Brett Howard

published: 10 Dec 2012 in Personality profiles

Thanks to a grandmother who liked a bet, the young Brett Howard got an early taste for the racing industry that eventually developed into a vocation. He now runs the successful Randwick Bloodstock Agency with his wife Rachael as well as an agistment property in the lower Hunter Valley, and this proud parent of three young sons says he “couldn’t be happier”.

ONLY two years after Brett Howard launched Randwick Bloodstock Agency he learned how difficult life in the thoroughbred industry could be. This occurred towards the end of the 1980s when the economic bubble burst and sent the value of bloodstock crashing, inflicting intense pain on Bart Cummings and many, many others.
  The fledgling RBA did not avoid the suffering, at one point Brett went three months without earning any income, but the company eventually managed to struggle its way through the financial crisis. Now, a quarter of a century later, Brett and Rachael, his wife of 12 years, can look back with considerable satisfaction on their achievements.
  Over the years they have worked to deliver positive results and the RBA has a long list of successful transactions, for buyers and sellers, to its credit. The agency has also developed a client base that spreads right around the thoroughbred world. Brett and Rachael have bought and sold horses to many countries including Argentina, Canada, Chile, England, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
  “I have always done a lot of marketing, and the internet is a very useful tool for that,” Brett said. “The great thing about the internet is that people can log-on to your website from any part of the world, so these days we are receiving enquiries from all over the place. This often leads to an exchange of emails or phone calls, and once people have gained confidence in you they will do business with you.
  “As an example, we recently sold broodmares to two different Hong Kong owners without meeting the people involved. I think we will find that sort of thing happening more and more in the future, which will serve to further internationalise the agency.”
  Brett considers himself one of the “very lucky” people to be involved in an industry that is his love and his passion. As he says, it all started through his mother Joyce’s side of the family when her mother introduced him to the world of racing at a very early age.
  “We were living in Melbourne and my grandmother, who was Irish, was an absolutely mad punter. We weren’t living far away from her and we’d go to her place once or twice a week. Every time we went around she’d have the form guide spread out on the kitchen table and a tiny transistor radio turned on from the time breakfast was finished in the morning.
  “My mother had grown up with that and I started following what my grandmother was doing and she explained all about the racing. My father Allan, who had come out from England as a 16 year-old and boarded with my mother’s family, became interested as well. I remember the first bet I had was on Fileur, who was favourite in the Melbourne Cup in 1970 but he finished down the track behind Baghdad Note.”
  The following year, when he was just six years-old, the Howards moved to the resort town of Ballina, about 750km north of Sydney, where his parents bought a motel. “Dad and Mum ran the motel for a couple of years before buying a farm. They had crops, fattened a few cattle as well as having horses and donkeys . . . we actually had more donkeys on 
the farm than horses. That’s where I became used to being among animals, and I began riding and that sort of thing.”
  The family’s involvement in the Sport of Kings went deeper in the early 1970s when Allan was elected to the committee of the Ballina Jockey Club, his duties involved with marketing and promotion. “There were always thousands of visitors in Ballina during the Christmas and New Year period. There was a summer racing carnival and to promote the race meetings Dad would drive around in his car with a loud speaker on the roof telling people about the racing, which would be on the next day.
  “He would take me and my younger brothers Craig and Dean with him. We’d also go the races with him, and after a while, I was hooked. I started reading all about the races and I’d buy the racing magazines that were available in those days.”
  When Brett was only 15 his direction in life was virtually settled during a family holiday to New Zealand. “While we were there I said I would love to visit a horse stud so we rang Cambridge Bloodstock Agency and the agent, Jim McEwen, arranged to take us out to Rodmor Stud. During the tour of the stud Mum and Dad told Jim about my passion for racing and breeding. He said if he could do something for me he would.
  “A few weeks after we had arrived back home Jim rang and asked whether I would be interested in helping do a yearling sales preparation at Rodmor. I jumped at the chance and in December 1979, I went over there and stayed on until the sales at Trentham were over. At the time Rodmor was standing Showoff, the sire of Bit of a Skite whose wins included the All-Aged Stakes at Randwick and what is now the Emirates Stakes at Flemington.
  “They also had the dam of Bit of a Skite, who was a mare called Gold Vink. That has been an exceptional family with horses like Haradasun, Elvstroem, their dam Circles of Gold, Polar Success and Starspangledbanner distinguishing themselves.”
  At the end of 1980 Brett returned to Rodmor but declined an opportunity for another stint in 1981 so he could begin concentrating on attaining his Higher School Certificate. After securing his HSC and finishing his time at Ballina High School he went back to New Zealand to work at the Otway family’s Trelawney Stud. “Gordon Sutherland, who had taken over Cambridge Bloodstock Agency, had become a mentor to me and he made arrangements for me to work at Trelawney in 1983. It was a great experience.”
