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Competition driving Cox and Godolphin

9 min read
Following on from the summary of the banner year for Godolphin globally, TDN AusNZ speaks in depth to Australian Managing Director Vin Cox about the local performance and goals for Godolphin blue.

For Vin Cox, the thing that defines the Australian thoroughbred industry, like so many other aspects of Australian culture, is its competitiveness. Even for an organisation as well-resourced as Godolphin, which Cox heads up in Australia, success is never assured.

Operating in a complex industry, there are not many facets that Cox's role hasn't touched inside the first nine months of his tenure. Very much aware that there was little time to 'get his feet under the desk', Cox knows complacency is the quickest way to falling behind.

"The people that are involved in the industry in Australia are world leaders. Whether it be running stud farms, trainers, jockeys, bloodstock agents, investors, they operate at an extremely high level. At that elite level, whether you are playing rugby, test cricket or horse racing, the competition is fierce and rightly so," he told TDN AusNZ.

"At that elite level, whether you are playing rugby, test cricket or horse racing, the competition is fierce and rightly so." - Godolphin Managing Director Vin Cox

"We operate in an environment that is very competitive. It’s not cut-throat, but by definition it is a combative sport. You have to compete at that high level. Yes, we want to win, but it is hard to win. We all know how hard it is to win and we revere success in whatever form."

Vin Cox after Godolphin's win in the Listed Gothic S.

But rather than see that as a barrier to success, Cox sees it as an opportunity for Godolphin, whose regeneration on a global scale is mirrored by the changing of the guard in Australia over the past 18 months.

"Australian racing is possibly the pinnacle of the world from womb to tomb. It’s extremely well funded, it’s got huge cut through with the general public and our industry is well-known right around Australia and we are in a unique position in that regard," he said.

Changing of the guard

Cox's appointment to the senior role in charge of Godolphin and Darley's operations came after Henry Plumptre departed his role after 16 years.

Plumptre's departure followed the decision of John O'Shea to vacate the head training role a few months earlier and left plenty of questions about the future direction of the 'Blue Army' in Australia.

Godolphin had been through a similar period of transition in Europe in the year previous, and the changes made have now been credited with the tremendous successes trainers Charlie Appleby and Saeed Bin Suroor have experienced throughout 2018.

Hugh Bowman and James Cummings, who took over from John O'Shea

The appointment of high-profile candidate James Cummings to replace O'Shea was a significant first step, the changing of the guard was complete when Cox joined from his previous role at Magic Millions.

"The legacy of the previous administration and management is just fantastic. The opportunity that James and I have to work with the quality of bloodstock and quality of people is huge," Cox said.

"Certainly we both hope we add something to what is an already hugely successful organisation." - Vin Cox

"That shouldn’t be lost on anyone. We’ve both stepped into roles that were well established, well set-up and well organised. Whether we've brought a change or a difference yet, I'm not sure but certainly we both hope we add something to what is an already hugely successful organisation."

Back to where it began

The opportunity to head up Godolphin has allowed Cox to get closer to his love where of racing and breeding first began growing up on a farm in Mudgee.

"It’s my love, it’s my passion, I love racing and I love breeding and I love the horse," he said.

"With Magic Millions, it was more transactional. While you are in the industry, you are not totally immersed in it. Now, to be back involved in that day-to-day stable and stud farm life, while I haven't got my hands on the horses as such, you are very, very involved."

"It’s my love, it’s my passion, I love racing and I love breeding and I love the horse." - Vin Cox

"You spend most of your days talking to your various sites about different issues, whether it is horses or personnel and it's a great challenge and more than anything, it’s great fun."

While being closer to everyday stable life is a perk of the job, it is the management of Godolphin's 385 Australian personnel which has been a key aspect of Cox's role so far and will continue to be in the future.

"I knew it was a big organisation, but it is bigger than you think and that was the surprising thing, or the thing that I just hadn't really grasped coming in," he said.

"The other thing which has been a pleasant surprise is the quality of the people that Godolphin has employed not only here in Australia but the world over. I'm enjoying working with everyone and getting to know them and getting right amongst the whole organisation."

