Mark Newnham has been one of Sydney’s best trainers for a few seasons now but he’s gone on to become a leading trainer who has saddled up the third most winners in NSW this season.
He’s only trained less winners than Chris Waller and Kris Lees, which means he’s got more wins in NSW than Godolphin’s James Cummings and Team Snowden.
It’s been a remarkable effort considering he’s raced a lot less runners than those two powerhouse stables.
He’s a very good chance of winning the feature race on Saturday at Randwick, the Listed January Cup (2000m), with three strong hopes — Spirit Ridge, Gone Bye and Fulmina.
Throw in the in-form Big Parade in the sixth race and it could be another great day out for the local trainer.
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Newnham warned punters not to back off Big Parade before he came out and won at Randwick three weeks ago after a sixth placing first-up when sent out as a $1.90 hope.
“It was evident the other day that he settles a lot better without the blinkers on,” Newnham said.
“It (first-up) was a combination of trainer and rider error first-up at Kembla. I didn’t trust the horse enough as a gelding to run him without blinkers because he hadn’t been 100 per cent genuine and Josh asked too much of him.
“He relaxed well last start and showed a good turn of foot so hopefully we’re on the same path.”
Newnham is not only a leading trainer but a respected one who has his opinions on the sport and one of them is if trackwork should start later.
Chris Waller has been of the opinion that the sport had to adopt more modern workplace practices or risk alienating a younger generation of potential workers.
“Who really wants their children to be starting work at 3am, or having to drive to work or catch public transport at that time,’’ Waller said.
“And who actually wants to do it? Only those who have ‘toughed’ it out and had to do it.
“But we are not going to get new people into the game unless they have a mad love for horses and racing, and that is getting few and far between.
Waller’s been saying similar things for a number of years now but Newnham thinks he’s in the minority when it comes to wanting later starting times in the morning.
He doesn’t think it will bring new people into the sport.
“I don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t know what they’re basing it on,” Newnham said.
“They think they’ll have a sudden influx of staff but we don’t do anything to promote racing as a career.
“I don’t see how changing the hours will suddenly change anything. If they were changed it’s not like you’d all of a sudden see eight people at your gate looking for a job.
“I’ve never had anyone who wanted to start working in a stable walk away when you tell them the hours.”
Newnham said his staff liked working from 3.30am to 8.30am in the morning, then 11am to 1pm in the afternoon and were actually worried about being forced to start an hour later.
Tracks open at 4am and the there’s been a compromise in recent times to not start working on the grass until 5am.
Team Hawkes don’t want earlier starting times at Rosehill and the Randwick trainers are virtually all in agreement that things should remain the same.
“We had a meeting of Randwick trainers five months ago and only two trainers wanted later starting hours,” Newnham said.
“I don’t care what hours they work but I still want to work my hours.
“If working later hours is the answer, within a year or two those trainers will have all the best staff and we won’t.
“In the UK, they have a staffing issue also and a lot of them aren’t starting until 7am, so it’s not the start time. We’re not engaging enough young people to come and work in the industry.”
While Waller feels that later starting times are the answer to attracting younger people to racing, Newnham thinks the industry could look at other sports and the way they capture the imagination of the next generation.
How many rugby league players, for example, tell stories of when their heroes once visited them in school, inspiring them even further to chase their footy dreams.
Jockeys and trainers have proved they’d be willing to do that if a program was put in place.
Look at the long lines at Canterbury on a Friday night (pre-COVID) and see the dozens of fans waiting for an autograph.
“I don’t know of any programs where we (industry figures) go out to schools or pony clubs or head out to the bush to see kids who might want to get into racing,” Newnham said.
“You never have a jockey, trainer or farrier going out to see kids. There’s so many more positions in racing too.
“When I first started we didn’t have horse physios, racing managers or media managers. There were very few bloodstock agents.”
“I think TJ Smith had the same secretary for 40 years and Bart was the same and that was their office staff.
“There’s so many more opportunities in racing now than a stablehand or trackwork rider but we don’t do anything to promote that.
“People don’t know enough about working in racing.”
One change Newnham does feel can occur is the dominance of overseas stayers in Australia.
“The boys are a lot stronger group now than they were 10 years ago because of the imports,” Newnham said.
“The imports are better stayers than our horses. It makes me feel that we should be looking at our weight scale so our horses get a better allowance at a distance.
“The pedigrees of the international horses at a distance is stronger than ours.”
But things might be about to change due to the cost now involved in getting an international horse into an Australian stable.
Newnham said only the really good ones are going to be a good investment here.
“It’s not as cost effective as it once was to bring horses here and they’re very expensive to buy,” he said.
“I looked at buying a couple from the UK this year and they were a lot more than I was prepared to pay for them.
“Spirit Ridge was very good value at 100,000 Guineas so he was getting here somewhere around the $200,000 mark so you’ve got to be a Saturday-class horse at that price.
“I think it can turnaround. We’re bringing enough horses here now to influence the bloodlines and a lot of our races are worth a lot at further than 1600m so it’s doable.”
Newnham also called on Racing NSW to put on a couple more 3200m races during the year to encourage the development of genuine stayers in this country.
“I’ve got a horse at the moment called Skymax who would be crying out for a two-mile race if it was around,” he said.
“There’s a lot more we could do. We need to encourage people to change their mindset that it’s not just two-year-olds.”
Sprint Ridge is an example of a European import who has been worth the gamble and he’s a strong $3.30 favourite for the Listed January Cup (2000m) on Saturday.
But he’s one of the few that presents great value for an import.
“At a sale gone just last October there were horses I thought would be of similar value to him and they were twice the price,” Newnham said.
“They’ve gone through the roof to buy so there’s opportunities now for us to breed and buy horses with a staying pedigree here.
“I’ve been looking at horses at the Magic Millions Sale that I’m hoping will flying under the radar as far as the pedigree goes because they look like three-year-old types a mile and more.
“They’re a lot better value than taking on the stallion syndicates who are buying horses at more than $500,000.”
Spirit Ridge, a Nathaniel six-year-old, is shooting for his second-straight win tomorrow after taking out the Summer Cup two weeks ago and if he wins or runs very well he’ll book his ticket to a race over the autumn carnival.
“I’ve had him for 12 months now and I’ve had plan right from the start,” Newnham said.
“This preparation was always the one that we’d do a bit more with him. He’ll likely have a few weeks off after Saturday then a freshen up for the autumn.”