The name Freedman in Australia, Melbourne in particular, is like Stoute and Gosden in the UK. Five time Melbourne Cup winning trainer, Lee, and his brother Anthony, train a total of 110 horses at their two training establishments at Flemington and Pinecliff. Lee famously trained the record three time Melbourne Cup winning mare Makybe Diva to her last two victories in 2004 and 2005, as well as Royal Ascot sprint winner Miss Andretti in 2007.
What might be unknown to many racing experts is that Anthony’s son, Sam, has been working in Newmarket since April. Sam, currently learning his trade at Kremlin House stables under the guidance of Roger Varian, met up with me for a coffee in the Tack Room a few weeks ago. Before giving him a quick tour of the Palace House development I found out his own racing story and his thoughts about the home of racing.
Sam’s initial involvement in racing came from working during the school holidays at the family stables. Sam added, "I only really took it seriously when I left school and went to university where I combined work with my education”. After a year at RMIT University studying Professional Communication, Sam decided to defer for a year and take up a chance to play cricket in the UK, for March in Cambridgeshire.
“Initially my visit was purely because of cricket,” said Sam. However, on reflection he thought it was also a good opportunity to combine both sporting interests during his stay, though under no pressure from his parents. “It was more of my own thing to gather the experience of working in the UK,” Sam added.
Arriving on 1 April, the young Aussie started work for the Godolphin operation in pre training as a general stable hand. After a month with them he was offered a pupil assistant's role with Roger Varian. “It was such a good opportunity to go to Roger’s. Plus at that time pre training was very quiet and there was no racing”.
“Everything is a lot more patient here, slower mornings, it's sort of in and out in Australia; you start at 4am and finish 9.30/10 am. Whereas here you start at 6am and finish at midday. Most trainers in Melbourne are based on the track and the unions want to start their work at 9.30am, that and the heat are the two main reasons. Here you don’t have the same time pressure because you have the gallops. There is nothing like Newmarket for gallops,” remarked Sam. In fact Sam said that many of the work riders in Australia have extra jobs.
“I probably go from 5am to midday and then 3.30pm till 6pm as a general day. I work every second weekend.” The latter has allowed him to go to London and meet up with friends. One of those trips included a first trip, in his top hat and tails, to Royal Ascot, where he met up with his parents, who were in Europe on holiday. “No Freedman runners this year in the sprints, but that can change,” said Sam.
For the first couple of months the twenty year old was mainly doing general work in the stables, mucking out and bandaging. “Opportunities then came up with more race meetings to saddle and travel with the horses" said Sam. His first chance came when he looked after King Bolete in the Juddmonte International at York, a race won by stable star Postponed. “From there I have gone racing more often." Chelmsford, Kempton, Newcastle, Windsor, Ascot and Newmarket have all since been added to Sam’s UK racing adventure.
Postponed has made a big impact on Sam, highlighted by an incident two weeks before the five year old’s Coronation Cup victory. “He got me behind the ear, I was just in his box putting a rug on when he reared up and his hoof clipped me. I was fine. It was just a wakeup call. I got lucky. He’s normally a placid horse with a great temperament but like all horses he knows when he has a race and starts to get a bit difficult”.
Originally Sam intended to return home soon after the cricket season ended in September but holding a 2 year visa he decided in mid summer to extend his stay until the end of next season. “I thought I might as well utilise it as much as I could to gain more experience” My Dad has never pushed me to stay in racing but when he has seen I was interested now he was happy to support me”. Sam has a sister and brother but neither of them has taken a great interest in racing.
Comparing the big city Melbourne to the small town of Newmarket, Sam added “Working in racing here is much easier, because it’s a community, being constantly surrounded by people working in the industry. It’s not like Melbourne where you go to work at Flemington, drive out after work, and go home, and all your friends are all out of racing. It’s easier to have a routine here as there are lot of distractions around you in Melbourne”. Probably the biggest difference is “the respect the people of Newmarket have for the horses, letting them cross the road and always being aware of them. You wouldn’t get that sort of respect back home. Plus the respect the staff have for the trainer is much stronger”.
Another comforting feature for Sam is the little embassy, as he put it, of other Aussies currently working in Newmarket. One of those is 25 year old Will Johnson, who is assistant trainer at Roger Varian’s. A fellow Melbournian and known to Sam, he actually had a coffee with Sam just before he came out to the UK, but at the time Sam had no intention of coming over himself.
It was clear chatting to Sam that he has settled well in Newmarket, where he lives close to the National Heritage Centre. “Everyone has been very welcoming, the people are used to overseas employees in Newmarket” he added. Probably his time at boarding school has helped, alongside two previous cricket tours of the UK. “Even the weather hasn’t been too bad. I found the early mornings in April a bit cold, but I haven’t had the worst of it yet”.
Sam believes his horsemanship skills have improved. “I am much more confident working with horses and am also developing a strong work ethic, because it is day in day out. I never really got to do that in Australia mixing my studies with work”.
Despite the disappointing result on the day for the stable, Sam still enthused about his trip to Chantilly for Prix de L ‘Arc de Triomphe which he regards as his personal highlight. “Having a runner from the stable, the whole experience, seeing how they race in France, the quality of the horses all made it an amazing day. Even though I wasn’t working on the day I was still nervous for the stable. After the race was over and we accepted what had happened, I was able to relax a bit more and enjoy the whole atmosphere. Postponed didn’t run as expected but it had been a long season for him. He did win 3 Group 1’s in 2016”.
Sam is looking forward to being part of Roger Varian’s 2017 flat campaign and the prospect of witnessing the progression of this year’s two year old’s is one of the reasons he wanted to stay. He will also have the chance to work at Carlburg stables when the team moves there in February. “Roger has been great to work for. He is very calm and deals with all the pressure well, managing a large string at two yards. He understands all the issues his staff are going through”.
The young Aussie thought he might go somewhere else to work in racing at some point but had no immediate plans. “I’d like to learn more about the office side and learn more about the bloodstock and breeding part of the industry to widen my experience. The spell in Newmarket has certainly pushed me the direction of becoming a trainer”. It was definitely clear that Sam understands the multiple skills required to be a modern day trainer but wants to gather as much knowledge before he decides on that route. However, the spell at Kremlin House has made a big impression on his love for racing and working with horses.
Asked about a horse to look out for next season Sam went for Cape Byron, a two year old, who comfortably won a Newmarket maiden in October on his second outing. “He’s a Sharmadal, colt who will probably get 1m 2f next season”.
After our coffee I was able to show Sam a brief glimpse of the National Heritage Centre which included a quick tour of Palace House and a meeting with Joe Grimwade our RoR Yard and Public Engagement Manager in the Rothschild yard where they exchanged global racing topics. He also met up with the old National Hunt warrior, Our Vic.
Sam is due to return to Australia at the end of the year for a short break before resuming his British racing education with Roger Varian. Back home Sam reported that Freedman racing are enjoying a solid season and have been in great form of late.
Who knows, one day it might be another member of the Freedman family who is training in Melbourne and sending over sprinters to Royal Ascot.
Good luck Sam and thanks for all your help with this interview. And thanks for the 674 runs, including two centuries, and 38 wickets!