The Darley legacy - Octagonal, Lonhro and Denman

'The most talented horseman I have come across'

The most high-profile of those personnel is of course Cummings. His appointment brought together the greatest name in Australian racing with one of the world's biggest thoroughbred brands.

At Hawkesbury on Thursday, Cummings notched his 300th win for Godolphin having started out in June 2017.

"He's a highly-talented horseman. In my time in the industry, I have no shame in saying this. He is possibly the most talented horseman I have come across." - Vin Cox

"He's a highly-talented horseman. In my time in the industry, I have no shame in saying this. He is possibly the most talented horseman I have come across," Cox said.

"The way he thinks about the horse, the way he places the horse, he just tinkers with little things and moves horses around in the yard, interstate or whatever. It is quite extraordinary."

James Cummings

The relationship between managing director and head trainer is very strong early in the journey. Cox says it is built on a strong sense of mutual respect and a united interest in the success of Godolphin.

"He's very focussed, he's highly articulate and he is very intelligent and above all, he's great to work with," he said.

"We have robust conversations and that is good. As our head trainer, he's got his opinion and management have our opinion and we do have good, strong robust discussions, but we get to an agreement at the end of it and move on. It’s great and it's working well."

James Cummings following Hartnell's win in the G1 Epsom handicap

The comparison between Cummings and his grandfather are inevitable, but Cox feels the greatest comparison is that both men have benefitted from thinking outside the square.

"He's always challenging the norm and that will serve him well and carry him a long way in this industry," he said.

"A day will come when he wants to break away from the Godolphin organisation. I hope it’s not tomorrow, but I think he's got a long career with us and a very good trainer in his own right."

Global v local

Cummings' Group 1 for the season so far has come via veteran Hartnell (GB) (Authorized {Ire}) in the Epsom Hcp. But the Godolphin blue has featured heavily in the Melbourne spring thanks to international trainers Bin Suroor and Appleby.

But rather than add pressure to the local operation to succeed, Cox said Godolphin shares its success.

"It gives us a huge boost. We are a global organisation. We communicate with each other daily, right across the organisation." - Vin Cox

"It gives us a huge boost. We are a global organisation. We communicate with each other daily, right across the organisation. We’ve got 385 staff here in Australia and every one of them wears a blue shirt and every one of them supports the blue colours on raceday," he said.

William Buick, James Doyle, Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor

"It's just fantastic that these horses can come from the Northern Hemisphere and compete at such a high level. We are absolutely over the moon about it."

Cox said while Avilius (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) will be pitted against Benbatl {GB}) in the G1 Cox Plate on Saturday and Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) and Cross Counter (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}) in the Melbourne Cup, Cummings fully buys into the global philosophy.

"It's one colour, one team and that's where we want to take it and that's the way it should be." - Vin Cox

"One of the first people to congratulate Saeed (after the Caulfield Cup) last Saturday was James. There was an obvious regard between the two of them. We had dinner the night before and that was just fantastic. When Charlie is here, it’s the same again. It's one colour, one team and that's where we want to take it and that's the way it should be," Cox said.

Back at the sales

The one significant change Godolphin has undergone since it was announced Cox would take over is their presence back at the major yearling sales in Australia for the first time in eight years.

Unsurprisingly, it was Cox, with his rich history in bloodstock and buying, who led this change despite not taking over the role until January.

"I was very involved in getting us back in the market. I went to Dubai back in December last year ahead of starting here to present to Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya."

"I threw some ideas at them as to where the organisation should head and one of them was to be active in the marketplace. They asked me to put a proposal forward as to numbers of horses we should buy and the money we should spend and fortunately they agreed with it."

"That was the first box ticked and it's great to be back in the market here in Australia."

With that strategic pillar in place, Cox's focus for the next 12 months is now more on the people than the horses.

"The most important thing in my role is to have the harmony within the staff and within the various aspects of the business. Whether that is in the stables or the stud farms or corporate management, if that is all humming then everything else will fall into place," he said.

"The success will come out of the stud farm and we will be breeding more winners and our stallions will be full, and one will follow the other."

"If I can hear that whir and that hum in the office or the stables, wherever it may be, that's my ambition and that's where I want to get to."

James Cummings and Kementari