The importance of highlighting positive stories that come out of the Thoroughbred industry was the theme of the night during the Darley Flying Start Conference on Thursday evening in Lexington.
— Amanda Duckworth / Thoroughbred Daily News


Industry leaders, including many graduates of Darley Flying Start, gathered at Keeneland to listen to presentations from the 12 members of the 2017 class. The event, which was titled “Good News Gold,” served as the finale of the Kentucky leg of the two-year course.

“I think it is very important to mention that the trainees were instrumental in choosing that title,” said the evening’s emcee, Gary King, a 2010 Flying Start graduate who is currently the V.P. of International Operations at the Thoroughbred Daily News. “They really wanted to share some of the stories that have personally resonated with them over the years, and hopefully we can use some of those stories to inspire improvement in the Thoroughbred industry going forward.”

After a drinks reception, the crowd sat down to listen to a total of 24 presentations. Each trainee shared two stories that they had been inspired by, and they were given 60 seconds per story to show the value of the information. The audience then voted on its favorite stories, narrowing the field down to six. Those six stories were elaborated upon by the original presenter, who partnered with another trainee to explain why each of those stories could be used to positively influence both the industry and the general public.

Subjects ranged from headline stories like the extended careers of champions California Chrome and Beholder to less well-known but equally powerful topics like a horse named Tough Sunday who overcame incredible odds to be a racehorse.

In the end, the six finalists were: Everyone Deserves a Second Chance (Yuemeng Hu, China), U.S. Horses on the International Stage (Hannah Marks, Ireland), Mystery Man Schafer Makes Bold Entrance (Conrad Bandoroff, USA), A Horse to Get Behind (Brittney Dixon, USA), Hardest Working People You Don’t Know (Alayna Cullen, Ireland) and Thoroughbred Stock Exchange: Broadening the Base (Michael Smith, USA).

The winner was selected by informal vote, and although the crowd good-naturedly laughed at the suggestion they were biased toward choosing the Hardest Working People You Don’t Know, which was about Godolphin’s Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, in the end, Michael Smith’s presentation on the Thoroughbred Stock Exchange was deemed the overall winner.

“Recently I bought a share in a racehorse for $12,” explained Smith. “Needless to say he wasn’t a stakes contender, but I still got a thrill out of watching my horse, Fort Cady, try and get across the finish line first. He came second his first time out for me and recently won a race before getting claimed, which brought the total earnings from my share to $9.40. I was sad to see him go, but I cannot wait to get involved with another horse."

“The company that facilitated my ownership experience was Thoroughbred Stock Exchange, and they are really pioneering what racehorse ownership looks like and can be. They split horses into 1,000 shares, making ownership accessible and affordable for everyday people. What micro-syndication like this does is trade a small financial investment for a large emotional one, which helps to broaden the base of owners, bettors, and fans that our sport needs to propel itself into the future.”

The end of the Kentucky portion of Darley Flying Start also marks the end of the first year of the course for the trainees. The other six members of the 2017 class are Jackson Buchanon (USA), Mary Ellet (USA), Lauren De Arias Huep (Spain), William Freedman (Australia), Patricia Bowman (USA), and Hang Yi He (Singapore). After a short summer break, the group next heads to Australia.

Before dinner was served, the trainees made a point to thank their USA coordinator, Tammy Masterson, which resulted in a standing ovation for Masterson, who has been with the programme since its inception.

This summer also marks a change for the programme overall, as this conference was the last event under the Darley Flying Start banner. Going forward it will be known as Godolphin Flying Start.

“The rebranding is our outward face,” said Clodagh Kavanagh, the course manager. “Sheikh Mohammed’s operations worldwide are undergoing a rebranding as Godolphin, and we are part of that, but pretty much underneath that nothing changes. The pillars of it–the fact that it is a scholarship, two years, five countries, and 12 trainees–they were the right decisions back at the very beginning and that remains the same. We are just keeping current and relevant as we move along. We are always evolving.”

Founded in 2003, the international management and leadership training programme is now in its 13th year and has 142 graduates. It also has an impressive 90% retention rate of graduates who stay in the industry.

“It is one of Sheikh Mohammed’s great legacies, there is no doubt about it,” said Joe Osborne, the managing director of Darley’s Kildangan Stud in Ireland. “You can see the success of the graduates and the programme itself. It is a pleasure and a great source of pride to all of us who are involved with it. When we look back, we will say that Sheikh Mohammed did a lot of great things, but I like to think Flying Start is probably going to be one of his greatest legacies.”

Photo: Darley Flying Start