Relishing a new year, new roles and a new set of challenges
Vin Cox and Barry Bowditch on overseeing the Gold Coast Yearling Sale
New challenges lie ahead in 2018 for Magic Millions executives Vin Cox and Barry Bowditch, but in the interim they will jointly oversee the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.
Together they will manage the year’s first yearling auction before Cox takes up his new role as Managing Director of Godolphin in Australia, while Bowditch will assume the same role at Magic Millions – a position Cox has held since 2011.
“I’ve said to Barry, ‘you lead and I’ll be there at your shoulder’,” Cox says of the hand-over process. Bowditch advances from the position of bloodstock manager after 12 years with the company.
In truth, the bulk of the work before any horse auction is done well before the hammer comes down on the first lot.
“We inspected 3,500 yearlings through late August and September with the task getting underway around the same time as the Hunter Valley stallion parades,” says Bowditch. “There’s a lot of time and effort and liaison with vendors in putting the catalogue together.”
And therein lies Bowditch’s strength, according to his soon-to-be former boss. “Barry is world-class in putting a catalogue together, whether it’s yearlings or broodmares or any other stock,” Cox says.
“He has an intuitive and hands-on understanding of the value of horses and where they are best placed for sale. He’ll do a great job at the helm.”
Cox’s successor understands his changed role may not be as simple as moving from one office to another. For one, it’s not always easy to go from being one of the guys to being the boss, and second that he is inheriting an already successful business which Cox says has become ‘the leading sales company in the southern hemisphere’.
Bowditch says: “I understand that perhaps my days of being the funny guy, the larrikin around the office are gone, but we really have a great team at Magic Millions and I’d be pretty confident the staff would have my back.
“The key challenge for me is probably to keep getting the horse part of the job right and maintaining the confidence of our vendors. I was honoured to be offered the job as I guess I’m still quite young where this industry sits, but after 12 years here and five years with Inglis, I feel I’m ready for it.”
Bowditch believes the fundamentals of the business are sound, and Cox concurs, saying: “If I were to offer Barry one piece of advice, it would be ‘don’t fix it, it ain’t broken’. I think it’s a case of keep driving on with the very good team and very good relationships the business has been able to build.
“People here are passionate about the brand and passionate about the sales and our $10,000,000 raceday. The fundamentals are good right now and our growth has been fantastic in recent years.”
That growth is easily measured by comparing the January numbers from Cox’s first year in 2012 to those from 2017. The gross has almost doubled to $135,000,000 and the average more than doubled to $205,142 (at an 87.9 per cent clearance in 2017).
How has that been achieved?
“The first step is gaining the confidence of the vendors,” Cox says. “We’ve been able to instil confidence in them about what we were doing and, in turn, that leads to better quality horses being offered and that attracts better buyers.
“We have to spread the net a bit wider and work a bit harder than those who can almost wholly rely on their home state or country. We have a number of very commercial and successful Queensland breeders who more than hold their own but not in the same numbers as elsewhere.
“Part of the success of the past few years is also linked to the traction we’ve gained internationally, especially from the USA and the Middle East.”
Is that growth sustainable?
“Prize money is the key and we’ve seen that jump significantly in the past two years,” Cox adds.
“You can never disregard the general state of the economy, but strong prize money will carry you a fair way. The state of the currency is obviously also important and we’ve seen the Asian market, especially Hong Kong, strong again as we’ve seen the Australian dollar sit around that traditional mark of 76 cents [in USD].”
Longer-term growth may well be sustained by mainland China according to Cox: “That’s a growth area and the potential is huge.”
There are no immediate plans for radical change to the January sales concept with Queensland tourism minister Kate Jones and Magic Millions co-owner Katie Page announcing this year they had struck a deal to keep the $10,000,000 race day and horse sales extravaganza on the Gold Coast until at least 2022.
However, the company is working on a new sales complex in Western Australia at Middle Swan which will include about 300 stables and a selling auditorium.
“The February yearling sale will be the last one held at Belmont. We’d hope, by mid-year, to be up and running with a purpose built facility for WA breeders at the new location,” Cox says. That facility will be part of the landscape Bowditch will guide.
The 35-year-old originally hails from Wagga Wagga. His father Barry (senior) and mother Helen have been active industry participants, principally training, for most of their lives. The wider family includes prominent South Australian jockey Joe Bowditch – his first cousin.
Bowditch has not known a working life other than that of the sales and bloodstock industry, and says: “I started at Inglis at 17 and I left five years to the day after I started. I was looking to move back to the Gold Coast, where the family had moved when I was 12. Going to Magic Millions was the obvious next step.
“I might have done of a lot of the very basic work but I was also given great opportunities when I started, including yearling inspections and going to the races every Saturday at the behest of Reg Inglis, so I was able to meet a lot of influential people in the industry.”
Along the way Cox has well learned the level of diplomacy required in putting together any catalogue.
“You have to be diplomatic,” he says. “It’s the old line that you can insult a man’s wife but not his horse, although these days most vendors take a realistic view of where their horse sits.
“Still, you have to make decisions. For this sale of those 3,500 horses we inspected, we had somewhere between 2,200 and 2,300 entries to be cut to 1,062 on offer. That’s about a 50 per cent knock-back rate.”
There’s also the balancing act in not over-loading any catalogue with too many of one stallion’s stock and assessing the entries who won’t have the dazzling pedigree page.
“The first is not that complicated,” Bowditch adds. “You’re hurting the vendors at the bottom end if you take too many from one stallion. As to the second, I love the good horse with no pedigree.
“Physical attributes make racehorses, and we’ve built a reputation for selling very good racehorses irrespective of their background.”
Cox and Bowditch are naturally looking forward to the first major event of 2018 and the remainder of the year.
“I’m thrilled to be taking over from Vin and hope to see Magic Millions go from strength to strength, maintaining the integrity of our service and the quality of stock we sell,” Bowditch says.
Cox will bring 30 years’ experience in the industry to his new role at Godolphin. He joined the then William Inglis & Son in 1988 before forming his own bloodstock advisory company, Vin Cox Bloodstock, in 2002 and through all guises has fostered the relationship between the Australian and American breeding industries.
“I’ve enjoyed a fantastic time at Magic Millions,” he says. “It’ll be almost seven years by the time I finish and it’s been fun and rewarding – and I now look forward to leading Godolphin in Australia.”