Paul Knight

published: 08 Jul 2012 in Personality profiles

Paul Knight has had a real passion for his work at Magic Millions since he left school more than 
25 years ago and is now the sales company’s bloodstock operations manager. This good fortune to have a job he loves has prompted Paul to realise how lucky he has been and to try and help others who have not been so fortunate.

IT is more than 25 years since Bloodstock Operations Manager Paul Knight joined Magic Millions Sales, only a few months after completing his formal education at Ipswich Grammar School. Paul often wondered about his future at the Gold Coast during his first 10 years with the company as Magic Millions struggled to overcome financial problems, which in turn led to numerous changes of ownership and a period in receivership.

  The bad times seemed to be finally in the past when the purchase of the company by Gerry Harvey, John Singleton and Rob Ferguson was accompanied by a spectacular rise in turnover. An amazing series of successes by Magic Millions sales graduates in the Golden Slipper Stakes also evolved as the new century began.

  However, further headwinds were encountered when the equine influenza epidemic struck in 2007 and was followed in quick succession by the global financial crisis. That has served to make the past five years challenging for just about everyone in the world of the thoroughbred. However despite all of this Paul, the distinctive figure on the right of the auctioneer’s box at the Gold Coast sales complex, is eternally grateful for the chance that opened up for him 25 years ago.

  “I feel as though I have been blessed,” he said. “I couldn’t think of having a better job, and it’s given me a great life so far. I’ve been given every opportunity to succeed by everyone I’ve worked with, and I’ve been extremely lucky.”

  Reaching the conclusion last year that he was indeed among the “very fortunate” in his choice of career pathway resulted in Paul deciding to redefine his life and himself. “I started thinking that I should try to help other people who hadn’t had the opportunities I’ve had. I thought I should become more socially responsible and felt that if I could help even one person I would be doing something worthwhile, so I changed my whole lifestyle around.”

  With that he became a regular at the gymnasium, eased up on his drinking, stopped smoking, and became fiercely determined to make a contribution to the community. His next step was to sign up for a charity bike ride from Sydney to the Gold Coast, which was conducted to raise funds for the Father Chris Riley “Youths off the Street” program. Then on New Year’s Day he sent out emails seeking financial support.

  “I was absolutely astounded by the positive response I received for the bike ride. I thought New Year’s Day was an appropriate time to send out the emails and they went to a couple of hundred people before I headed out for a training ride at 6 o’clock in the morning. By the time I stopped for breakfast, about two hours later, I had 30-odd replies from people saying that it was fantastic and that they were right behind me. The support came from every section of the industry ... owners, breeders, trainers, vets, farriers and so on.

  “With the support of all those people I raised more than $26,000 and that has really opened my eyes up to what a great industry I actually work in and how those people all back each other.”

  Paul went on to fulfil his part of the bargain by coming through the ride, over seven days and 904km, with colours flying. “There were a few scary parts, like descending down Bumble Bee Hill coming out of Sydney, but it was a fantastic experience. It is one of the best things I’ve done in my life, because it challenged me both mentally and physically.”

  In fact his preparation for the ride was so thorough and effective that two days after arriving home he began training for his next assignment, which is to contest the Gold Coast Marathon over 42km on July 1. “Outside of my work with Magic Millions the next task I’ve set myself is to run the marathon. Once that is behind me I’ll look for another challenge and hope that in some sort of a way I can make a contribution back to society.”

  It was in Paul’s earliest years that the foundation for his involvement with Magic Millions and his now emerging spirit of competitiveness had its beginnings in the bayside suburb of Wynnum just north-east of Brisbane’s central business district where his family had a property.

  “It was in the days before the urban sprawl accelerated and our place was just across the road from what is now Wynnum Plaza, and it’s all housing,” he said. 
“My parents had horses there and that’s where my interest began. I was only a youngster when I started going to pony club and from there I graduated into show jumping, eventing and that sort of thing. Unfortunately I didn’t quite look the part on a horse, so my career in the saddle didn’t go a long way.

  “After my father died when I was 12, Kevin Wallen who has been a trainer and a horse trader, became my mentor. The Wallens are a really good family and they’ve helped me a lot over the years . . . and they still help me right up to the present day because, besides having their friendship I am able to use them as a sounding board whenever I want.”

  It was as he was nearing the end of his days at Ipswich Grammar, where he was a boarder, that Paul wrote to Elders in Brisbane seeking a position. “That was towards the end of 1986,” he said. “Initially I had thoughts of being a vet, but my guidance counsellor had been reading about Magic Millions starting up and suggested I approach Elders, so I did. David Chester wrote back to me wishing me the ‘best of luck’ with my final exams and following the Magic Millions yearling sale in January of 1987 I was invited into the company’s offices at 10 Felix Street, Brisbane, for an interview.

  “At the time Kevin kicked-up for me, I got a job and my first sale with Elders was the Golden Nugget in March of 1987. From memory I think the catalogue had a gold and maroon cover. That was the start of the 25 years I have had the privilege of working alongside David Chester. I’ve known him longer than I knew my father.”
  It was still in the era when pedigrees and catalogues were compiled manually. “Being pre-computer the research involved continually updating a card system, by hand. Looking back it was a good grounding because when you are writing down the information it tends to stick in your mind more than it does when you are using a computer and a keyboard.”

  One of Paul’s most vivid memories of those early days is of Stylish Century who was sold at the Golden Nugget sale in 1988. A brown colt by Double Century from the Forex (GB) mare Stylish, he was only small, and there was little interest in him before he was knocked down to Dick Monaghan for $6000.