  On completing a year with the Otways he began a horse management course which encompassed a year at Hawkesbury Agricultural College and a year at the Orange Agricultural College. That led to him earning some “pocket money” working for Brian Russell at The Australian Bloodhorse Review’s offices (now Bluebloods) in Richmond. “One of the jobs I did for Brian was some research on the Inglis sales,” he said. “That was a long time ago . . . probably around 1984 or 1985.”
  After finishing the horse management course it was across the Tasman Sea again for six months in the employ of Norm Hawthorne at Paramount Stud at Hastings. “Just before I arrived In The Purple passed away, but Paramount still had Diplomatic Agent and Half Iced who had won the Japan Cup in 1982.”
  Returning to Australia Brett gathered further experience on the practical side of the industry with Robert and Christine Johnson, who were enjoying considerable success with their stable at Hawkesbury. Following the stay with the Johnsons he headed to Hambledon Stud at Tarcutta, located near the border with Victoria. At the time the stud was being run by Laurie Morgan who had won the gold medal in the individual three-day equestrian event at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, and his wife Philippa.
  “A horse called Chimes Square who had been a top sprinter in Sydney, began standing at Hambledon the year I was there. In his first season he sired a Gr.1 winner in Chime Zam who won what is now called the T.J. Smith.”
  Along the way Brett had been careful to save some money, but by 1987 he came to the conclusion that he needed to increase the rate of his earnings if he was to achieve his objectives in life. However, his initial attempt was a disaster. “My dream was always to have my own property but the way I was going that wasn’t going to happen until I was about 80,” he said. 
  With that he decided to become a professional punter, only to go through most of his bank in about six weeks. To provide some income while his savings were dwindling Brett found part-time work with Bob Marchment at The Horseman’s Bookshop, and that provided the foundation for the establishment of the Randwick Bloodstock Agency.
  “A lot of people would come into the bookshop seeking advice about getting into racing and breeding. Although you never stop learning I felt by then I knew my stuff and Bob suggested we set up a bloodstock agency. His idea really appealed to me, so in 1987 we formed the Randwick Bloodstock Agency with an office in the bookshop in Alison Road, Randwick. Bob was a mentor to me as far as the business side was concerned.”
  About a year later the bookshop and the bloodstock agency moved premises to Anzac Parade in Kensington. During the next decade the bookshop continued to attract a steady stream of customers and the bloodstock agency forged a place in the thoroughbred industry. “The major focus of the agency has always tended towards the breeding side of things, buying and selling mares and stallions. We have done a small amount of yearling buying over the years, but it has never been a side of the business I have pushed. At present our strike rate is 10% stakes winners-to-yearlings purchased, with my most expensive buy being $90,000. I am quite proud of this achievement and am considering whether it might be worthwhile ramping up this side of the agency. 
  “Back in the 1980s a significant number of stallions were syndicated. This helped the business because if the farms standing the stallions didn’t want to help the shareholders sell their nominations or shares, they didn’t have too many other options. As a result I saw an opportunity in the market and I started selling a lot of shareholder nominations and shares, particularly after the recession hit in the late 1980s, however it was still very tough going into the nineties with all the ups and downs. You are always going to have a roller coaster ride in the bloodstock industry, but we managed to battle our way through and eventually we began to prosper.”
  During those years the successful completion of a number of transactions helped to further enhance Brett’s reputation. Among them was arranging the sale of Dark Ksar as a lightly raced two year-old to Hong Kong clients Raymond, William and Phillip Tai for $27,500. Dark Ksar went on to win 13 races, featuring the STC Ranvet Stakes-Gr.1 and more than $1m in prizemoney. Another notable negotiation RBA finalised was the private sale of the STC George Ryder Stakes-Gr.1 winner Straussbrook, to Mapperley Stud in New Zealand where he became Champion First Crop Sire of 1995-96.
  Those and the completion of other valuable trades enabled RBA, in 1996, to employ Rachael Theaker, who had decided to venture “down under” after having spent the three previous years working for the respected bloodstock agent Luke Lillingston in London. “Once the situation settled down again after the crash the business went very well and we needed another person,” Brett said. “We had employed several other people before Rachael came along but she was the first one who’d had previous experience in the industry.”
  Then, in 1998 he and Bob decided to go their separate ways. At that point Brett and Rachael opened offices in the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown. Soon afterwards he came to the conclusion that after enduring some demanding and difficult periods, he was suffering from “burn out”, which made an approach from Coolmore particularly appealing.
