European adventures the recipe for Australian success

6 min read

Written by Tom Peacock

Last month’s Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training sale would not be considered the ideal initiation for a rookie bloodstock agent.

With a more diverse attendance than a United Nations conference, anyone and everyone seemed to be in Newmarket looking for a horse of some description and competition was particularly fierce for the qualified middle-distance prospects.

Jim Clarke still managed to get his man, as he signed for the 180,000gns purchase Jack Regan (GB) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire} on behalf of Victorian-based Kiwi trainer Trent Busuttin. It is hoped that the multiple winner for Ian Williams will develop as a type for Cups in the future.

Hitting the ground running

The Darley Flying Start graduate, who worked for Godolphin in racing and bloodstock before returning home to Australia late last year for a stint in syndication for James Harron, was up and running under his own steam.

"Hopefully I can put that all together and make a good go of it under my own banner." - Jim Clarke on drawing from his international experiences

“He was the first horse I had bought for Trent and it was a good tick of faith that having lived and worked in the UK, I had a pretty good grasp on the form and the types of horses that are suited to Australia,” Clarke explained.

Jim Clarke

“It’s an international game now so it’s good to be able to draw upon some of my experiences in Europe and spending time in other parts of the world like America and Japan. Hopefully I can put that all together and make a good go of it under my own banner.”

Clarke has also been in the early stages of acting for the burgeoning Bjorn Baker stable.

“Bjorn is a good client, he’s my former boss and I worked as his racing and bloodstock manager for a few years. Before I came over to the UK I bought a few for him and that’s something that can hopefully continue too.”

Not just a one-trick pony

Although anxious not to be pigeon-holed as a specialist for scouting in Europe, Clarke has maintained close ties with his former Godolphin colleague John Ferguson, who has developed Avenue Bloodstock with Mark McStay and Sam Haggas.

“With the timing of me starting out on my own, it was the obvious thing to be focussed on,” he said of his visit to Newmarket. “There’s no way that you can ignore the success that European horses are having in Australia, looking at the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups for example. They’re performing extremely well in the middle-distance races in Australia and Bjorn and Trent haven’t been active in that market before. It’s something that they both decided they wanted to get involved in and I was the fortunate one to be asked to help.”

European-bred Cross Counter won this year's Melbourne Cup for Godolphin

“There’s no way that you can ignore the success that European horses are having in Australia." - Jim Clarke

He continued: “John is a guy I worked very closely with for a few years and is in a similar position to me in that he’s recently launched his own bloodstock agency. He has a good team with him, they’ve been pretty active in selling some horses to Australia privately this year. But I’m still running my own business and I’m branding it under Clarke Bloodstock; I’ve only been active for a couple of months and with the yearling sales around the corner, there’s plenty to look forward to.”

Beginnings in law

Clarke hails from the wonderfully-named Chinchilla, a little country town in the Darling Downs and his family have long kept a couple of broodmares as a hobby. His father Tom, a GP, bred Rudy (Aus) (Red Dazzler {Aus}), who has been a bit of a star in Queensland and won last year’s G3 Tattersall’s Cup H.

“We bred him from a mare we bought for five grand at the local racemeeting, sent her to a five stallion and he won a million bucks. That was a huge thrill,” he said.

Rudy, bred by Jim's father Tom, winning the G2 Villiers S. at Randwick

Although set on a career in the industry, Clarke first took a law degree at the Queensland University of Technology and it could be said that he made a studious assessment of Thoroughbred case studies before making his verdict.

“I got to see and do everything with Bjorn, from management to buying of horses and communicating with the owners,” he recalled.

"By the time I’d finished up, I’d made up my mind where I wanted to stay." - Jim Clarke

“When I came to Europe, leaving the hands-on training side of it, I was a lot more involved in management both of people and horses and had a touchpoint with Godolphin from the racehorses to the stallion rosters and mares. By the time I’d finished up, I’d made up my mind where I wanted to stay.

“I’ve had some very good mentors, whether it was (agent) Ed Sackville here on a work placement, Kiaran McLaughlin in New York, Mike de Kock in Dubai and working very closely with Charlie Appleby and him having a lot of success with his horses going to Melbourne. I guess I got to the point where I felt good enough to have a go myself.”

Although he admits his new profession is a daunting one, he speaks enthusiastically about the opportunities his homeland offers.

Australian opportunities

“We’ve got a very good industry in Australia,” he said. “Prize-money is fantastic and public interest is massive; you only have to look at the Melbourne Carnival. I’d never been to the Everest before this year and it was certainly the biggest crowd I’d ever seen at Randwick.

“There are a lot of exciting things going on in Australia and I think it’s a very good place to be as a young person starting out as an agent.

The syndication model in Australia gives anyone the opportunity to buy a share in a horse

“The syndication model that caters for people is fantastic, it gives anyone the opportunity to buy a share in a horse, from the smallest investment, and that’s been an area of considerable growth since I’ve been involved.

"It’s about trying to find new people who want to get involved." - Jim Clarke

“There are a lot of people there who aren’t in the industry who could be in the industry, so I guess it’s about trying to find new people who want to get involved, be it in breeding, the commercial side of things, or having the fun and enjoyment of racing horses as a hobby.”

Time, of course, will tell whether his venture is successful and some promise from Jack Regan would be a good start.

“It’s definitely very competitive, but I’m excited by the challenge,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to take the plunge.”