  “The first Magic Millions I went to was in January of 1988. The race was split into divisions that year. Molokai Prince won the race for colts and geldings and Sea Cabin took the fillies’ event. Then we went on to the Golden Nugget in March. I remember loading what turned out be Stylish Century and a grey horse on to the two-horse float of Dick’s after the sale.

  “Gary Newnham had the choice between them and chose the grey, and Noel Doyle got what ended up being Stylish Century.” Although he went through a number of stables during his career, including those of Bart Cummings and Bill Mitchell, Stylish Century went on to win the AJC Spring Champion Stakes (2000m), VRC Victoria Derby (2500m) and AJC Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the elite level. With those victories combined with seven other wins and 16 placings he amassed $2,390,320 in earnings.

  “Another one I remember from the early on was Dark Ksar. He had such a sway back that you could have fitted the whole family on him, and being by Ksar Royal from a Bogan Road mare he wasn’t fashionably bred, so he made only $750. He went on to win the Ranvet Stakes-Gr.1 as well as five other Group and Listed Races and prizemoney of more than $1m.”

  While a Magic Millions yearling sale was enthusiastically received by many in the industry, it was not long after Paul became involved that the project began undergoing significant change. By the late 1980s Carl decided to “cash in” on his investment which led to a consortium of Queensland businessmen, John Needham, Essington’s Malcolm Edwards and Gainsborough Lodge’s Col Richards, combining forces to conduct Magic Millions. When interest rates skyrocketed, the consortium ran into financial trouble forcing the company into receivership, and at that stage Don Hancock was appointed as administrator by New Zealand Insurance.

  “I think it was May 1992, or around then, that Elders had decided to get out of the horse business,” Paul said. “The result was that David and I were working for Elders on the Friday and then for Magic Millions on the following Monday. Everything went on pretty much as it had been going previously. I was still doing catalogues, pedigrees and generally looking after whatever needed doing. I remember there weren’t many on the staff.

  “During those years we were very fortunate to have Don as the administrator, because he was a very good manager and gave great advice. One of his innovations was the introduction of the dining facilities in the auditorium. It’s unique . . . I don’t think there is any other place in the world where you can eat and drink and buy a horse at the same time.”

  The year of 1992 was memorable for Magic Millions on a more positive note when Subzero notched up Lee Freedman’s second success in the Melbourne Cup. A plain looking grey by Kala Dancer (GB) from the To Market mare Wiley Trade (USA), Subzero had been bought for $100,000 by Freedman at the 1990 Magic Millions.
  “It’s hard to imagine that the sale produced a Melbourne Cup winner before we had a Golden Slipper winner. Now eight of the past 10 Golden Slipper winners to have been sold at auction have come through our sales, so we’ve made up for that with a vengeance.”

  Although under a financial cloud Magic Millions Yearling Sale grew steadily in the early and mid-1990s and so did the group’s mid-year offering of broodmares, weanlings, yearlings and other bloodstock. By 1997 the yearling sales had achieved a gross of $15.1m and an average of $41,105 but General Accidents, Scotland, which was the parent company of NZI said Magic Millions had to be sold.

  At that point David Chester, in his then role of managing director, approached Gerry Harvey about taking over the company for around $6m. He soon agreed and brought in John Singleton and Rob Ferguson, who combined to trigger a huge change in the fortunes of Magic Millions. The result was that the aggregate had soared to $108.6m by 2007 for an average of $181,703 only to have the outbreak of the equine influenza stall the progression.

  “My 21st sale was in 2008, which for a while had shaped as a disaster after EI had struck,” Paul said. “Our traditional January date was just not going to be practical so we put the sale and the race day back to late March, and that worked out pretty well for us. The average dropped by more than $20,000 but the turnover was only marginally down on the previous year, and that was most satisfying given the circumstances.

  “Augusta Proud, who had been passed in for $45,000 at our Adelaide sale, won the Two Year Old Classic. It was a very popular victory because she was ridden by Clare Lindop who became the first female jockey to win a Magic Millions.”
  With the global financial crisis striking fear into the hearts and minds of investors soon afterwards, the subsequent sale results have been satisfactory without being able to regain the heights of 2007 which has further stabilised the company. 

Then last year the ownership underwent another transformation when Gerry Harvey and Katie Page-Harvey became the proprietors of Magic Millions on buying out John Singleton and Rob Ferguson.
  “Gerry has always been very good to deal with,” Paul says. “When he first became involved he showed us a different way of operating. I was brought up on a stock and station agent’s way of running the business but Gerry, and John, are entrepreneurs who had different ideas such as having no commission on the broodmares and weanlings at the national sale. In the years it was in place it enabled us to obtain a bigger share of the market, which was what we had set out to achieve.

  “At the same time it’s been a battle because ever since I’ve been with Magic Millions we’ve had to keep proving ourselves . . . that we can produce the goods by getting the highest quality stock for the sales and then attract the buyers to keep the vendors happy.”
  Now that all the obstacles that have been strewn in the path of Magic Millions since its foundation seem to have been negotiated, Paul says he is still being fired by one particular ambition. “Being at Magic Millions for 25 years has cost me a bit in different ways, but people who know me know I love the place to death. A few years down the track I really want to see Magic Millions become established as the top thoroughbred sales company in the Southern Hemisphere.

  “With Vin Cox now steering the ship as managing director I can see that happening. It is something we can definitely achieve, and I am hoping it will come about sooner rather than later.” n