Mark Newnham's 'instant success' - 30 years in the making

8 min read

If one wants proof of the old adage that it only takes a few decades to become an overnight success, one need look no farther than Sydney’s boom trainer Mark Newnham, whose terrific season got even better when the exciting three-year-old filly Nakeeta Jane (So You Think {NZ}) beat a star-studded field to land the G2 TAB Light Fingers S. at Randwick on Saturday.

Just three years after applying to train at Warwick Farm early in 2016 with merely the promises of a handful of horses on which to base his hopes, Newnham has assembled one of the strongest teams in town. This seemingly meteoric rise comes as a result of decades of hard work during which he built up a reputation for horsemanship, diligence and reliability, all the while absorbing much of the wisdom refined by some of the greatest trainers of history.

Mark Newnham

Early years

Mark Newnham grew up watching the races with his father, loving the sport from a young age. Joining the game when he left school at the age of 15 was the only career-path under consideration. Funnily enough, bearing in mind that he ultimately enjoyed a very successful race-riding career, being a jockey was not his particular aspiration.

The weights were still much lower in the early ‘80s, and he looked like being a size bigger than the archetypal shape needed to be able to ride long-term at not much more than 50 kilos. This, though, has proved to have been an advantage as right from the start he focussed on the training of the horses in some of the best stables in town.

"Right from the start he focussed on the training of the horses in some of the best stables in town. " - John Berry

Newnham’s first job was at Randwick with Bob Thomsen, who had preceded his own very successful training career (1976 to 2012) by spending nine years as Tommy Smith’s foreman. Thomsen never trained a big team, but he ended up having had superstars such as Danewin (Danehill {USA}), Slight Chance (NZ) (Centaine), Thorn Park (Spinning World {USA}) and Shogun Lodge (Grand Lodge {USA}) through his hands.

Bob Thomsen with Shogun Lodge

From there Newnham moved on to work for Bart Cummings during the late ‘80s. The ‘Cups King’ was then at the height of his powers (the 1989/’90 season was the only one in which he topped the premiership in Sydney) with his stables at Randwick and Flemington (the latter under the supervision of Leon Corstens and Nigel Blackiston, themselves subsequently Group One-winning trainers in their own right) churning out feature-races winners by the dozen.

In retrospect, it is interesting to reflect that when the ‘Cups King’ sent Campaign King (Saarond) up to Brisbane to win both the G1 Stradbroke H. and the G1 Doomben 10,000 S. at the Winter Carnival in 1988, the mighty sprinter was attended by two young men who are both now proven top-class trainers: Mark Newnham and English visitor Stuart Williams, who is now one of the best trainers in his homeland. Williams’ antipodean stint mirrored the international experience gained by Newnham on an overseas trip during which he had worked for two of the Europe’s most respected trainers, Newmarket-based Clive Brittain and Kevin Prendergast (who to most of us is the doyen of the Irish training ranks but who was memorably and correctly described by Bart Cummings as “an Australian who trains in Ireland”).

Riding career

When the weights were raised in the 1990s, the door was opened for Mark Newnham to pursue a race-riding career. Having worked for another of the game’s true greats, Ron Quinton, early in the multiple champion jockey’s successful training career, Newnham joined up with Gai Waterhouse not long after she had finally won her long-running fight to secure a trainer’s license.

Gai Waterhouse and Mark Newnham

For 20 years he was the track-rider in whom she placed the most faith, and for the bulk of that time he was the regular jockey for her provincial runners. Punters came to feel that they could set their clock every Saturday afternoon by runners trained by Waterhouse and ridden by Newnham at Newcastle, Kembla Grange, Hawkesbury, Wyong and the like.

He partnered his final winner for Waterhouse in September 2011, by which time he had over 300 victories under his belt. His laurels included three Kembla Grange riding premierships and the Bill Wade Medal at Newcastle, while his CV had been further broadened by successful race-riding stints in both Macau and South Korea.

