BluebloodsPersonality ProfileTony Williams

June 21, 2021Ken McLean

There is no better example in Australia of someone climbing the international ladder of success in the thoroughbred industry.

 

 

 

 

Tony, who celebrated his 60th birthday last year, has spent all his adult life in the horse business.
His introduction to racing began at 14 when he started as an apprentice jockey at Flemington before weight brought an end to that as an occupation – he is affectionately know as ‘Tubba’.

This was followed by time working for a bloodstock company, a couple of years overseas broadening his experience, being foreman for a prospering racing stable and running a sales company against the majors.

His initial exposure to the international scene came in 2000 when he became involved with buying yearlings for the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s International Sale.

This was an exciting 15 years during an era in which he and wife Sue had a farm in central Victoria; he was employed by Magic Millions, on the Gold Coast and in New South Wales; and then helped Henry Field in setting up Newgate Farm at Aberdeen.

It was during four-and-a-half years at Newgate that Tony’s knowledge and understanding of the industry was recognised by Ireland’s Goffs Bloodstock Sales when seeking a managing director for the company’s British operation.

The Goffs hierachy were suitably impressed by his answers in an extensive interview and in September of 2016 he took up the position.
These days Tony looks back on his three years at Goffs – a period in which he piloted a winner in a national hunt race at Aintree – with immense satisfaction.

“It was a wonderful adventure,” he says. “One of the greatest experiences I could ever hope to have in my life.”

However, his increasingly high profile in his chosen field led through to an end to his association with Goffs.

When Aquis Australia was seeking a chief executive Tony was a logical choice.

Negotiations were concluded in September, of 2019, and Tony arrived back in Australia in December and began in the Aquis office on the Gold Coast on January 1 of last year.

“I loved every minute of being with Goffs, the people I was working with and the experiences I had but home is home,” he said at the time.
Unfortunately, with the coronavirus dramas erupting, it became a baptism of fire.

With the impact of the coronavirus outbreak impinging on the direction Aquis was taking Tony found he and the company had a different view of the times ahead and this led to a parting of the ways.

At this point Tony grasped the opportunity to spend time touring through northern Australia with Sue.

During the few months they were travelling discussions were begun with Newgate where he had been a significant part of the operation before accepting the offer from Goffs.

Negotiations were soon finalised and Tony took his place as Director of Stallions and Sales on January 1 of this year.

“I am very fortunate to have been able to rejoin Newgate,” he says.

“It is exciting to be back to and to see the development that has taken place in the years I was away.

“The stallion roster at Newgate is now second-to-none with Capitalist, Deep Field, Flying Artie and Extreme Choice all siring notable winners and it is continuing to build up all the time buying into horses such as Profiteer, Stay Inside and Artorius..

“Besides Henry Field and the entire Newgate team are excellent to work with so I am now looking forward very much to the future.”

The pathway that Tony has followed to make his indelible mark on the bloodstock industry was quite literally decided for him as a teenager.
As he was growing up in Castlemaine, which is a town in the gold fields region 120km north-west of Melbourne, Tony soon realised school was not for him.

Being reasonably small – although his weight became a problem before long – he was able to sign up with Flemington trainer Pat Burke, who was a member of one of Victoria’s most renowned racing families.

“Pat and his son Philip were very good to me during the time I was there,” Tony says.

“I was always going to be too heavy but I rode a lot of work and was fortunate enough to have a few race rides.”

In October of 1977 he landed the first of his four victories on a gelding by Roy Bridge (GB) named Steiner, who was trained by Pat.

Another memorable success came on the Rajah mare Latin Lady at the famous Hanging Rock meeting on New Year’s Day of 1978 when rode the first winner as a trainer for former leading jockey Alan Burton.

It was after riding track work in February of 1979 that Tony dropped into the office of sales company Wright Stephenson’s, which was just across the road from Flemington racecourse.

“While I was there I was offered a position in the bloodstock department by Graham Campbell,” he says.

“I accepted, started the following Monday and I have been in the bloodstock industry for the last 45 years.”

Later that year Dalgety’s International bought out Wright Stephenson’s and the Adelaide-based company of Coles Brothers.

