The Godolphin Australian Stud and Stable Staff Awards will be held early next month and South Australian export Michael Shepherdson is in the running to claim the Dedication to Racing Award.
The award is presented to an individual staff member who has shown talent for horsemanship in the racing field, consistency and reliability in racing role. This award would be great recognition of a career that has spanned over 22 years, the majority in SA.
Shepherdson was born into the racing caper with his father a successful jumps jockey riding around Adelaide. On the weekends and in his school holidays, he would help out different trainers learning from some of the best in the state. After completing high school, he started working full time with Mark Minervini, riding trackwork, attending the races and looking after his horses.
After working with Minervini for seven years, Shepherdson got the opportunity of a life time to head over to England for a year, working at the iconic Newmarket Racecourse.
“This was truly an amazing experience working at the famous Newmarket training facilities and learning different training techniques, this was something I had always wanted to do. While in Newmarket I was fortunate enough to travel and see some great racecourses and some great race meetings, namely The Guineas (Newmarket), The Derby (Epsom), The King George (Ascot) and the Arc De Triomphe (Longchamp).”
Upon returning to Adelaide, Shepherdson joined the Jon O'Connor yard where he stayed for four years. Looking to spread his wings and move into a bigger stable, he jumped at the opportunity to apply for the Foreman position at McEvoy Mitchell Racing based in Angaston.
“I liked the fact Tony was renowned as a two-year-old trainer and I wanted to learn firsthand how he built and developed his young horses. I was lucky enough the get the position as Tony's Foreman looking after a large sized stable. After holding this position for a year I transitioned to a travelling role where I would take the horses interstate and represent the stable.”
A couple of years down the track and McEvoy decided it was time to setup a satellite stable at Flemington. There was only one man that McEvoy trusted with his horses and that was Shepherdson, who he sent over to oversee his Melbourne operation.
“We started small and with continual success we have grown from a stable of four to now 70. Along the way we have nurtured some top line horses who have won at the highest level including Hey Doc, Don't Doubt Mamma, Oohood, Despatch, Manuel, Sunlight and numerous other Stakes winners.”
Working for one of the bigger stables definitely has its perks but with that also comes a lot of hard work and long hours.
“I arrive at the stables at 3am then compile the work list before the staff arrive at 4am. Throughout the morning we'll feed, exercise wash and check the horses. While the horses are exercising I’ll clock their track work and record my thoughts on how the horses are training for Tony. Throughout the morning I’ll be coordinating and communicating with all the 25 staff we have at Flemington. Once track work is completed, I check in with Tony and update him how the morning has progressed as well as checking legs, trotting horses up, liaising with vets, farriers, feed merchants, staff and owners.”
Despite all the early starts, temperamental horses and long days, Shepherdson wouldn’t change it for the world.
“The main thing I love about working in racing is undoubtedly the involvement with the horse. Watching them grow and develop through a preparation and monitoring how they handle certain pressures while constantly monitoring their physical and mental wellbeing.”
“I also really enjoy watching people who don't have much experience but have a passion for the horse and who want to learn how to handle or ride horses. There is a shortage in Australia of skilled staff so I take great pleasure in giving someone an opportunity who wants to learn.”
Getting that initial start in an industry can be tough but Shepherdson is proud of McEvoy Mitchell’s involvement with Thoroughbred Industry Careers who offer a 12 month program which gives the students hands on experience of what it’s like to work in a racing stable.
“Racing is a great, rewarding industry which can take you all over the world. In this industry you’re always meeting new people and if you have love and empathy for a horse it can be extremely rewarding.”
Just to be nominated for this award is a thrill for Shepherdson and if he was lucky enough to take it out on the night, it would mean the world for years of dedication to the industry.
“If I was lucky enough to win the award it would be an outstanding achievement and something I would cherish forever. It's not something I have just worked 12 months for. It would be a huge reward for devotion and hard work over a 22 year period working in the industry. To be nominated, let alone to be a finalist is something myself and my family are very proud of.”
The winner of the Dedication to Racing Award will be announced at the 2019 Australian Stud and Stable Staff Awards at Royal Randwick on Friday 6 September. Michael is up against Steve Adams from the Anthony Freedman Racing Stable for the award.