The BloodHorse ‘Start Up’: March 26th

The BloodHorse featured an article on Godolphin Flying Start written by Lenny Shulman. Complete article text below.

Although the structure of the Thoroughbred horse racing industry discourages strong central leadership, there is cause for optimism in its ranks thanks to the influx of a new breed of young movers that are populating farm offices, racetrack barns, periodicals, and associations serving owners and breeders. These smart potential leaders are products of a well-rounded global education provided by the Godolphin Flying Start program.

Each year Godolphin Flying Start, now in its 13th season, graduates a dozen young men and women from around the world from its two-year program that concentrates both on hands-on experience with horses and a stringent academic syllabus. Virtually each of the 130 graduates to date has found work in the industry, and more than 90% of them have remained in it. To a person, they are confident, well-spoken advocates for the program and the horse, and although institutional change is slow and arduous, these 20-somethings entering the business provide some optimism for the future.

Godolphin Flying Start is the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and the owner of the Darley/Godolphin worldwide racing operation as well as stud farms on several continents. In an attempt to develop leaders for the sport, Sheikh Mohammed landed on the idea of offering a completely funded course that would concentrate on horsemanship, business, and leadership, with the aim of developing leaders and innovators for the longterm benefit of the horse industry. The program is unique in that the trainees have no commitment to take positions with Darley/Godolphin, so the course is not training ground for one operation. While several graduates have landed jobs with Darley/Godolphin, the overwhelming number have circulated to other outfits around the world, even working for direct competitors to Sheikh Mohammed’s satellites.

 “It is a magnanimous contribution to the industry,” noted Clodagh Kavanagh, who has served as the general manager of Darley Flying Start since its inception. “The program is set up for the good of the students and the good of the industry. Sheikh Mohammed is quite comfortable with graduates working in Australia at Arrowfield or at Coolmore in America, so it’s great.” Kavanagh, who is based in Ireland, was in Kentucky recently to aid the program’s students in making connections for internships and work placements with industry members. This networking, as much as the academic and horsemanship aspects, is crucial to the ultimate success of placing graduates in jobs. Kavanagh is a graduate of University College Dublin, one of several universities that accredit the Godolphin Flying Start program. She has worked for consignors and/or stud farms in the U.S., Australia, and Ireland, and was general manager of the Racing Academy and Center of Education in Ireland, which is a school for up-and coming jockeys and trainers. “What attracted me to Godolphin Flying Start was the opportunity to work with talented young people,” she said. “It appeals to me to see them develop their talents and then use them to better the industry.” With just 12 openings per year and applicants from around the globe, the criteria for acceptance are stringent. Successful applicants have strong grades in either high school or college and have worked in some aspect of the industry and know how to handle a horse. The program also looks for people that have traveled, considering they will be on the road to five different locales spanning the globe over their two years in Godolphin Flying Start. It is also crucial that successful applicants impress when interviewed. Although the structure of the Thoroughbred horse racing industry discourages strong central leadership, there is cause for optimism in its ranks thanks to the influx of a new breed of young movers that are populating farm offices, racetrack barns, periodicals, and associations serving owners and breeders. These smart potential leaders are products of a well-rounded global education provided by the Godolphin Flying Start program.

“They have to pitch themselves and convince us they’re deserving of this opportunity and are going to do something with the opportunity afterward,” stated Kavanagh. “We’re looking for people with leadership qualities; good communicators that have an innate confidence and a spirit of contribution and willingness to give back, be it mentoring or getting involved in industry bodies or politics.” One of the true strengths of the program is the diversity of the participants. Typically, six-to-eight countries are represented in the 12-person classes, and graduates are unanimous that some of their most valuable learning experiences come from their exposure to one another and the various points of views therein. “When you’re opinionated and passionate and then put together with 11 other people who are the same way, you get to test your theories about the industry daily,” said program graduate Ian Tapp, who works in sales and bloodstock development at Gainesway and formerly was editor of the Blood- Horse MarketWatch. “Being able to interact in that sort of environment was great; the program was very much about social growth for me.” Kavanagh said the program is interested in having participants not only from the major horse racing countries, but from smaller or emerging racing nations as well. Twenty countries have been represented in Godolphin FlyinStart, including the present first-year group that has students from China,