It was a vintage time for emerging talents in the thoroughbred business with the likes of Simon Vivian, Geoff Gordon, Neil Bowden, Duncan Grimley, David Hall, David Jolly and Denis Roberts being involved.

“Meeting with and dealing with people like them through the different bloodstock companies was a wonderful learning curve,”
he says.

After two years with Wright Stephenson’s he elected to do a “bus trip” through England and Europe.

“I worked in the national hunt stable of John Webber, who had previously ridden in point-to-points for over 25 years,” he says.
“His sons Tony and Paul were champion national hunt amateur jockeys.

“It was about 40-odd years later, when I went to the U.K., that I became re-acquainted with Paul, which shows the amazing way things
can go.”

His stint with the Webbers was followed by time with Harry Thompson-Jones, at Newmarket, who was training for Sheikh Hamdan and later had horses for Sheikh Mohammed.

In 1982 it was back to Dalgety’s, to riding track work and to operating as an owner-trainer.

“I only had 49 runners and seven of those were winners,” he says.

After about three years at Dalgety’s he was offered the position of Flemington foreman for Greg Mance, who had the highly successful shoe manufacturing company Windsor Smith and was launching into racing with gusto.

Mance also secured stables at the Gold Coast where he began sending about 30 horses, under Tony’s supervision, to compete at the Queensland winter carnival.

Among them was Cole Diesel, by Brigand USA), who won a maiden at the Gold Coast in 1988 and the QTC Queensland Guineas-Gr.2 in 1989 before soaring to the heights that spring with wins in the VATC Toorak Handicap-Gr.1 and Caulfield Cup-Gr.1.

On leaving Mance’s employment Tony opened Pacific Bloodstock, with offices in the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale, with Bernie Spain before joining Ian Baxter and running Victorian Yearling Sales for two years.

It was during that period he met his wife Sue at the annual Victorian Bloodhorse Breeders Association dinner at Euroa in the State’s north-east, and they were married in 1992.

They have two sons Mitchell, who is busy freeze branding for studs such as Arrowfield, Newgate and Yarraman, and Campbell, who is working for a steel fabrication business at Walgett in the north of New South Wales.

When Baxter decided to concentrate on conducting sales in Queensland Tony changed the company name to Victorian Bloodstock Sales, which he then ran for nine years in partnership with Ian Rimington.

“We held the sales at the Melbourne Showground but we did hold two yearling sales on the Flemington racecourse in 1996 and 1997 on the Lightning Stakes weekend.

“I think we were the first and only people to sell horses on Flemington racecourse so that was a bit of an achievement.”

In 2000, during the days when he and Sue had a farm at Avenel, he was approached by Dr Bill Burns to help with the purchase of yearlings for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“That turned out really well,” Tony says. “It was the first time I had worked on an international level and I learned so much from Bill in the years we worked together.

“He was an inspiration in the seven or eight years we were buying horses for the Jockey Club.

“Then after he retired I did the buying in my own right until 2015.

“Working for the Hong Kong Jockey Club was a great experience for me and one I treasure.”

Along the way Tony’s various activities frequently overlapped.

It was in 2003 when he began working in the bloodstock department at the Magic Millions, where he was in charge of yearling inspections.

“Alastair Pulford had left Magic Millions to join Darley and David Chester offered me his position,” he says.

“I gladly accepted and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

“In the role I had I was given a whole new exposure and meeting the people I met elevated me to another level in the business.”

The first two years with Magic Millions was spent conducting yearling inspections, primarily in New South Wales, which led through to he and

Sue purchasing a 300-acre property at Scone.

As a result Magic Millions then supremo David Chester gave Tony the title of New South Wales manager.

Utilising the farm he and Sue bought and sold horses as well as having some broodmares of their own.

Among them were Lady of Love, by Lago Delight, and Dashoff, by Dash for Cash.

When mated with My Boy Charlie (IRE) Lady of Love produced the filly Peggy Jean, who won the ATC Sires Produce Stakes-Gr.1, and a mating of Dashoff with Hinchinbrook created the classy Spright.

At three Spright captured the VRC Red Roses Stakes-Gr.3 and at five after finishing second to Sunlight in the MVRC William Reid Stakes-Gr.1 she was triumphant in the SAJC Robert Sangster Stakes-Gr.1.

