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Tuesday, 15 January, 2019

'I have to admit I'm very sad and find work a bit of an obsession'

Matt Houldsworth tells us about his career in racing and bloodstock

Matt Houldsworth (left) with mentor and business partner Geoffrey Howson
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This article was originally published as part of our popular Q&A series on August 7, 2018

Age 25

Occupation Bloodstock agent, breeder and pinhooker

How did you get involved in the bloodstock industry? Like a lot of people, I began watching National Hunt racing from an early age and enjoyed following the duels between top horses. My parents are much more jumps orientated and so I suppose it was only natural for me to follow suit.

I soon began to take a much keener interest in Flat racing and bloodstock after coming to terms with the fact that my riding ability was on a par with a Class 6 selling hurdler.

How did your association with Geoffrey Howson begin? By mistake! Well not really, but it was quite by chance. I'd just passed my driving test and was the proud owner of a clapped out Peugeot 106 that was desperately wrong in the wind and certainly a bit dodgy on all four tyres.

I was due to be bid spotting at Doncaster under the strict supervision of Tim Kent and to my dismay my mother wouldn’t let me drive. She picked up the directory and found a local number and managed to get me a lift with Geoffrey.

I then spent most of my free time between school and university attending sales and such like with Geoffrey until he finally gave into my nagging and gave me a job. We've both been unemployed since!

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Geoffrey, without a shadow of a doubt. He's mentored me for the past eight years and would always go out of his way to help. Although we now share the business, he's more a friend than anything else.

Mum and Dad have always supported me and have always told me to do what I enjoy first and foremost.

Masucci: the first winner bred by Houldsworth left him feeling like a proud parent

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy? Success, of course. It sounds simplistic but any form of success - be it a winner on the track, a good sale for a client or even a good update in the pedigree for a family we might be directly involved in - is satisfying.

I suppose winners at the highest level have to be what we all aspire to. They're what you're judged on at the end of the day.

And what do you least enjoy? Injuries to horses you're involved in, losers on the track, and being told something isn’t for sale.

Best day in the business? Quiet Reflection winning the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, having been involved in buying her as a yearling.

Breeding my first winner last year - Masucci, whose dam was a private purchase by Geoffrey - with good friend Alan Marsh was also very special. As I’m not a dad, knowingly at least, I can only assume the feeling is like being a proud parent!

Who do you admire most within the industry? There are too many people to single out just one, so I suppose anyone who has skin in the game and puts their money where their mouth is.

Which of your purchases are you most proud of? The sale of Lady Oracle and Dream In Colour at public auction in Australia for a combined total of A$1.15 million, having cost approximately £100,000 12 months earlier.

Lady Oracle was particularly satisfying because we bought her for good friends Sherah Sullivan and husband Mike who risked a lot more than I initially realised at the time buying her. Thank God it paid off.

Sixties Icon: considered an underestimated stallion

If you had to let another agent outside of Howson and Houldsworth Bloodstock buy you a horse, who would you choose? Either my good friend Richard Fitzsimons, because we’ve worked together before and agreed, rightly or wrongly, with each other, or his boss Patrick Cooper, as he would probably disagree with both of us, quite rightly, and buy the better horse.

Who is the most underrated stallion on the market? There’s quite a few, but to be different I’ll say Sixties Icon. He seems to come up with plenty of winners each year from limited opportunities.

What do you expect trade to be like at the coming yearling sales? Patchy. Good at the top, soft in the middle and very difficult at the bottom. Quality always sells but there’s such a large pool to choose from that not everything can rise to the top.

There will be some great opportunities this year to buy racehorses as opposed to sales horses for good value.

Give us two things you look for in a potential purchase Balance and a sound mind. But in all honesty it’s a massive gamble. So-called incorrect yearlings often go on to be good racehorses and the beautiful sales horses can be completely useless.

I think you have to be realistic and grade each fault and hope that in the balance of probability, given what you might have to pay, you come out on top to some degree.

What is your ambition in bloodstock? To continue to build and develop Howson and Houldsworth Bloodstock, buy more winners, breed more winners and keep everyone happy at the same time.

What do you do when the sales aren't on? We buy quite a lot of trading stock privately so that keeps us very busy when the sales aren’t on. I have to admit I’m very sad and find work a bit of an obsession, much to my girlfriend's dismay, but I suppose I could say I’m quite partial to a walk along a beach, or maybe a stroll around a garden. I also quite like watching Rugby Union, particularly the Super 15.

What would you like to see change in the industry? A better race programme for middle-distance horses and a severe fining system for late withdrawals at sales without a valid explanation.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to get into the industry? Have a back-up plan, work harder than the next person and find someone who will mentor you and look after your best interests. 

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As I’m not a dad, knowingly at least, I can only assume the feeling is like being a proud parent!
E.W. Terms
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