Singapore, and Spain. “One of the best things about the course is you’re in such close quarters with 11 other people that have a range of opinions,” noted Michael Hardy, farm manager at Margaux Farm in Kentucky. “You have intelligent conversations about the industry and the future of the industry; where things are going and the best way forward. So you have a great group of friends in a social environment, and that part of it was life-changing.” The nuts and bolts of the course haven’t changed much since its inception, but within the program tweaks are constantly being made to keep up with evolving times and technology. The program encompasses segments in Ireland, England, the U.S., Australia, and Dubai, with work placements/ internships in fouror six-week intervals in Australia, Europe, and the U.S. Accommodations are provided, as are transportation, health insurance, laptops, and a subsistence allowance. Hands-on horse work, academic work, and lectures all provide insight into the industry. “How the course looks from the outside hasn’t changed much, but it’s a world apart now from how it started,” said Kavanagh. “As new technology comes onboard or new countries or markets open up, that is put into the program. We do more mentoring and coaching, and there is a lot more innovation and technology. Creativity is where it’s at if you want to lead change.” What hasn’t changed is that the students, whose average age is 24-25, have a universal love of horses and being hands-on with them. However, they are selected for their academic skills as well. Whether it be in lecture halls or out on farms, Godolphin Flying Start participants have access to the brightest minds in the horse world. “It gives you the chance to meet so many people,” said Dr. Bo Rainbow, a veterinarian who works for Equine Analysis Systems in Kentucky. “Making these contacts, you feel like you can call up people and bounce ideas off them; everyone in the industry is just a phone call away, and it’s very uniting.”

 “The biggest benefit is the people you meet along the way, both your classmates and the industry people,” said Kelsey Riley, who has worked for Blood-Horse and is now with Thoroughbred Daily News. “Not a day goes by that Dr. Bo Rainbow works for Equine Analysis Systems I don’t call on somebody I met along the way for a story. I could have been a racing writer without that experience, but I wouldn’t be as good of one.”

Kyle Wilson, director of stallion seasons at WinStar Farm, said the experience of learning how things are run abroad can be useful back in the States. “What resonated with me is the different ways people do things in their horsemanship; how someone preps yearlings or runs a racecourse. You see how people use their culture and physical environment to the best of their ability. What it does is broaden your scope and gets rid of tunnel vision.”

“It’s a great thing to see how things work in different countries,” said Fabricio Buffolo, farm manager at Besilu Farm in Florida. “As you’re exposed to more things you expand what you can do. It’s a life-changing experience for everyone.” Students are apt to enter the program thinking they know what field they’d like to work in upon graduating. Those pre-conceived notions are likely to change over two years.

 Jordyn Egan was interested in becoming a trainer, and ended up doing an internship as part of the program with Southern Californa-based conditioner Howard Zucker. “I loved the horse aspect,” said the California native, “but wasn’t cut out to live the early-morning lifestyle of a trainer. I ended up at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association as director of development for our industry fund and assistant executive director of Maryland Million. And I also married a trainer, so I get enough of that world without having to wake up at 3:30.” Tapp, who had spent three summers working for trainer Todd Pletcher before entering the program, had his eye on training and sought more knowledge from Godolphin Flying Start for that career. “Being exposed to everything showed me maybe I wasn’t cut out for training, and that served me very well,” he said. “About halfway through I began looking at other parts of the industry.” On the other hand, Margaux’s Hardy had grown up on a farm and knew he wanted to be a farm manager. He benefited from working at various racetracks with top trainers such as Mike de Kock in Dubai and Chris Waller in Australia. “Just seeing how they run their operations and what they pay attention to made going into the industry a lot easier,” Hardy said. “I pay attention to the things they paid attention to.” Sarah Holmes, a native of Paris, Ky., was interested in sales and breeding going into the program, “but I kept an open mind going through it because you never know if you might decide to become a trainer along the way. But my main interest is mares and pedigrees and sales. When I graduated, I worked for Bluewater Sales and now I work in sales for Hunter Valley Farm. Maybe I would have ended up in the same place, but doing the course is like fitting 15 years into two. I learned a ton from it and it propels you years forward.” Currently, the first-year participants are in the U.S. and are doing work placements with trainers, an advertising agency, a bloodstock agent, and at Keeneland and The Jockey Club. These experiences are indispensable when they go seeking jobs after the course, but when that day arrives, they are on their own. “We do a lot of coaching

about how to interview,” said Kavanagh, “but if they can’t find employment at that stage, then we haven’t done our job correctly, and if we went to finding jobs for them, it would be doing them a disservice. They have that black book with everybody in the world in it. Graduation is July 1 and normally they would have jobs lined up by April or May before they graduate.” Kavanagh added that a remarkable 120 of the 130 graduates are still working in the industry. “The most satisfying thing for me is to see them reach their potential and get great jobs,” she said. “To see them remain excited about the industry and acquire more responsibility and become the new industry leaders, which is what we set up to have them do. And then to have a positive influence and effect change. That’s our goal, and when you reach it through the people you train, that’s a success.”