"Punters came to feel that they could set their clock every Saturday afternoon by runners trained by Waterhouse and ridden by Newnham." - John Berry

Hanging up the riding boots

After finally hanging up his racing boots, Newnham settled into a routine which looked set to last indefinitely. His trackwork role at Tulloch Lodge was still crucial as his place every morning in the saddle of the 2012 G1 Golden Slipper S. winner Pierro (Lonhro) testified, while the 2015 Slipper winner Vancouver (Medaglia D’Oro {USA}) and 2013 G1 Melbourne Cup hero Fiorente (Ire) (Monsun {Ger}) were others to benefit from his tutelage.

Over and above that, though, Newnham was clearly Waterhouse’s trusted deputy, the public face of the stable at race-meetings whenever she had to be elsewhere. The extent of the respect which he had earned was shown when he was announced as the winner of the inaugural Godolphin ‘Excellence in Racing’ Award at the first Godolphin Australian Stable Staff Awards Ceremony in 2015.

Mark Newnham accepting his Godolphin 'Excellence in Racing' Award from then managing director, Henry Plumptre

All that, though, changed three years ago when it became apparent that Waterhouse was going to elevate Adrian Bott to the position of co-trainer at the end of the season. It was impossible not to see this as a sideways shunt at best for Newnham, but in retrospect it has proved to have been the catalyst needed to take his career to the next level.

Taking out a trainers license

Applying for stabling at Warwick Farm in January 2016, Newnham was granted 26 boxes, which was great other than that it placed a pressing financial imperative on him to fill them. He had had promises of support, but promises don’t put food on the table. He had to find clients. Happily, in a rare example of an honest man reaping what he has sown, the boxes soon started to fill.

"Happily, in a rare example of an honest man reaping what he has sown, the boxes soon started to fill." - John Berry

Patrick Lee, a bloodstock agent whom Newnham had met in Macau, was one of the first to place his faith in the budding trainer, telling him that he was going to send him a colt by Hinchinbrook whom he had just bought for $100,000 at the Inglis’ Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale.

That leap of faith in turn paid the dividend which it deserved when the colt, named Diamond Tathagata, won the G2 Skyline S. at Randwick merely 12 months later. The colt then lined up in the G1 Golden Slipper S., finishing a creditable seventh behind She Will Reign (Manhattan Rain) in a Slipper notable for the fact that, unthinkably, the Waterhouse/Bott team did not have a runner.

Dimond Tathagata

In April 2017, Newnham was granted 20 boxes at Randwick to augment his allocation at Warwick Farm. While splitting his time between the two tracks was not ideal, he needed the extra capacity as 28 yearlings from the recent sales were due to head in his direction. Furthermore, for Newnham, this move to ‘HQ’ was a case of coming home.

From strength to strength

Mark Newnham ended that 2016/’17 season, his first full campaign as a trainer, with a state-wide total of 16 winners from 116 runners and prize money of $926,810. In town he had trained six winners from 56 runners. Last season, his second, he advanced to state-wide statistics of 41.5 winners from 227 runners and earnings of $1,870,430. His 14 winners from 96 runners in town put him in 14th place in the premiership.

Just past the half-way mark this season, Mark Newnham has sent out 25 winners from 159 runners in New South Wales for earnings of $1,438,555. Remarkably, his stable contains three G1-performed three-year-old fillies. In October he saddled his first Group One winner when Maid Of Heaven (Smart Missile) beat the colts in the G1 Spring Champion S. The following month Greysful Glamour (Stratum) finished second in the G1 VRC Victoria Oaks down in Melbourne. And now Nakeeta Jane, winner of the G2 Light Fingers S. at only her fourth start, looks as if she may be the best of them all.

Nakeeta Jane (purple cap) winning the G2 Light Fingers S.

She has been brought along with Cummings-like patience, Newnham having sent her off for a spell after a light spring campaign which comprised a second place on debut at Randwick, a win in a maiden race at Warwick Farm and third place in the G1 Flight S. at Randwick.

Mark Newnham’s training career looks sure to continue to go from strength to strength. It’s easy isn’t it? Just spend 30 years working hard for the best of the best, and there you go: instant success!