a bloodstock consultant. “Then I had to make the awful phone call to Greg Eurell to tell him I was really sorry but that I’d just been given the job I’d always wanted and I was staying at Inglis.”
  Her appointment was finalised in June 2008 and since then Steph has been working closely with Peter Heagney, Simon Vivian, Ian Baird and Mark Dodemaide on the “horse side of things”. “I’ve been doing yearling inspections and taking part in the sales selection process,” she said. “That has been a real eye-opener 
and being on the road doing the inspections is something I love. It’s really an important time when you are seeing what might be coming through and sometimes I go up to Sydney and am paired up with Jonathan, James Price or Chris Russell when we go on inspections. I’m also getting trainers asking me for my short list going into the sales and I’m quite flattered about that.”
  Steph’s other duties include bid-spotting at sales in Melbourne and Sydney. Her vigilance and ever-increasing profile were rewarded last year when she accepted the winning bid of $2.6m from BC3 Thoroughbreds for the Redoute’s Choice half-sister to Black Caviar, which was “pretty exciting”.
  It was the bid-spotting that provided the inspiration and the conduit for her venture into auctioneering. 
“I suppose because I was a girl bid-spotting, a lot of people were asking me when I was going to start auctioneering. If I’d been a male that would have been the natural progression but being a female it was something I hadn’t even contemplated or thought about. Then when the idea was put into my head I thought, why not?”
  On the advice of a friend in the business of selling cattle, Steph began honing her skills while driving. 
“He told me that when he was in the car he used the reflectors on the side of the road as bids,” she said. 
“So when you went past a reflector that was a bid.
  “After that I started to practise in the auditorium at Oaklands Junction with a headset on and with the microphone working. One day I nearly fell through the floor when Simon walked in while I was going through my patter but he was fine and helped me after that. 
All the boys have been very supportive.”
  Her first tests with the gavel came at charity events conducted by the Riding for the Disabled Association and for Treasure Chest, a breast cancer fund-raising committee. From there she graduated to auctioning at the North-Eastern Thoroughbred Breeders’ annual dinner, which over the years has become quite a celebrated occasion. That move was at the instigation of Peter Heagney. “About five minutes before the auction was to begin Peter said “I think they’ve heard enough of me” you can do the selling,” Steph said. 
“I didn’t have time to get nervous and a glass of red wine gave me some Dutch courage.”
  Everyone was suitably impressed, and then in the middle of October last year Peter told Steph that neither he or Simon Vivian would be able to auction a two year-old, bought at the Melbourne Premier yearling sale, to be sold by the Sale Turf Club on its Cup day.
  “Peter said ‘you’re not being pressured into this’, but there was no way I was going to knock back such an opportunity. The sale was televised on TVN and made me the first woman in the world to have auctioned a thoroughbred. I felt that was quite something.” n