As the current thoroughbred racing season draws to a close, a question posed by many industry pundits just over 12 months ago has been answered in emphatic fashion.
In May 2018 the boss of Te Akau Racing, David Ellis, made the announcement that young tyro Jamie Richards would be taking sole charge of Te Akau’s Matamata training operation after working in partnership with the experienced Stephen Autridge. Many saw it as a bold, but perhaps risky, move to place the 28-year old at the top of the Te Akau tree only three years after moving into the training ranks and wondered if the Otago-born and bred prospect would be able to match the success achieved with Autridge.
The answer to that question quite simply is a resounding yes. Domestically he’s had 96 wins for the season (as at June 11), 17 of those in stakes races including seven Group 1s and the leading strike rate amongst the top thirty trainers on the national trainers’ premiership. He also recorded stakes success in Australia when talented three-year-old filly Avantage was victorious in the Group 3 Birthday Card Stakes (1200m).
The son of former top jockey and useful trainer in his own right, Paul Richards and his wife Leanne, Jamie was raised in Mosgiel, outside of Dunedin and was quickly immersed in the racing lifestyle. “I grew up in Mosgiel where Dad was training and riding so I spent a long time going around the racetracks,” Richards said. “He always had horses in work so I learnt to ride and was instilled with a good work ethic. “I went to Otago Boys’ High school although I was pretty keen to leave school and become a jockey, however Mum and Dad wanted me to stay and get an education which in hindsight has been great. “I would have been too big to be a jockey in the end so I’m glad I stayed.”
Richards continued his academic endeavours at Otago University, where he graduated with a degree in commerce along with a postgraduate diploma in marketing, but just as importantly, some significant contacts from his time at the institution. “I made some good contacts at university and it is actually how I met Dave (Ellis),” he said. “It was through his wife Karyn’s (Fenton-Ellis) daughter Julia-Rose who was also at Otago University. “Through that connection I actually went up and worked for Mark Walker during the holidays. “To be fair, the business at home wasn’t thriving so Mum and Dad could have quite easily said to stay home and work the holidays there but they sent me away and I got some experience which has all been a massive help.”
During his last year at university Richards was awarded the prestigious Sunline Scholarship by the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and he went on to spend time at Cheveley Park in Newmarket, Coolmore Stud in Ireland along with undertaking yearling preparation work at Taylor Made Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.
The time away opened his eyes to the best-practice techniques and experiences he could draw on as his training career took shape. “I didn’t have any yearling or breeding experience so when I was finishing up at university I went and worked at the Oaks Stud, which was organised by Michael Martin from the Breeders’ Association and then I was lucky enough to be awarded the scholarship and I went away on that course,” Richards said. “It was just amazing and I met a lot of different people and learnt different skills and techniques which have been instrumental in what I have been doing since. “I came back and worked for New Zealand Bloodstock for the summer, finished up the last of my university requirements and then did an internship with Mark Chittick at Waikato Stud, which was again a great experience as I spent a lot of time with the veterinarians and being involved with their work.”
It was at that stage that Richards decided his passion lay with the racing side of the industry and he took on the role of Racing Manager with Te Akau Racing. “I was always keen that I was going to get back into racing at some stage as horses were my passion and I wanted to make a career out of it,” Richards said. “The training side of things came about when David Ellis and Mark Walker made the decision they wanted to get Stephen Autridge back involved at Te Akau as they were looking for a change.
“They wanted Stephen to mentor me and teach me, much as he had done when Mark was first getting started as his foreman. “Stephen was great and taught me how to train and manage a large team, manage staff and all that goes with the training game. “I think it was a very smart move by Mark and David and it has proven very successful. “Steve is very straight forward, keeps things simple and I’m very grateful for how he has helped me. “We still discuss horses when I have any questions and he gives me his opinion and I really appreciate that.”
Despite the success that he has achieved in his first year as the training figurehead at Te Akau, it comes as no surprise that Richards has a single-minded focus on achieving some lofty goals over the next few years and is committed to making continual improvements in his work. “To be honest it is a very encompassing job and if you don’t live and breathe it, I don’t think you can be successful at it,” he said. “If you asked me the last time I watched a super rugby game at night I’d struggle to tell you, as most of the time I would be in bed by half-time.
“You have to make sacrifices to make the most out of your profession, so it’s not just a job for me, it’s pretty much all that I do and I take pride in getting the results we have been able to achieve. “I’m keen to make a good go of it and that means dedicating my time to the horses. “I don’t see a lot changing, as we (Te Akau) want to get bigger and better. “I work with a remarkable team of people who also want to succeed, so that will continue to be our main goal in the new year.
“We are hoping to have an increased presence in Australia with the top-line horses we have at present, while we also have some exciting younger horses coming through. “Dave was the strongest he has ever been at the sales this year so hopefully that can flow through into the stable results again this season.”
While Richards is all business he is looking forward to taking time off for a Hawaiian holiday in July which will provide him with a chance to recharge his batteries and hit the ground running on August 1.