Bruce Slade

published: 13 Aug 2015 in Personality profiles

A family tragedy when he was three changed Bruce Slade’s life and put him on the path to a career in the thoroughbred industry. The young South African has already packed a great deal of experience into his 29 years and the most recent chapter in an eventful life began early this year when he became director of stallions and sales at Newgate Farm in the Hunter Valley. 

BY any rationale Bruce Slade’s rise to prominence in the thoroughbred industry has been meteoric. At just 29 years of age he has an impressive list of credits to his name.

  A winner of the Sunline International Management Scholarship, he was recruited by Gai Waterhouse from New Zealand Bloodstock after spending 12 months with the company. During a three-year stint at Tulloch Lodge Bruce’s responsibilities as bloodstock director were centred around attracting high quality racing stock, whether yearlings or tried horses, into the stable. 

This brought him into close contact with luminaries such as Pierro, More Joyous, Fiorente and others.  In September 2013 he launched, with Gai’s support, Round Table Racing syndications, with the objective of maximising the success and enjoyment of racing through the delivery of the best possible service. At that stage he believed his direction in life was fairly well settled until a phone call last December from Newgate Farm’s Henry Field. 

  Recognising a fellow-trailblazer, Henry was eager to capitalise on Bruce’s energy, enthusiasm and expertise. It was an offer he could not refuse and on January 1, 2015 Bruce started at Newgate as director of stallions and sales.
  “When I considered Henry’s offer I decided there wasn’t a better way to put my time and effort into the game I love,” he said. “It is very exciting being at Newgate Farm and to be helping Henry towards achieving his dream of establishing one of the world’s leading stallion stations.”

  Bruce says everything is already going in the right direction, with distinguished performers Dissident, Wandjina and Deep Field joining Eurozone, Foxwedge, The Factor and Sizzling on the farm’s roster for the coming season. “It was fantastic to see Dissident and Wandjina fighting out the finish of the All-Aged Stakes. For them to run one-two was brilliant for the owners and shareholders in the horses.

  “In fact it may never happen again that two high quality stallion prospects going to the one farm, battle to the line in a Gr.1 event leading up to the season. It was a perfect result for the future of Newgate Farm.”

  Happily, cheering Dissident and Wandjina home at Randwick was far away from the days in the mid-1980s when he was born at Greytown in a South Africa being ravaged by apartheid. It was in 1986, during the reign of P.W. Botha as President, that a state of emergency was declared in an attempt to contain the racial violence and strikes which were wracking the country. Although F.W. de Klerk, who became president in 1989 and moved quickly toward reform, including the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, campaigns of urban terror still existed.

  “It was a dangerous and unpleasant time to be living in South Africa,” says Bruce, whose father Arthur was murdered when he was just three. “My father’s death was typical of what was going on in South Africa a in those dark days.”  Fortunately for Bruce he was later able to cultivate his horse interests through an uncle, John Slade, who was managing the world renowned Summerhill Stud, which like Greytown is situated in the Kwazulu-Natal province. However, thoughts of emigration were never far away. That eventually came about eight years after his father’s death when his mother, Fosie, decided to follow John Slade to New Zealand.

  “My uncle John had been stabbed and had nearly lost his life while he had been at Summerhill Stud and he decided to emigrate with his young family. He went to England first before moving on to New Zealand.”  Once there John established the Valley Stud near Christchurch, where he stood among others the 1994 QTC Queensland Derby-Gr.1-winning Star Watch horse Tenor, who had been raced by the Inghams.

  “We lived on the stud farm with my uncle. It really was a non-commercial farm, but that was where my passion grew. I was dealing with mares and foals and stallions, and learning about the whole game. I started studying pedigrees and bloodlines and looked forward to receiving the Coolmore brochure each season. I’d learn the pedigrees off by heart. and I’d study the faces of the people who were prominent in the industry.

  “I would ask my uncle question after question until he would have to say ‘enough for today’. I was very fortunate because from around the age of 12, I knew the thoroughbred industry was the business I loved, enjoyed and wanted to be involved in.”

