From a yearling preparation perspective, Bhima Thoroughbreds’ Yearling Manager Zoe Baylis has just about seen it all. Originating from New Zealand, she has completed seasons in England, America and, of course, Australia and has now cemented herself as one of the rising stars among the breeding industry Down Under.
“When I was 14 I got a thoroughbred off the track as a riding horse and then my first experience working in the industry was at Wellfield Lodge in Palmerston North in New Zealand,” Baylis told TDN AusNZ. “I started when I was about 16 and I worked there on and off before I went to university and did an Agricultural Science degree.
“While I was doing that I was just working part-time through the year at Wellfield Lodge and then doing yearling prep through the summer and I also did foal watch every year while I was there.
“The thing that really hooked me I think was doing breakers and pre-trainers. I took a year off uni and just worked full-time and I absolutely loved that.”
“The thing that really hooked me I think was doing breakers and pre-trainers. I took a year off uni and just worked full-time and I absolutely loved that.” - Zoe Baylis
Baylis spent approximately seven years working in New Zealand before she took a trip across the Tasman to get her first taste of the Australian bloodstock industry.
“Quite a few of my friends at uni would go over to Australia in the summer and freelance at the yearling sales so they got me on to it,” she said.
“I came over and the first sale I ever did in Australia was for Widden Stud at the Magic Millions and I just absolutely loved it. I couldn’t believe that someone would pay for my flights to come over and lead horses around.
“And then I ended up doing that whole season, I did pretty much every sale in Australasia for the year.”
Baylis then broadened her horizons even further when she completed a stint in England and was a part of the team that prepared the highest-selling yearling of that year, before completing a season at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky and working at Baramul Stud in between.
“At the end of that season I went to England and did a yearling prep over there at Newsells Park Stud,” she said. “At the end of that, I came back to Australia and had a barn foreman job at Baramul Stud, running a barn of yearlings so that was my first step into the managing of yearlings side of it.
“From Baramul, I went over to America and I did a season over in Kentucky at Lane’s End Farm, doing yearling sales and broodmare preparation. After that, I came back and did another freelance sales season in Australia and then I was approached by Widden Stud and they asked me to come and be their Yearling Manager. I did about three full yearling seasons there and I went from there to Bhima as Yearling Manager.”
Given the global nature of the thoroughbred industry, overseas stints have always been popular with young people looking to further their career in racing. Baylis said it was vital for her to travel and see the different things that operations across the world do with their horses.
“The experience was incredible,” she said. “When I got back I said to everyone that I was working with, young people and friends, ‘just go and travel and see how some of these farms around the world have been established for years’.
“You learn from the way different countries do things, it’s not always the same as what we do here in Australia. There are quite a few different ways of doing things and the horses are managed differently.
“They are different types of horses as well, it’s quite interesting to see what traits people are breeding for in different countries.
“They are different types of horses as well, it’s quite interesting to see what traits people are breeding for in different countries." - Zoe Baylis
“And also just the social side of it was really cool, I met some of my best friends that I’m still really close with from working in different countries.”
There is a vast array of career options available in the industry, but Baylis said the challenge of preparing and educating horses from such young ages has always appealed to her.
“I do really enjoy the yearling side of it in terms of seeing the progress of a yearling that comes in and is a young, uneducated, scruff-looking little thing and you just turn them into these beautifully muscled and really well-trained horses that you can present to someone at the sales,” she said.
“Just that sense of achievement from the start of the prep to the Sale, I think that’s what drew me to this career path, and the thrill of being able to prepare a horse and actually take it to a sale and see it go through the ring, that gives you a real goal to work towards and I really like that aspect of it.”
After spending so much time with the yearlings from almost the day they were born, Baylis said it's a huge thrill to see them go through the sales ring and be purchased for a lot of money before hitting the track in the coming years.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Baylis said. “You do get quite attached to them, you work so closely with them since they are born really and then more intensively through the yearling prep.
“But you just feel so proud when you see them take it all in their stride, go through the sales process and hold it together, or sometimes not quite hold it together, in the sales ring.
“You just know that you’ve done the best you can to set that horse up and it’s always nice to get good reports from the breakers and trainers that they go to and hearing about them progressing. And then obviously going forward it’s exciting to see them get to the races and hopefully be successful.”
While she loves her role as a Yearling Manager, Baylis wants to one day get her own property and sell yearlings in her own consignment.
“My ultimate goal is to eventually present horses at a sale under my own consignment and have a farm,” she said. “My partner is a farrier and we hope to one day in the future, have a farm of our own where we can prepare some of our own horses as well as client’s horses. That’s definitely the end goal.”
Looking to the more immediate future, Baylis and her team of staff are just a week away from presenting Bhima’s draft of 28 yearlings at the 2021 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.
“The prep has gone really well,” she said. “We have an outstanding draft in terms of bloodlines, the quality is out of this world.
“The COVID-19 situation has been slightly nerve-racking, but I would say this prep has also been slightly challenging in that the weather has been pretty erratic with some really, really cold weather in December.
“So there’s been a few curveballs for what we’re normally used to for a Magic Millions prep but as a whole, it’s gone really well. The horses are just thriving and are really on target to get to Magic Millions in perfect order.”
"The horses are just thriving and are really on target to get to Magic Millions in perfect order.” - Zoe Baylis
The draft features horses by Snitzel, Fastnet Rock, Exceed And Excel and Pierro, just to name a few, and Baylis said that as a whole, it’s one of the highest-quality drafts she has ever worked with.
“The mix of stallions represent the best that you could have in Australia,” she said. “Strangely this year we have a really high number of colts compared to fillies which I actually quite enjoy. I probably prefer prepping colts over fillies. So out of 28 horses, we only have eight fillies and the rest are colts.
“Across the board, it's a really high-quality draft and one of the best I think I’ve ever worked with and been able to present at a sale.”