From modest aspirations a couple of years ago Kim Doak has hit pay dirt as an owner, led by star three-year-old Ripcord who has captured national and international interest after his Placid Ark triumph. That profile is set to soar again if he happens to take out Saturday’s $1.5 million Damien Oliver Gold Rush at Ascot.
Julio Santarelli from The Races WA caught up with Doak and touched on his introduction to racing, the family member driving his ambitions and the personal and business relationship he’s developed with young trainer, Luke Fernie.
JS: How are you feeling ahead of the $1.5 million Damien Oliver Gold Rush with your very exciting three-year-old, Ripcord.
KD: We are thrilled. So happy for Luke who has put so much work in and so happy for the horse. If he didn’t win another race or run another race we’d be thrilled for what he has done for us, but this last month has just been a purple patch of things just going right. To be part of it feels like reward for effort.
JS: How did your partnership with Luke come about?
KD: I made a decision three or four years ago to do something with the race horses in a meaningful way. I did my own research to see who was out there as a trainer and who might be a good fit for me and in that process I decided I wanted to go with a younger trainer. No disrespect to the other guys, but I thought they had strong clientele and their operations were up and going. Luke struck me as a being a multi-generational trainer, a country kid and those sort of dynamics connect well with me.
JS: Easy in hindsight, but with the success you have formed so early it appears a great partnership.
KD: When I met Luke I didn’t tell him what I wanted to do or what I was thinking. I bought a very small share in a horse to see how he treated me and other people and in that process got to know him a little bit. We then went to the local yearling sale and bought a couple of horses, but even then I don’t think he really realised quite what I had in mind. After that we sat down and I said we need to get a whole lot more horses and that triggered us travelling to the east coast and the sales. We sort of have gone on from there. Technically there is no formal partnership, but in my mind it’s a partnership with Luke and everything we do we do together.
JS: Luke comes across as an easy going young man, but behind that I think lies someone who is super competitive and hungry for success. Would that be a fair assessment from your perspective?
KD: I do. I was looking for the competitive spirit and when I looked at his record he had done well with horses that perhaps other people wouldn’t have thought a lot of. He had done well with not much and I thought maybe we could do better. I remember asking him once how we get Saturday horses and he said it’s really hard which way you go, but the best chance you’ve got is to buy babies and be patient. If you are prepared to do that that’s probably your best chance. He’s a chilled out character in most ways, but underneath that it matters a lot to him and he has a point to prove. He’s super competitive.
JS: He is young in age, but with his family background he has a wealth of knowledge if not experience and a great eye for horseflesh.
KD: On the east coast some of those sales have 6, 7, 800 horses and we literally walked around and looked at everyone multiple times. It was a thorough process relatively and I also think some people didn’t necessarily take him seriously. As you know he doesn’t dress the best or doesn’t have Simon’s (Miller) media and promotion skills and they were a little dismissive and stuff like that, but to me he’s chosen some great horses. Ripcord is getting a little press at the moment and is in peoples mind and maybe after Saturday he’ll be our most successful horse, but I’m pretty sure he’s not our best horse, there are really nice horses coming through and in everyone of them Luke’s had a big hand in identifying them. I’ve never doubted him and I’m really pleased he’s getting the recognition and respect.
JS: It’s pretty exciting to know you have promising talent aside of Ripcord.
KD: There’s an older one, a mare called Wild Belle. She’s had health issues and injury issues and I don’t think we’ve really been able to get her right. She’s going to have a campaign soon, whether this one or the one after and it’s all going to click. She’s a seriously, seriously fast horse when she’s feeling healthy. There are some young ones coming through in the two-year-old ranks that haven’t got to the races just yet. I’d like to think in the New Year they can show some of their stuff. Some three-year-olds we haven’t raced yet and are waiting for them to mature. To be honest we are following the Bob Peters model of not putting them out too early. In our mind we’re buying sprinters, two-year-olds, milers and staying horses to try and get a depth of talent.
JS: Why did you want to become so heavily involved in racing, Kim. It’s a big investment.
KD: As a family and with a bunch of mates a while ago we were in the trotting game. We had a pretty good go at that. That ran its course and I didn’t do anything for 10 years, just concentrated on my day job. My dad is not getting any younger and it’s one thing we have in common. I told him I was going to do it again, but this time in the gallops and see how we go. It’s something that gives me and him something to connect with. He’s a pretty private guy, but loves it too and gets a kick out of all of what we are trying to do. That was the emotional drive for me. My partner Maria has jumped right into it as well and so it’s something we get to do together. She’s really into it and probably a bigger fanatic than I am.
JS: Ripcord has been the subject of huge interest nationally and internationally. The money being rumoured is off the charts. Are the offers tempting and hard to resist?
KD: Definitely no sale. Luke was doing his job and telling us what was going on, but I said don’t bother mate, politely decline. It’s very humbling and grateful to get those sorts of opportunities and I don’t take it for granted by any means.
JS: But you are pretty firm in your mind he is not for sale.
KD: When I started this I wrote a little note to myself that I keep in my wallet. I use it to remind me what it is most that we are trying to do and I want to win group races with Luke. If I sell does it make it easier or harder for Luke to win those races. The money will always help, but it’s not life and death and not food on the table money so we can be patient.
JS: You have sold horses in the past and that left a sour taste?
KD: We sold one to Hong Kong a couple of years ago and that was the first one I ever sold. We got a fair price and everything was done well and I’m sure the horse is well looked after, but the way it made me feel afterwards I didn’t anticipate and I didn’t feel good about it. I’ve tried to live life where you don’t always do things because of how much money you get. I learnt that it didn’t make me feel good after he’d gone and it made the next sale harder to do. I don’t think it’s fair on Luke either, every time he produces a good horse we take it off him. It’s one way to show him our respect and appreciation. These horses wouldn’t be here if he didn’t get off his bum. We’re on a partnership together.
JS: He seems such a ripper, Ripcord. Has he been sound all the way through?
KD: I know things can change but there are no signs he won’t come back as a four-year-old. We dare to dream and I didn’t think it was possible until after the Placid Ark, but maybe we can get a Quokka slot. That would be awesome and a life experience that would be crazy good to be part of.
JS: It very much sounds like you are enjoying being involved in WA racing?
KD: In the back of my mind is my dad who is 90 or near enough. I don’t know how many more years he’s got left and if can watch Ripcord run in a Quokka or a Winterbottom or a Gold Rush, those days don’t come around that often for most of us and certainly for my dad. It’s in the front of my mind respecting him, respecting Luke, respecting everybody who is involved. It’s what is driving me and we don’t really know how good Ripcord is, I think we would like to be the ones to find out. It’s nice to be in symmetry with everybody.
JS: Thanks so very much for your time Kim in what is an exciting week for you and the whole team behind Ripcord. Good luck in the Gold Rush!
KD: Thank You. I’m not really good at this sort of stuff. I’m quite happy with being in the background and I want all the credit to go to Luke and all his team.