Early mornings and hard work are nothing new to Chris Kent. As a national-level competitor in 5km open water swimming in his youth, his alarm rang daily at 5am for before school training. His afternoons were also spent in the water. On weekends, he’d travel to his parent’s 400 acre property in Goulburn to go pony riding.
Growing up in Douglas Park near Picton, 80km south of Sydney, Chris’ first taste of the horse racing industry came through his father, who bred and raced horses in partnership with Chris’ grandfather and uncle.
“My parents did not work in the industry. Mum likes horses but is a little scared, and dad is allergic,” said Chris. “But I used to love going to the country races to watch their horses. They had horses everywhere – with Peter Myers at Randwick, Keith Swan at Coonamble, and other trainers at Bathurst and Goulburn. We had the most fun around the Western Districts race tracks. I always wanted to be a horse trainer.”
After graduating Year 12 from Menangle Broughton Anglican College, family friend and veterinarian John Peakfield suggested to Chris that if he wanted to work with racehorses, he needed to first know where foals came from. So Chris went looking for work and secured a job with Brian Gorman at Scone’s Bellerive Stud.
After working under Brian for two years doing night watch and yearling preparations, Chris wanted to learn the next step in a thoroughbred’s career cycle. He then spent the next 12 months learning how to break-in horses with Greg Bennett.
“Some of the quality of bloodstock that came through the barns was amazing,” said Chris. “I learnt so much with Greg and still stay in contact with him.”
Chris then had the opportunity to move south to Victoria after securing the Australian Thoroughbred Scholarship at Geelong’s Marcus Oldham College. Upon graduating with a Diploma of Equine Management, Chris won the International Stud Management Award which granted him an invaluable opportunity to work for the historic Lanwades Stud in Newmarket, UK, for 12 months. It was also over there that he first met his now wife, Catherine.
Lured back to Australia with an offer to become Greg’s racing manager, Chris first did a five day stint for Phil and Patti Campbell at Blue Gum Farm, working with their draft at the Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale. And whilst he hit it off with the Blue Gum team, he kept his commitment to Greg. Whilst working for Greg, Chris looked after some lovely racehorses including Listed winner Charms Honour and Kaypers, whom he strapped when he finished 2nd in the Listed Parramatta Cup.
Whilst they stayed in touch, it was a while later that Phil made a specific phone call, offering Chris a role looking after Blue Gum’s Marketing and Nominations. It was too big an opportunity to turn down.
“Somewhere along the line I realised horse training wasn’t going to be for me,” said Chris. “Realistically, country training is where everyone starts and I’d seen how tough trainers do it. Plus I really enjoyed the breeding side, especially the pedigrees. I spoke to Greg and whilst he liked having me, he said I was better off doing that than working in his stables.”
Whilst Chris was busy working for Greg’s bourgeoning racing stables, Catherine came out to Australia on her own. She did a stint with the former Eliza Park before going north to Bellerive. It was here that romance began between the pair. Catherine followed Brian Gorman back down to Victoria and to Swettenham Stud and she currently works for Danny Swain at Euroa’s Glenelg Park. Chris and Catherine married in 2017 but they won’t work together as Chris jokes “we’d kill each other!”
Since accepting the role at Blue Gum Farm in April 2013, Chris’s role has grown to Horse Operations Manager. He is charged with managing the day-to-day operations, dealing with staff and clients and making sure the running of the farm goes as smoothly as possible.
“We’ll foal down just over 100 mares this breeding season,” said Chris. “Then we’ll prepare between 40 to 50 yearlings for the sales. We were leading vendors at this year’s Inglis Premier and VOBIS Gold Sales. We enjoy our success and it’s a lot of fun.”
When pressed to name his favourite part of his role, Chris honestly can’t provide a definitive answer.
“I like seeing foals born, seeing them develop into yearlings and I like watching them on the racetracks,” said Chris. “I also really enjoy doing my matings and pedigrees. I have dyspraxia and spent 17 years in speech therapy, so that means I have to work a bit harder when it comes to explaining things, writing emails and pronouncing names. But I don’t have one favourite part about my job. It’s not work, it’s a lifestyle for me.”
And when asked about a favourite horse?
“The year Blue Gum topped the Premier Sale (2016), I was lucky enough to take that horse through the ring.” That horse, which sold for $700,000, would become Listed winner and now first season sire, Ducimus.
“Fontiton was an absolute machine as a yearling to deal with, she thrived on the work. And then there’s What’s My Story. He wasn’t a superstar but riding him track work (at Greg’s) and seeing him win three races was pretty outstanding.”
Already having an all-encompassing career, Chris credits not just his managers, but also his fellow colleagues for teaching him so much through his work experiences, across all aspects.
“At every job you work, you learn something,” Chris said. “I’ve worked and learnt off Robert Simms, Jo Monahan, the boys in the UK stallion barns and our Yearling Manager Wendy Smith. Wendy is one of the most interesting horse people I’ve ever met and I’ve learnt so much off her.”
If there’s one thing Chris thinks the industry needs to focus on improving, it’s the necessity to attract more young people to the industry.
“It’s a great industry if you’ve got the bug for it,” Chris explains. “Trying to attract newer members, workers and breeders is what makes the industry grow and develop. The younger generation seem to be less and less coming into and staying involved in the industry.”
Living on site at Blue Gum, Chris does find it hard to switch off work mode. He’s been told, and he’ll admit, that he is a workaholic but he will always try to find time to watch the races on Saturday. He also enjoys getting out to the country race tracks and socialising with friends – BBQs in summers, fire pits in winter. Chill time. But for now, he’s on call and there’s a farm full of broodmares that need him.
And some advice for those wanting to get into the breeding industry? “Remember you get out what you put in and you can learn something off everyone. Don’t expect things to come quickly – patience is a virtue as they say.”