Smith, like the vast majority of our previous Generation Next talents, doesn’t come from a ‘racing family’, however, an innate love of the horse was prevalent at a young age.
It was the American cutting and performance horse scene where Smith would acquire the interdisciplinary skills that have held him in good stead since heading down the racing route.
“I was a kid who had a fascination with horses, I bugged my parents to get me riding lessons and then I bugged them again until they got me my first horse,” Smith told TDN AusNZ.
“I was a kid who had a fascination with horses, I bugged my parents to get me riding lessons and then I bugged them again until they got me my first horse.” - Michael Smith
"And after that they never had to put any more money into purchasing horses for me, as I would train them, trade them up and do that with a lot of young horses.”
In 2011, after completing an agribusiness and marketing degree at the California Polytechnic State University, Smith would venture to Australia on a one-way ticket.
And, in 2013, his ‘entrée into racing’ came by the way of an employment opportunity at Nathan Tinkler’s Patinack Farm.
“It was a very interesting formative experience due to the number of horses they had, when I started they had 200 yearlings and four of us to look after them initially, so I got to do everything and a lot of it,” Smith said.
“I was young, enthusiastic and all the managers there were very good to me, and then when the time came for me to take my next step they were very helpful in assisting me in getting there.”
After completing a season of yearling prep at Patinack Farm, Smith felt as though he required international experience if he was to gain a position on the Irish National Stud course, which led to him emailing Haras d’Etreham.
Smith was afforded a position at the esteemed French stud and would partake in the preparation of yearlings, weanlings and mares over a six-month period, which began in July 2014.
"Haras d’Etreham was a fantastic experience, and I have to give a lot of credit to Stud Director Ludivine Marchand-Morin,” Smith said.
"Haras d’Etreham was a fantastic experience, and I have to give a lot of credit to Stud Director Ludivine Marchand-Morin.” - Michael Smith
“She was someone that not only encouraged me to do the Irish National Stud course but to also apply for the Godolphin Flying Start, she really gave me the push to broaden what I thought was possible.”
The building blocks
In 2015 Smith managed to achieve what he set out to do by securing a position on the ‘invaluable’ six-month National Stud course.
“The National Stud course was incredible, it is a first-class grounding and there is so much goodwill in Ireland surrounding the course, when you’re on it everybody has so much time for you and are willing to help you in anyway they can,” Smith said.
“The National Stud course was incredible, it is a first-class grounding and there is so much goodwill in Ireland surrounding the course, when you’re on it everybody has so much time for you and are willing to help you in anyway they can.” - Michael Smith
“While you’re there you are working as the backbone of the stud, but every night you’re doing lectures on nutrition, veterinary, conformation and have guest speakers come in that are the who’s who of the European racing and breeding industry.
“So, I would say that it was an invaluable experience.”
The next step in Smith’s journey was the Flying Start program, which he completed from 2015 – 2017.
Sally Carroll, the National Stud’s student liaison officer at the time, played an important role in assisting Smith with his application process.
Smith returned to America for the first leg of the Flying Start and during this period he completed his work placement with Saratoga-based syndicator West Point Thoroughbreds.
“I got to learn about racing on the East Coast and a lot about how their business operates, from client management, selecting horses and partnerships in general,” Smith said.
Smith’s Australian externship with Newgate Farm proved an important part of the journey, with the Henry Field-owned operation having a close relationship with his current employer - China Horse Club.
During this period Smith would work closely with Newgate’s Director of Bloodstock Bruce Slade.
“They’re an amazing operation, they’re so dynamic and forward-thinking with a great attention to detail,” Smith said.
“It was a really interesting time and that was my introduction to China Horse Club.”
He was also afforded the opportunity to shadow Paul Moroney during the New Zealand Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale.
In Europe, Smith worked with trainer Nicolas Clement and while in Dubai he got to pick the brain of Champion South African horseman Mike de Kock.
All of the astute operators that Smith was ‘fortunate’ enough to spend time with during his two years on the Flying Start have played an important role in his growth – which makes it hard for him to describe one as the most influential.
“They all had so much time for me, I can’t thank them enough. I could call any of them today with a question and they would all pick up the phone and help me any way they could,” Smith said.
“I’d like to think when I was at each one of those places that I did as good a job for them as I could, and there was a mutual respect.”
Joining the Club
After graduating from the Flying Start at the top of his class Smith planned on reuniting with de Kock in South Africa, however, the vacant bloodstock assistant role at China Horse Club was too great of an opportunity not to apply for.
“The bloodstock assistant position at China Horse Club was my dream role and all encompassing, there’s few other bloodstock operations that are more global, so when the job came up I raised my hand,” Smith said.
“The bloodstock assistant position at China Horse Club was my dream role and all encompassing, there’s few other bloodstock operations that are more global, so when the job came up I raised my hand.” - Michael Smith
“When I started I wasn’t the senior guy, so I was the beneficiary of being surrounded by people with a lot of experience in our own team and among our partners and vendors.
“You learn how they think and how they do things, which has been a great opportunity to grow before now being entrusted with the large responsibility of the entire Australasian operation.”
The success China Horse Club has achieved since its first top-flight victory in 2013 is second to none, with the Teo Ah Khing-led organisation staking claim to a cumulative 44 Group 1 victories in six separate countries.
And as a result Smith is left spoilt for choice when trying to pinpoint a highlight, saying it would be like picking a favourite child.
"China Horse Club has been able to achieve globally what few have, winning an Epsom Derby with Australia in the UK, a Triple Crown with Justify in America and a Golden Slipper with Stay Inside Down Under,” Smith said.
“There’s nothing like the taste of success to motivate you and to strive to do better.
“But you’re only as good as your last winner, which is why the challenge of trying to continually raise the bar is what drives me.”
“But you’re only as good as your last winner, which is why the challenge of trying to continually raise the bar is what drives me.” - Michael Smith
China Horse Club’s rise to the forefront of the global bloodstock and racing scene is a testament to the way in which Teo Ah Khing has been able to turn his vision into a reality, according to Smith.
“He’s (Teo Ah Khing) the visionary behind China Horse Club, it’s his vision that drives it, he’s got an amazing energy and an amazing mind for what can be,” Smith said.
“Teo is the one that is always pushing us to be better, and it has been a great learning experience and a pleasure for me to get to work for him over the last five years.”
The next generation
While Smith is proud of his achievements to date, he believes he has been a beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time.
“I think I’m very lucky to have fallen in with the right people, and all the way along they have been willing to help and give me a chance, which is why I’m so passionate about racing,” Smith said.
“And that is what’s great about the thoroughbred industry, there is always someone that is willing to help you get to the next step and better yourself.”
Smith’s advice to the next generation of industry participants is to knuckle down and work hard.
“Work hard, show up and don’t be afraid to ask questions as it doesn’t go unnoticed,” Smith said.
“Racing is amazing, if you can muck out a box and lead a horse you can travel around the world.”