  “Coolmore had actually approached me a couple of times because they knew I was very active in the area of stallion bookings and stallion nominations but I had said ‘no’ to the offers,” he said. This time he said “yes” and it all worked out nicely because the arrangement included spending two months at Coolmore in Ireland before settling on to the property at Jerrys Plains. 
That opened the way for he and Rachael, whose working relationship had blossomed into a romance, to be married in her home county of Lincolnshire in March 2000.
  “Coolmore was very keen for me to see how everything worked in Ireland. It was another great experience because it is a magnificent place and, of course, Sadlers Wells was still a dominant force. Rachael and her family organised the wedding while I was at Coolmore and when I finished my two months there we were married in England.”
  Another of the attractions for the newlyweds about going to Coolmore was being able to leave Sydney to live in the country. “Both Rachael and I have farming backgrounds, and we were both yearning for a return to the country when Coolmore’s approach was made. Also with the experience Rachael had gathered in the bloodstock business she was able to look after the agency during the years I was busy at Coolmore.”
  Among her accomplishments was to negotiate the sale to Carl Holt of Nancy Eleanor, who went on to produce STC Golden Slipper Stakes-Gr.1 and GCTC Magic Millions Two Year-Old Classic-RL winner Phelan Ready.
The dual arrangement lasted until October of 2006 when the Howards bought a 20ha (50 acre) property at Quorrobolong, in the lower Hunter Valley about a 10-minute drive south of Cessnock.
  “In 2000 when I started with Coolmore the farm had two joint managers in Michael Kirwan and Duncan Grimley. Michael, who was instrumental in my working for the organisation, has done a fantastic job guiding Coolmore Australia since its inception in 1996, and Duncan is a person with a remarkable grasp of the industry. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have been able to work with them and the other talented people on the Coolmore team up until the time we were able to buy our own place.”
  A short time after leaving Coolmore Brett was co-opted, in an advisory capacity, by Nathan Tinkler’s Patinack Farm. “One of the first deals I did for Patinack was flying across to Argentina with Andrew Bowcock to inspect Husson, who had been a multiple Gr.1 winner at San Isidro,” he said. “It was a long way fly to inspect one horse and we were hoping everything would turn out right. Anyway, when Husson came out of his box Andrew and I turned towards each other and smiled. He was a lovely horse and we knew straight away that the trip was going to be worthwhile.
  “Among the stallions we have placed in more recent times are Anacheeva to Chatswood Stud and Love Conquers All to Eliza Park’s new operation in Queensland. We also organised for Makfi to shuttle to Westbury Stud in New Zealand.”
  Brett is particularly passionate about the need for breeders in Australia and New Zealand to import blood from overseas. “Imported mares make up less than five per cent of our current mare population and consistently account for more than 10% of the stakes winners produced annually. These results, in my opinion, are outstanding. It is highly significant that our greatest homebred sires in the past decade, Redoute’s Choice, Zabeel, Encosta de Lago and Flying Spur are either sons or grandsons of mares conceived in the US.”
  He supports this theory by making a now annual pilgrimage to the breeding stock sales in Lexington each November and has been involved in the importation of They Say, the dam of Hasna, and Gabbing Gloria, dam of Diatribe.
  While Brett is in the US or away on other buying missions, Rachael with her experience in the industry, is able to guide Randwick Bloodstock’s business. 
“We have developed an ideal situation since we’ve been at Quorrobolong, because if Rachael is under pressure I can help her out, and if I need some assistance or am away somewhere she can help on my side,” he said.
  The farm had previously been a cattle property but during the past four years the Howards have gradually developed the infrastructure to provide agistment for broodmares. “We have 15 or 20 permanent residents all year. We do the foaling down and the walk-outs. The farm has achieved an impressive strike rate over the three years we have been operating with 95% of the mares walked-out getting in foal, which would be right up there with any farm in Australia.
  “Although we don’t do the yearling sales we prepare a number of weanlings for auction each year. 
Twenty five years ago there was no real market for weanlings but today we have a well developed market, and some great sale prices for weanlings can now be obtained.”
  Brett and Rachael have three boys, Henry, 10, Freddie, 9, and Archie, 6, a flourishing agency and a property, and Brett says he “couldn’t be happier”. “It’s been great to do something I am really passionate about. It hasn’t really been work for me and there hasn’t been a morning when I’ve woken up and thought ‘I don’t want to go to work today’.
  “Obviously the boys have now become a very important part of our lives and they will have a significant influence on the direction our future takes. We are always looking for opportunities but they must make sense as far as the family is concerned. Whatever we do in the future will depend on what is best for the family.” n