In today’s Instalment of 2022 Rapid Round, we feature a quick-fire round with Lauren Dunning the executive bloodstock assistant at Belmont Bloodstock (FBAA).
TDN AusNZ: What is your first memory related to horses?
Lauren Dunning: When I was very young and we had gone to a big extended family lunch on my great-uncle’s farm and my cousins and I had climbed the gates to pat his standardbred trotters. We then got yelled at for all of us kids putting too much weight on the gate hinges!
TDN AusNZ: What was your first job in the thoroughbred industry?
LD: My first job was during my ‘gap year’ between high school and university working for Siobhan and Michael Campbell at Bellbridge Park in the Southwest of WA. I’d never touched a racehorse in my life and was recommended the job through a family friend. I worked with Siobhan doing the broodmares, foals and yearlings and helped Michael on the weekends with the racehorses. It was during this time Michael had Exhilarating set for the Perth Cup and in watching the gallops and helping at the track, it got me hooked on racing!
TDN AusNZ: What pathways led you to become the executive bloodstock assistant at Belmont Bloodstock Agency?
LD: After my gap year I moved to Perth to study at university and it was during this time I worked for Paula Wagg and then Danny Morton at Ascot between classes (somehow, I managed to fit in track work, stable work and raceday strapping whilst studying full time?!). I then heard about the Darley Flying Start program (now the Godolphin Flying Start) so decided I would pursue the dream. Having no family in the racing industry I figured I would be a long shot, so decided to spend an extra year at university studying primary school education on top of my mass communication degree in case I needed a backup plan career wise!
It was during this time I also completed a certificate in equine sports massage and started my own business whilst still working at the track. Upon graduating university, I headed to New Zealand to complete a yearling prep at Waikato Stud before getting onto the course. After the Darley Flying Start I moved to Melbourne where I worked as a racing manager, then in business development for OTI before starting with Belmont Bloodstock and have been in this role almost three years.
TDN AusNZ: What part of your job would people not know you do?
LD: Other than looking after Damon’s pride and joy (office dog/Belmont Bloodstock mascot) Prince Dexter – I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work for Damon in terms of catalogue and pedigree research prior to each sale. I also work on several research projects looking into the statistics of breeding, stakes horses, etc.
TDN AusNZ: Are you a racehorse owner now or in the past?
LD: I am a micro-share owner with MyRacehorse – so have had the thrill of owning a very, very small share in quite a few horses, including Mac ‘N’ Cheese and the up-and-coming The Milkybar Kid with Gai Waterhouse. It’s a great way to get involved with a variety of stables around the country. I have also owned a number of off-the-track racehorses who I competed in equestrian pursuits.
TDN AusNZ: What is your most memorable purchase working at Belmont Bloodstock Agency?
LD: Our most memorable purchase would definitely have to be Xtravagant Star who won the Inglis Millennium. We all absolutely loved her, she just walked like a panther and oozed presence. We hadn’t expected her to run as an early 2-year-old but she just kept stepping up to the work and is an utmost professional. We hope to see her hit her straps this season as a 3-year-old!
TDN AusNZ: What was the most impressive racing performance of the season to date for you?
LD: Verry Elleegant in the Melbourne Cup – I just didn’t even factor her into the race, and how could you not have?! She is a superstar in a league of her own. I have been following her move to France with great interest as she is now in training with fellow Darley Flying Start Alumni Francis-Henri Graffard.
TDN AusNZ: When inspecting yearlings with Damon, what are your top three must-haves?
LD: I love a horse that uses its whole body when it moves, the power needs to come from the engine in the back so a good booty is also a must for me in a sprinter. I also like to take into account their mental maturity and temperament. Having ridden and worked with horses for over 20 years now, it’s just one of those things you can’t explain – the horse needs to give you that feeling of presence, professionalism and intelligence.
TDN AusNZ: What advice would you give to an aspiring person wanting to work in the industry?
LD: I can highly recommend trying your hand at a variety of sectors in racing and breeding, as there’s so much more to the thoroughbred industry than being a stable hand, track rider or stud hand. Getting involved by way of work experience or finding a mentor who can help guide you toward your specific interest is a great way to find what you’re passionate about.
TDN AusNZ: What positive change would you like to see in the industry in 2022?
LD: As everyone is well aware, there is a significant staffing issue nationwide in both the breeding and racing sectors. I’d love to see the racetrack hours change to encourage more people into the game. Quality riders, handlers and hard-working staff members are leaving the industry in droves as they have realised they can earn more elsewhere with a far better work-life balance. ‘Loving horses’ can only keep you in a role for so long, the salaries and working hours need to reflect the level of skill, time and effort each employee brings to a business.
I’d love to see each racing jurisdiction commit to bringing in such changes, so the next generation of passionate horse people can continue to enjoy our wonderful industry.
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