An Interview with Bloodstock Agent Matt Coleman
Matt Coleman was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in Guildford, Surrey and horseracing was a constant between the two very different places. An uncertainty of direction led Matt into the bloodstock industry – and, of course, his obligatory love of racing. Yet, before this Matt studied a degree in International Management and French at Bath University and during the third year, Matt, 45, lived in Paris, dividing time studying at the business school and working for the accountancy firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers. On being asked if he’s bilingual, Matt candidly replies, ‘I was much better when I lived in Paris but that was twenty-three years ago. I still speak French but as I don’t use it as much, I’m not as fluent as I was’. Straight after university, in 2000, Matt joined the BHA Graduate Scheme and later, secured a place on an early Godolphin Flying Start program.
Being a bloodstock agent is Matt’s ideal and he has a busy life juggling the sales, scouring the catalogues and doing the homework as well as fitting in family time with wife Lucy, daughter Rosie, 9, and son Charlie, 6. They live in Newmarket, Suffolk along with two Jack Russell terriers, six chickens, Lucy’s hunter and Rosie’s pony.
Did you have a horsey childhood? My Dad used to go racing and I’d go with him. I used to ride a bit but other than that, I was not involved with horses.
Where did your interest in horseracing come from? It came totally from Dad – he worked in the oil industry and his weekend hobby was going racing. When I wasn’t playing sports for school on a Saturday, I’d go racing with Dad.
My Dad tells me that I first went racing when I was a one-year-old in Melbourne. I’d always go racing with him as a kid and when I was five, we left Australia and we continued to go racing in the UK. In fact, Dad still goes racing all the time and we own a few broodmares together now.
Hiding at the back: Matt during his Goldophin Flying Start program
What have been your roles in racing? My first job was working at the British Horseracing Board as it was then, the British Horseracing Association as it is now, for four years in London. After heading down the direction of racing administration that I didn’t want to go in – I wanted to get into the racing side of the industry, I secured a place on the second ever Godolphin Flying Start program.
How did get into bloodstock? During the Godolphin Flying Start, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. John Ferguson, who was in charge of Darley at that point, called me up when I was in Dubai and he said he thought I’d make a good bloodstock agent.
After I finished the course, he got me a job working for Anthony Stroud. I did a sales season with Anthony and I’m still there over seventeen years later.
What is the first horse you bought? A horse called Pallodio, who turned out to be very good through more luck than judgement. He was one of Anthony’s orders and he sent me to a breeze up sale in France on my own to buy a horse for an owner. Pallodio ended up winning a Group 3. He then got sold for a lot of money to Shadwell and went onto win several other stakes races and was third in a Group 1.
Which horse do you wish you had bought? I’ve accumulated a few stories along the way. Jumps-wise, I was underbidder on Monkfish who turned out to be a very good horse for Willie Mullins.
I actually bought a very good mare called Magic Of Light, who finished second in a Grand National to Tiger Roll and won a number of graded races. After I’d bought her, she was wind sucking so the owners sent her back. She is definitely one that got away because she went on to do great things.
On the Flat, the one that sticks in my head is Lady Bowthorpe who was a Nathanial filly that I underbid, which was frustrating because she wasn’t that expensive and won a Group 1.
So far, which are the best horses you’ve bought? On the Flat, Sands of Mali won the Group 2 Gimcrack at York as a two-year-old, was second – should’ve won – the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and won the Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes. He has his first yearlings this year as a stallion. I had another Group 1 winner on the Flat called Robin of Navan, who I bought for small money. I bought Prince Of Lir, who won at Royal Ascot as a two-year-old and was recently sold to stand at stud in India. Previously to that while at stud in Ireland, he sired Live In The Dream who won this year’s Group 1 Nunthorpe at York.
Over jumps, Soaring Glory won a Betfair Hurdle for Jonjo O’Neill. Brick Red won some good races for Venitia Williams, Valdez was good for Alan King and the ever-popular Lil Rockerfeller was amazing for Neil King.
What is your favourite sale? The answer to that is any sale that I can buy one that turns out to be any good! I’m very much a believer that a good horse can come from anywhere, so I approach each sale with an open mind. But my favourite location of a sale is in Baden Baden in Germany or Deauville in France – they’re definitely the best locations and the most fun places to go. The food and wine are much better in France and Germany than it is in Ireland or Doncaster!
What has been the best bargain? When Dad retired from his job in the oil industry, he said that he wanted to have a broodmare and I didn’t have much money so I bought us a broodmare, Three Decades, for £5000, whose first foal we ended up keeping, called Melbourne Memories, won a Listed race as a two-year-old, was third in a Fred Darling and ran well in the French 1000 Guineas. Due to her form, subsequent yearlings out of her and out of her mother have made a lot of money.