“We had a really good farm at Scone and we had a bit of luck breeding, even though we were in just a small way,” he says.

Tony was always busy and his activities around the Hunter Valley led, in 2012, to Henry Field approaching with an offer to team up with him in establishing Newgate Farm.

“It was just after Henry had secured Foxwedge as his foundation sire,” he says.

“Henry is an exceptional operator but I would like to think I played an important part in helping him getting Newgate going,” he says.

“He had partners in the business but it was really just Henry and I to begin with.

“We started to sell nominations in Foxwedge from the kitchen table, basically, and we had him syndicated in no time at all.

“In our third season we added Sizzling, The Factor and Eurozone and the year afterwards we added Wandjina, Dissident and Deep Field.”

Tony was four-and-a-half years into his stay at Newgate when Mark Player, a lively identity on the international scene, rang asking whether he was interested in speaking to Henry Beeby, the group chief executive at Goffs, the Irish bloodstock sales company.

Beeby had sought Player’s advice on whether there was anyone suitable in Australia or New Zealand for the position of managing director of Goffs, U.K., and he had nominated Tony.

“It was a bolt from the blue to receive the call and it was a pleasant, very pleasant surprise,” he says.

“My opening thoughts were about what a big adventure it would be for Sue and I to go to England and I said ‘yes’.

“Within a few hours Mark rang back and asked whether I could send my c.v. to Henry to which I replied ‘I didn’t have one’ and told him I’d put a resume together after I’d been to the sales in Melbourne.”

On July 2 of 2016 he spoke by phone to Henry and nine days later Tony was introduced to him at the sales complex in Kildare, about 50km west of Dublin.

Then followed an intensive two-and-a-half hour interview with Beeby, Goffs chairman Elmear Mulhern and financial director Rae Lawless.
As they were talking afterwards Beeby asked Tony his immediate plans.

“I told him if I thought the interview went well I’d have a look at the Goffs sales complex at Doncaster and the little town of Hoick, across the border in Scotland, or otherwise I’d meet some mates in Italy,” Tony says.

“Henry’s advice was to fly to Newcastle, drive to Doncaster and then to go onto Hawick, which I did.”

About three weeks later Tony was confirmed in the role and he and Sue were on their way in September.

While all this was happening the Williams’s had an offer for the farm – “people don’t believe it wasn’t orchestrated but it wasn’t,” he says – which they accepted knowing the Goffs position was in the offing.

After quickly adapting to the environment and his responsibilities as a c.e.o. Tony, who has always been was captivated by national hunt racing and, partly in jest to begin with, declared that he was going to compete in the point-to-points and bought a seven-year-old named Fly du Sharmil.

A problem arose when the Point-to-Point Association was obviously reluctant to grant a 58-year-old his licence to ride but after encountering numerous obstacles along the way he eventually passed his medical, fitness and riding assessments.

“I set Fly du Sharmil, who was an amazing jumper, for a point-to-point at Kelso, and basically the whole office became involved in the project,” he says. “Although I hadn’t done anything like that for a very, very long time he carried me around safely.”

After completing the point-to-point at Kelso, another town in the Scottish Borders region, Tony retired Fly du Sharmil and purchased a gelding named Cracking Destiny, by Dubai Destination.

“I put him in the stables of Ewan and Alistair Whillans, who train at Hoick, and I got a spot in a charity race over a mile and five furlongs on the flat at Aintree,” Tony says.

“While I’d been in Melbourne the previous Christmas I told an old mate Keith Williams what I was doing.

“I had my last ride in a race at Woodend on one of Keith’s horses and he asked whether I’d use his colours of black, white sleeves, gold cap.

“I put on the colours, which I am sure were the ones I used 40 years before.

“It was one of the greatest thrills of my lifetime to be legged up, to walk around the mounting yard in the colours Keith and I now have registered amid all the history at Aintree.

“It was quite surreal going onto the track and cantering to the start.

“We were running third or fourth most of the way and when I pulled Cracking Destiny out he bolted away and won by about 15 lengths.

“It turned out to be quite an event with articles in The Racing Post as well as other papers and there was a brilliant photo shoot . . . it was just awesome.”

Ken McLean

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