  Another advantage of settling down in New Zealand was that Bruce discovered he was quickly able to make friends with students of his own age at the Waikari state school.  “Waikari is a small town in the Canterbury region of the South Island and it was a very small school. There were only about 60 students there and three different years were in the one class, but it was great because we were a close-knit group and that help me settle into our new life.”

  At 13 he transferred to a high school in Christchurch and by then he was busy every morning and at weekends helping out at Riccarton racecourse. “I’d ride my bicycle to the track and help a trainer named Paul Thistoll in the mornings, and I’d be there all weekend,” he said. “In the winter it would be negative five degrees, but that didn’t stop me. It was a sort of a transition from the stud to the stable thing . . . and I was loving it.”  Bruce gained further experience during his school holidays when his uncle arranged for him to work on stud farms, such as Bloomsbury and Rich Hill, 
on the north island. “I did yearling preparation and went to the sales, which gave me an understanding of the commercial side of the industry.” By the time he finished his high school education Uncle John had returned to South Africa and was general manager of Maine Chance Farm, which has long been one of the country’s leading breeding establishments.

  With that Bruce decided to have a gap year working with his uncle at Maine Chance Farm before going back to New Zealand and beginning studies aimed at securing a Bachelor of Commerce degree. The degree, plus the practical knowledge he had gained working at Maine Chance, Arrowfield, Rich Hill, Bloomsbury and White Robe Lodge led to Bruce being chosen in 2008 as the winner of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s Sunline International Management Scholarship.  In March, 2009 he arrived at Cheveley Park Stud at Newmarket in the opening phase of his scholarship tour and was soon deeply enmeshed in the foaling season as well as the management side of the operation. Then towards the end of May he arrived at Coolmore, in County Tipperary. It was an era when the likes of Danehill Dancer, Dylan Thomas, Galileo, 
High Chaparral, Peintre Celebre and the immortal Sadler’s Wells were standing.

  During his stay Bruce was able to watch the Aidan O’Brien-trained Henrythenavigator, with Johnny Murtagh aboard, winning the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh. He was also at the Curragh for the victory in the Irish Derby of the O’Brien stable’s Frozen Fire with Seamus Heffernan in the saddle. While in Ireland he took the opportunity to visit Gilltown Stud and Brawnbrack Farm before crossing the Atlantic in late July to begin his stay at Taylor Made Farm at Nicholasville, Kentucky.

  “Having three blocks of 10 weeks at three of the world’s premier stud farms was terrific and obviously I learned a lot,” he said. “Again I was blessed in that I knew what I wanted to do in my life and knew what I wanted to learn. To see how it was done in other parts of the world was great experience. I was able to go racing at Saratoga and to the sales in New York while I was at Taylor Made Farm, which was unbelievable. In the end I couldn’t believe how quickly the time went.”

  Soon after arriving home he secured a position as a marketing assistant with New Zealand Bloodstock, which encompassed being the bloodstock agent for the South Island. “While I was at New Zealand Bloodstock I started doing some auctioneering, which was fun,” he said. 

  Bruce’s duties also included bid spotting, and it was during the NZB yearling sales at Karaka in 2010 that his lively display as a spotter came to Gai Waterhouse’s attention. “Gai walked down out of the stands and without knowing my name or anything about me said ‘young man I would like to offer you a job in Sydney’. Gai, of course, had become an idol of mine, but I asked her if I could think about the offer. With that she said ‘don’t think about it, just come’ so by March, 2010 I was working for Gai at Randwick.

  “Over the period I was with Gai I found her inspirational. Her attention to detail, her work ethic, her passion, her natural compassion for her owners and her staff, all combine together to make her a fantastic person.”  His mandate while at Tulloch Lodge included selling yearlings who had been purchased, and putting together syndicates to buy international horses, which encompassed visits to the Tattersalls October Horses-in-Training sale at Newmarket. On those occasions attracting the best quality horses to Tulloch Lodge 
in the highest possible quantity was the brief.

