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Express success from a familiar source - Bren O'Brien TDN AusNZ

Saturday's G2 Edward Manifold S. winner Elusive Express (NZ) (Jakkalberry {Ire}) is the latest of a string of New Zealand-bred fillies and mares sourced by Andrew Williams Bloodstock. TDN AusNZ caught up with Williams to talk about the process of identifying and securing future stars from across the Tasman.

The role of a bloodstock agent is constantly evolving, but the circumstances of the past couple of years with the COVID-19 pandemic, a booming market through the ring and the rise of online sales, has meant the likes of Andrew Williams have had to adapt quicker than ever.

While yearling sales are the overwhelming driver of the Australasian bloodstock market in terms of overall spend, the traditional 'agent' business model of identifying yearlings for clients is not as much a core part of Williams' business as it once might have been.

The strength of that market, and the calibre of buyer willing to invest in it, has made it much harder for an agent to shop as well as they once might have.

"The yearling market is becoming so polarised now. You can't buy the horses that you want. You are walking in with a knife to a gun fight," Williams told TDN AusNZ.

"You have got all these blokes with big money, it feels like you are window shopping at a good shop on High Street, when you can't afford to buy anything in those stores."

That doesn't mean that Williams wasn't flat out through the yearling sales earlier this year. His name featured on 42 lots across the major sales in Australia, either in his own right, or in partnership and those purchases totalled over $10 million.

But in terms of what gives him most enjoyment in his job, it has been identifying and purchasing horses out of trials and races in New Zealand which has evolved as a key aspect of his business.

"I really enjoy this New Zealand market so much. It’s the favourite part of my job, between that and buying broodmares," he said.

"When you like something so much, you put so much time and effort and you watch races very closely, it gives you a lot of satisfaction to have that success.

"That's why we have enjoyed this so much because you have got a chance to buy something you want to buy and you have the confidence to put it to a client and say let's go."

An enviable record

Success breeds success as they say and Williams is building an enviable record when it comes to sourcing New Zealand-bred fillies of potential in the formative stages of their careers.

His most famous success in that regard has been the champion mare Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed {NZ}), now a winner of nine Group 1 races. There is also dual Group 2 winner Subpoenaed (NZ) (Rip Van Winkle {Ire}) and Group 3 winner Matchmaker (NZ) (Makfi {GB}).

Now added to the list is Elusive Express, who Williams team of analysts identified out of a New Zealand trial earlier this year and in the space of four starts has gone from a Cranbourne maiden win to Saturday's victory in the G2 Edward Manifold S. for trainers Anthony and Sam Freedman.

"It is the same exact process with all of them," Williams said. "I've got my team that I use, and we put a lot of time and resources into doing every single trial and race in New Zealand and have built up a phenomenal database of information.

"When we can identify one, at a particular trial early on, or even through a race, we can pin our ears back and have a crack at that particular horse.

"It’s not that different to the other girls we have identified, or the ones for Hong Kong. She was one that we got a few stages earlier in her development than horses like Verry Elleegant or Subpoenaed or Matchmaker."

In the case of Elusive Express, who was bred by Luigi Muollo's Explosive Breeding, she had trialled well for Te Awamatu trainer Clinton Isdale at Rotorua back in April and got onto the radar of Williams' team.

As a half-sister to Australian Listed winner Condo's Express (Rubick), out of the Elusive Quality (USA) mare, Braided, she wasn’t without recommendation on pedigree, while her late sire, Jakkalberry (Ire), had come on the radar with the multiple Derby-winning heroics of another Explosive Breeding product, Explosive Jack (NZ).

Good partners make good business

Identifying these horses is just the start of the journey for Williams, with the crucial part getting someone to back in the judgment of he and his team and put the money on the table.

"You can put these horses up to people, but they have to believe in your product also. Someone like Brad Taylor, who is a gifted salesman and is a massive asset for the Freedman organisation, I went to him with this product and said, 'this is her track record, this is one we’ve identified'," he said.

"I needed Brad to say yes in order to get it done. It's not just me, it’s the ability to lean on someone like Brad, who has the confidence to sell one of these horses. Sometimes the easiest thing is identifying them and the hardest thing is selling them."

It quite a different science to selecting yearlings and on most occasions, the horses which get on the radar of Williams and his team are not for sale. Often, if they are, there's a reason behind it.

"The horses we’ve identified on the clock or visually, they need to be able to be bought. Everyone looks at a horse like Verry Elleegant and says, 'how do you buy a Zed looking like that?', well she did stunning things on the clock," he said.

"They might ask, 'how did you buy a horse with an action like Subpoenaed', well she did stunning things on the clock at Te Rapa at her first start and was very professional.

"There are other times when they are by stallions which might not be the most marketable."

While the pandemic has meant that New Zealand-born Williams may not have been able to get back home to inspect these prospective purchases, he has utilised a trusted network of agents and friends to do his inspections and ensure these horses have the physical capacity to fulfil their potential.

The importance of trust

It's a system which is clearly working, given the evolving list of star graduates, but it is not something that Williams is looking to take to a much broader range of clients.

"Nobody has picked up the phone and has said, specifically, can I have an order? But I prefer to deal with my own core group of people and put these people in to these horses," he said.

"In this day and age, with online sales and other things, we need to work out what's our worth as agents and it’s the loyalty to the clients that support us.

"It's such a changing world for bloodstock agents now, you have to be careful and look after the people that are good to you."

Williams' experience with smart filly Yearning (Snitzel), who was runner-up to Elusive Express on Saturday, is a key example of the lessons the bloodstock agent has learned in that regard.

"That's a story in itself. She's a filly that I bought half as a yearling and unfortunately I had a client renege on me, 59 days into 60 days terms. I literally spent two weeks without sleep, offering her to everyone," he said.

"At one point, I thought I’d have the 50 per cent myself, but I ended up putting my accountant into her and some other clients. At one stage my mum thought she was going into her."

The Team Hawkes-trained Yearning, who is out of G1 Australian Oaks winner Rising Romance (NZ) (Ekraar {USA}) and is co-owned with her breeders Arrowfield, now has a stakes-placing to go with her formidable pedigree and will likely aim towards the G1 Thousand Guineas on October 13.

Elusive Express, meanwhile, is headed towards the G3 Ethereal S. on October 16 and then will likely target the G1 VRC Oaks next month, for which she is third favourite.

Elusive Express after winning the G2 Edward Manifold S.

"If we could win an Oaks, it would be like a dream for me," Williams said. "They are the type of races you are thinking about when you find these horses."


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