Do you ever go racing? I often go to watch horses I’d bought running, especially when it’s important to keep in touch with many of my clients. I can only go racing when time allows with family commitments and a very busy sales schedule. As I buy Flat and National Hunt horses, I have a lot of sales to go to.
Favourite racecourse: Flemington in Australia and Santa Anita in the USA.
Do you have a lesser-known purchase that you have felt proud of? With any horse that didn’t cost much money, but goes out and does well, gives me a lot of pleasure. I think it’s much more of a challenge to buy a good horse on a small budget and I do get more of a kick out of that than buying an expensive horse because buying horse with a limited budget is harder and sets me more of a puzzle at the sale to try and find one. Also, buying one horse also means one chance.
When I was first getting going as an agent, the previously mentioned Robin Of Navan was a good buy. Harry Dunlop, who didn’t train that that many, put a syndicate together of four guys who paid £10,000 each. With that £40 000, we bought Robin Of Navan, who won a Listed, a Group 1 and took the owners all round the world. He was my first big winner – to see what he achieved in comparison to what he cost was pretty cool.
Do you initially look at pedigree or form? It depends on what horse I’m buying. If I’m buying a yearling, I would go more on pedigree and what the horse looks like. If I’m going for a form horse, then form is important but then I factor in conformation, pedigree and budget. If I’m buying an Irish point-to-pointer, I still factor in pedigree, appearance and how the horse ran has a lot of relevance. When I’m buying a foal, I think about how the mother ran, its family and what the foal looks like is very important.
In my eyes, I’d adjust all of those factors depending on all of those factors, depending on what I’m buying. I just focus on one or more depending on what I’m buying.
Photo Credit: The Racing Post
Are there any confirmation faults you dislike? Again, it depends on what horse you’re buying for what job. If you’re buying a foal or yearling to resell you obviously need to be stricter on confirmation. If you’re buying a racehorse, you can be more forgiving because you’re not trying to resell it to a market that’ll be judgemental about its confirmation.
There are differences with Flat and jumps’ horses too. Most jumps’ trainers hate a horse who’s back at the knee whereas that wouldn’t bother lots of Flat trainers.
Personally, I don’t like upright jumps’ horses but conversely, I don’t like Flat horses to have very slack pasterns because they won’t cope with running on fast ground. Whereas jumps horses with slack pasterns will be fine on the softer ground.
With broodmares, I’d be fussy again as quite often, if a broodmare has confirmation faults, she’ll give that to her foals.
Favourite sire for the Flat and National Hunt: I don’t have favourite sires – I tend to buy more by the mother’s record more than by the sire’s. Obviously, the top sires are very good but you have to spend a lot of money to buy their best stock so I tend to shop by the female pedigree and try to compromise on the stallion to achieve some value. On the jumps, we can all go out and buy the one by Walk In The Park or Blue Bresil and on the Flat, a Frankle and Dubawi but most of the time, I don’t have the budget to buy those horses so my compromise is to find a mare that’s produced good horses and by a slightly less fashionable stallion then I have more chance of buying it.
There’s a French stallion called American Post and I’ve only bought two horses by him: Robin Of Navan and Pride of America, who won the John Smith’s Cup at York in July and has been a good horse. American Post has been lucky for me but is an obscure stallion.
What do you love about working in bloodstock? I’m just a racing fan so it’s my hobby as well as my job – I’m just happy to be a part of horseracing. I fell into this job but I’m so happy to be able to use my knowledge of form and breeding. I also deal with lots of trainers and good owners, a lot of friends and I work alongside good people.
What is your least favourite aspect about working in bloodstock? Probably the insane sales schedule. I like the sales but from mid-September until Christmas, it’s back-to-back sales every week across Europe. It’s an intense three months, I don’t dislike it but it becomes tiring.
Favourite meal: Mexican or sushi.
Favourite drink: Coffee, water, beer or red wine.
Favourite holiday destination: South Africa including a safari.
Favourite music: I like a very eclectic mix – on my Spotify account, I have everything from melodic music to hard rock. I do like Gerry Cinnamon, a Scottish singer who’s very good.
Favourite film: Snatch – I love Guy Richie movies.
Other hobbies: I’m an avid cricket follower; I went to the Ashes and often go to One Day Internationals. When I’m not working, I sped time with my family, chasing Rosie round on her pony and Charlie round on his bike.