  It was a role in which he attained extraordinary success. During his three years at Tulloch Lodge he had a direct input into the purchase of the winners of 19 Gr.1 races through yearling and tried horse sales. Foremost amongst these was Pierro, a colt by Lonhro from the Daylami mare Miss Right Note (IRE) who was knocked down for $230,000 at the 2011 Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale and in just over 12 months proved himself a superstar.

  In Gai’s care he won the ATC Breeders’ Plate-LR before going on to capture the Sydney Two Year-Old Triple Crown of STC Golden Slipper Stakes-Gr.1, ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes-Gr.1 and ATC Champagne Stakes-Gr.1. After courageous performances at three in the Caulfield Guineas, W.S. Cox Plate and Doncaster Handicap he was retired to Coolmore with a record of 11 wins, two seconds and a third from 14 starts for earnings of $4,536,650.

  Foremost among the other purchases was Fiorente (IRE) who was bought as a tried horse. After winning the prestigious Princess of Wales’s Stakes-Gr.2 (2400m) at Newmarket he was brought Down Under to race out of the Waterhouse stable. A gallant second to Green Moon in the 2012 VRC Melbourne Cup-Gr.1 (3200m) was followed by triumphant performances in the following year’s Cup and the 2014 VRC Australian Cup-Gr. (2000m) before his retirement to Eliza Park International.

  Bruce also helped Gai celebrate another Golden Slipper win with Overreach; a Magic Millions Two Year-Old Classic quinella with Driefontein; and No Looking Back, who along with Raceway, represented the stable in Pierro’s Golden Slipper. Added to that there was a ATC Doncaster Handicap-Gr.1 with More Joyous, an MRC Caulfield Cup-Gr.1 with Descarado, two ATC Metropolitan Handicps-Gr.1 with Herculian Prince and Glencadam Gold, and an ATC Epsom Handicap-Gr.1 with Fat Al.

  “It was an unbelievable period with Gai. The first weekend I was there she won a Gr.1 with Theseo and then came More Joyous and Pierro. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped as high as I did when More Joyous won the Doncaster,” Bruce said. “It was a win she thoroughly deserved because she is such a special mare with so much X-factor. “Buying Pierro at the sales and taking him right through was a special thrill I will never forget, and Fiorente was another big one.

  “I remember being with James Harron at a pub in Double Bay and getting the deal to buy him done at about 11 o’clock at night. It was reassuring all the owners were prepared to back us and were prepared to pay what was a near-record price for a horse-in-training at the time. For him to come out and finish second in the Melbourne Cup and to win the following year couldn’t have been more exciting.” 

  Along the way another of Bruce’s assignments was to convince Natasha Kent to accept the position as an assistant racing manager with Gai. “I met Natasha at the airport when she arrived in Sydney from Melbourne and it was my task to get her to accept the position,” Bruce said.
  “I took her around and showed her what facilities we had and explained what we were trying to do and what her job would entail. That was the start of it and neither of us knew that two years later our friendship would have reached the stage where we became engaged.”
  In June 2013 Bruce decided to leave Gai’s employment to establish his own business, which he did, as Round Table Racing the following September. He was joined by Natasha who had begun as Gai’s assistant racing manager in September, 2010, after being with RISA in Melbourne and being a bloodstock assistant for Patinack Farm.

  “We bought and syndicated 25 horses for Round Table Racing,” Bruce said. “The owners of every horse going around in our colours has backed us, and that was very special for us. I thought we were set up for life with Round Table Racing until Henry phoned me and 
spoke so passionately about what he is aiming to do at Newgate Farm. He asked me whether I would like to join his team and it did not take me long to accept.”

  Thus, at the beginning of this year Bruce began as the director of stallions and sales. With 20 horses still in training with Gai under the Round Table Racing banner, meant a rejigging of the group’s administration was required, and Natasha became racing manager.
  “Those horses will be running around for a few more years yet, which is exciting, and Natasha will be looking after the management, the communications, and that sort of thing.” 

  However for now, Bruce is looking forward to adding a further chapter to his young life with his marriage 
to Natasha at Port Douglas this month. “We are living in Scone, enjoying the country lifestyle and are both looking forward to taking that next step in our lives,” he said. n