RM Williams Outback Magazine: Racing’s Silverdale Lining

An academy in thoroughbred breeding and racing is looking for regional people with a love of horses.

This article was written by Mandy McKeesick for RM Williams Outback Magazine.

Harrison Edwards is a man with a plan. After growing up in inner Sydney in a family with strong connections to thoroughbred racing, the 21-year-old completed an internship with the Silverdale Academy to further his aspirations of a career in racing administration. “I’ve been going to the races regularly since I was about 8 years old and, although I was not hands-on with the horses, I have always loved the thoroughbred as an animal,” he says. “Through Silverdale, I attended yearling sales and race trials, toured stables with leading trainers, learnt about horse-handling and networked with equine professionals. It opened my eyes to all the opportunities available in racing.”

The Silverdale Academy is now extending its reach to regional Australia to introduce thoroughbred breeding and racing to a new audience. “I think there may be young women and men out there on stations, etc, who have great horse skills and don’t understand how valuable those skills are,” Silverdale founder Steve Grant says. “We can get them into a career that could be much wider than they ever thought. The thoroughbred industry is one of the biggest employers in Australia.”

Steve is the owner of Silverdale Farm, a 105ha broodmare property at Avoca in the NSW Southern Highlands, which is quickly gaining a reputation for excellence. At the 2022 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, Silverdale horses achieved the highest average price. The same year a Silverdale-bred filly named Fireburn won the prestigious Golden Slipper.

But the thoroughbred sector is understaffed and, after attending a training and retention day at Randwick Racecourse, Steve decided to take matters into his own hands. “Over the course of the day I became frustrated with barriers to encouraging new employees. I went back to Silverdale and told our manager we were going into the training business – training people.” The Silverdale Academy was launched in 2021.

Two hundred young people in the Sydney and Illawarra regions have now been introduced to Silverdale through its RIEP (Regional Industry Education Partnerships) sponsored bus tours to local schools.
Others have found alternate pathways to Silverdale’s door. “I had recently begun a job with ATC [Australian Turf Club] and began noticing prominent trainers sharing posts from the Silverdale Academy on social media,” Harrison says. “I joined the February 2023 cohort for 5 weeks of online study and one week of practical experience at Warwick Farm racecourse.

This 6-week internship, with full NSW government funding for those over 15 years old who have left school, is the obvious pathway for rural people. “The internship covers all aspects of the thoroughbred business from stewards, jockeys and trainers to event managers and media, from basic horse handling to welfare, health and nutrition,” Steve says. “The online component is self-paced through TAFE and we are working on travel and accommodation support for regional people to attend the week’s practical at either Warwick Farm Racecourse or Silverdale Farm. If someone is interested in our internship, we will do our best to make sure that they can get here.

For 17-year-old Harry Thelan, Silverdale provided an alternative to senior years at high school and was the entry point for a full-time position with Mitch Beer Racing at Kembla Grange. “I had very little experience with horses when I was told about Silverdale at school, but as I’d recently started riding, I thought I would give it a go,” he says. “I learnt all the basics about horses and met racing experts including Gai Waterhouse. Through the program I connected with Mitch Beer Racing. They started me on a week’s work experience to see if I could handle the work and early mornings and I loved it.” Harry’s prior plans to continue to year 11 at school in 2024 were shelved when he was offered the permanent position. He now sees a future as a thoroughbred trainer.

“We also accept mature-aged people who may be looking to re-enter the workforce or who are looking for a change of career,” Steve says.’ “We had one girl who was against all racing. After one week
with us she said her whole perception had changed as she saw the opportunities aligned with thoroughbreds.

With the development of a leadership program tailored to breeding and racing in conjunction with the intern programs, Silverdale Academy is hoping those from rural Australia will take the opportunity. “You can come from a real horsey background, or not know a lot and the Silverdale program will grow your understanding and give you a network of industry professionals. It’s one
of the best things I’ve done for my career, Harrison says.

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