Change of pace
Flemington has long been home to the team at McEvoy Mitchell Racing, but they recently took up new premises in Ballarat, deciding to expand into a larger regional complex. The planning and care taken in building and designing the facilities were second-to-none.
Tony McEvoy has been at the top of the racing tree virtually his whole life.
A successful apprentice jockey in his youth in Adelaide until weight got the better of him, McEvoy forged his training career within the Lindsay Park empire, first with Colin Hayes, then with Peter Hayes before setting up on his own.
His association with South Australian racing’s pre-eminent dynasty not only gave him the tools to forge an illustrious career in his own right; it also gave him a perfect hands-on experience of the differences in training in a rural environment compared to the city.
With his business partner Wayne Mitchell and his co-trainer and son Calvin, the McEvoy operation bought back the farm at Lindsay Park, Angaston, and renamed it Kildalton Park, where they have a large number of horses in work.
They also had a large number of boxes in two barns at Flemington as they built themselves up to be one of the leading stables in the country, landing a number of Group 1 races with the likes of Hey Doc and Sunlight in recent years.
But early in 2021, the forward-thinking team changed tack and decided to shift their Victorian operations out of the city and into the rural racing centre of Ballarat, the central Victorian town which is fast becoming a magnet for some of the state’s biggest racing names.
It wasn’t so much a decision to favour the country over the city – although that did form an element of the team’s thinking.
It was about looking to the future, a future in which 26-year-old Calvin will eventually become the driving force, and improving the structure and set-up of not just the way they train horses but the way they run their business.
Calvin, who had been based in Adelaide running the team’s South Australian operations, moved across to Victoria full time a year ago during the COVID-19 lockdown. Racing continued and he took a key role in the Flemington operations; his father spending time in SA.
Calvin also helped supervise the transition from Victorian racing’s traditional headquarters to Ballarat into a purpose-built set up which he, along with Tony and senior staff, played a major role in designing.
They aimed to improve the logistics of stable management and to replicate, to some extent, the set-up at Kildalton Park, where they own the property and have flexibility over training and work times.
The McEvoys went back to first principles and realised that their work pattern at Angaston in SA was the way they wanted to do things going forward. It was certainly something Calvin, who had grown up in the system, was comfortable playing a major role in.
“We modelled it on Angaston, where it was our own private property, and decided to look for a place where we might be able to do something similar.
“In Victoria, we have got these beautiful training establishments all over the place and we decided on Ballarat because we felt it was ideal for us for a number of reasons.
“It is on the ‘Adelaide’ side of Melbourne, it’s seven hours from Angaston for the horses, and it’s the same country environment.
“But probably one of the massive factors in its favour is that the tracks are open until 10.30am.
“It gives us time to take our time with our horses, which we really enjoy doing.”
But before they could move, they had to secure the land and, crucially, design a new stable complex from scratch.
“Ballarat Turf Club was very accommodating. They gave us a blank canvas, effectively, to design what we wanted to do, and that was really exciting and great fun.
“We were able to design a yard that flowed really well, and as we are still in the early stages of being here, I think the horses are running well and we are all learning about the tracks and the conditions.”
The McEvoy team shifted to Ballarat at the start of January 2021 and the first arrivals came mid-month. Now there are 80 horses at the complex.
“It was a good 12 months in the planning. The original time frame was going to be August last year, but COVID came, it all got put back and it was out of everyone’s control. Then it was going to be around the spring carnival, but that wasn’t ideal,” said Calvin.
“But we weren’t panicked and were very relaxed about how it was going to be, as long as the job was done right. We were pretty comfortable not moving during the spring carnival to a new place where we didn’t know how to utilise it.
“It’s really been fantastic. The trainers here are all very accommodating to me, I get on very well with them; I am great mates with the likes of Dave Eustace, Archie Alexander, Matt Cumani. They really helped out early on if I had any questions about how things worked and it has been going very well.”
So how did it all come together? Remarkably easily, says Calvin.
“It was dad and me who mostly designed it along with input from our team. We had all our foremen and senior staff together, we sat down and discussed what we needed and how things needed to be arranged for it to work best, how it was going to be most effective.
“That was the main thing – a yard needs to flow. If it doesn’t come together and flow together it is not optimal.
“We have a capacity for 100 horses at Ballarat, about 71 boxes and 30 yards. The horses live out in the yards which is what we do at Angaston, and we find that horses do thrive living outside a lot.
“We have got two brand new treadmills, a sandroll, indoor ride and the pool is literally out our gate, it is right there.
“It is in a fantastic position for all of that.”
Of course, relocating a business can be difficult if you have to hire a lot of new staff. Fortunately for the McEvoys that wasn’t the case.
“A few of them absolutely jumped at the opportunity and got as excited about it as we were, while on the other hand there were people who had their families and lives and kids in school all in Melbourne and they just couldn't relocate,” Calvin explained.
“We have got some new staff, not only from this Ballarat area, but some who have come from elsewhere. We have had quite a few relocate from Angaston as well. Change can be as good as a holiday sometimes, and it is nice to have kept a lot of the people who have been with us in the past, especially the senior staff.”
Most of the McEvoy team’s senior staff did stay with them, with one major exception.
“Michael Shepherdson, who was our foreman at Flemington for a lot of years, decided that it was time for him to go out on his own doing some pre-training, so he has done that and we have supported him by giving him some business.
“He was an integral part of our operation for many years. He is down there at Geelong and we are supporting him with some pre-trainers and horses at the moment and he is doing a great job.
“In that situation, our change created a little bit of an opportunity for him to decide it was time for him to go to the next stage of his career.”