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Farrell Enjoying Worldwide Success

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Marette Farrell | Fasig-Tipton photo

By Kelsey Riley

Marette Farrell describes her life in the bloodstock business as “a bit of a web,” with each career-building opportunity naturally leading into another. While it is true that the Thoroughbred industry tends to present its keen participants with a myriad of opportunities for growth, it is up to the aspirant to seize them to full effect, and that is certainly what Farrell has done in a lifelong career in the business.

Farrell, an Irish native who resides in Kentucky, recently passed the 10-year milestone of operating her full-service bloodstock agency Exhale Enterprises, but the roots of her success–which has included an attachment to Grade I winners like Dr. Zic, Hard Not To Like, Palace Episode, Rigoletta, Sharla Rae, Spring In The Air, Collected, Noted and Quoted, Champagne Room and Zipessa–began on her family’s Knockatrina House Stud and a fateful trip to the Doncaster 2-year-old sales with her father, Canice, and his good friend Paddy Burns at around age 12.

“I was really into showjumping initially but my dad took me to the sales over in England one time with [Paddy Burns], who was my dad’s really good pal,” Farrell said. “We went to Doncaster and for whatever reason, that was it. I became one of those little sales brats; dad would take me out of school and I’d go up to the sales and hang out.”

Farrell said it was the speed of the racetrack that hooked her, but she also had an inherent interest in sport and human athletics, enjoying a successful hockey career and a stint in track and field while studying physical education in university. She said playing on the Irish Under 21s and Senior Ladies Hockey Team gave her both life and practical experience that became part of the foundation for her future career in racing.

“We were really lucky because we traveled all over,” she said. “We were amateurs, but we went to India for six weeks for the world championships. We’d spend a month in Germany and Spain for training sessions. I got to travel a lot and I saw a lot, and I think you learn a lot when you have to dig deep and deal with getting on the team, not getting on the team, learning to work with people, being a team player.”

Farrell’s hockey career also provided her a deep appreciation for alternative therapies, for which she is a firm advocate to this day and which she studied under Dr. Earl Sutherland in the early 2000s.

“I hurt my back really badly when I was playing hockey,” she said. “I was basically told I’d never ride again and I’d probably never play hockey again. I went to Blackrock clinic, which is the best clinic in Ireland and did all the things you’re supposed to do. I ended up going back to a lady who I used to play hockey with and she figured out it was my back–they didn’t even know it was my back and it was [discovered through] doing physical therapy and hands-on massage. I’ve seen what it can do, and it’s important because these horses are athletes. They need a little bit of help. The best trainers in the world use all those therapies.”

While Farrell enjoyed a successful career in sport she said she “always” intended to make her way in the Thoroughbred business, and the first giant step in that direction was a stint with trainer John Hammond in Chantilly while she awaited the approval of her American visa.

“I was really lucky because that was the time he had Suave Dancer, Dear Doctor, Polar Falcon–good horse after good horse,” she said. “Unlike today where there are a lot of girls riding, there were actually only two of us. He had over 100 horses, and I was in one yard and there was a Swedish girl in another yard. It was daunting in one sense but it was amazing. It was so magical to ride out there in the mornings in Chantilly.”

Farrell’s arrival in the U.S. in the early 90s kicked off a with a succession of stints working for some of the finest horse people in various facets of the industry, including a tenure as assistant to trainer Niall O’Callaghan.

“I’d always had an interest in the 2-year-old sales from working with my dad and Paddy Burns,” she said. “The track was a lot of travel and I was with the second string so I was traveling everywhere. I usually had two bags: one for my work clothes and one for normal stuff. And my car. I was lucky that a lot of what I did was with the 2-year-olds and I loved trying to figure them out.”

Farrell’s time with O’Callaghan was succeeded by a longer term with top pinhookers Jerry and Leslie Bailey.

“I went to work for Jerry Bailey for seven or eight years, and I did all the sales for him,” she said. “Again I was very lucky because that was in his hey day when he was trotting out all those really good horses–Honour and Glory, I used to ride him every day and I loved him.”

Farrell said that in everything she has done, “there’s been a connection that just kicked me on to the next thing,” and that was what happened in 2001 when her friend Kim Brette asked her to go to Dubai to help her and her husband Peter Brette, at the time an assistant trainer at Godolphin, for a year. Peter Brette would later become assistant to American trainer Michael Matz and the workrider of GI Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

“Kim asked me to go over there and help them,” Farrell said. “Just to see how it all worked out there, it was a great time. And I knew I was just going to be there for a finite time.”

Farrell admits that when she returned to America from Dubai she was at “a little bit of a crossroads” deciding on her next career move when an opportunity arose with Headley Bell of Mill Ridge Farm and Nicoma Bloodstock. She describes the decision to take that job as a “turning point.”

“It was a pivotal point for me because then I was moving away from where I thought I was going,” she said. “Headley and I were like two 180s: he was really into pedigrees and all that and I was all about, ‘well that’s a beautiful horse, why are we not doing that?’ But I think we both came to the middle and complimented each other. I got a lot out of that.”

After four years with Bell, opportunity yet again came calling, and this time it was the First Lady of Racing long distance from Australia.

“Again, someone just comes along and says, ‘you need to do this,’ and you know how persuasive Gai is,” Farrell said. “Suddenly I’m on a plane going to Australia, thinking, ‘what am I doing?!'”

“I love her and I learned a lot from her and the way she conducted her business,” Farrell said. “Our characters are completely the opposite, but I really respect her. I was exposed to a lot and I learned a lot about Australian pedigrees. I did all the writeups for her when she was selling horses. So when [present-day client Greg] Goodman was talking about going down for the [Teeley] dispersal a few years ago at Magic Millions, he asked me, ‘Marette, do you know anything about Australian pedigrees?’ Well, let me tell you, it all came back.”

Farrell shares some words of wisdom passed on to her by Waterhouse: “As a woman in this business, you have to work twice as hard, for twice as long and be twice as good just to get half the recognition.” Farrell said throughout her career, and since launching her own business upon her return from Australia in 2007, she has found this to be true, but she said she has also found that so many people have given her a chance, and that “good people filter to the top regardless of whether you’re male or female.”

“You have to prove yourself to people [as a woman],” she said. “But by the same token the people that are with me have been with me from the beginning. When I came back from Gai, Mr. Goodman [of Mt. Brilliant Farm] gave me a phone call and said, ‘Marette, do you want to come over to the farm and have a chat,’ and then he said, ‘I’d love to have you do my bloodstock stuff.’ I know what I know and I know what I can do, but it’s just part of the industry. But the doors have definitely opened so much over the last few years. Like what I said about working in France, when there were 100-plus horses and only two girls. Now there are a lot of girls on the racetrack, riding and assistant trainers; they’ve been allowed to show what they can do. I work with some really great people and they’ve let me do it. It’s a bit of both, you have to be good to be allowed. I think everything levels out in the end.”

Today, in addition to Mt. Brilliant, Farrell’s clientele includes Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner’s Speedway Stables, which races this year’s GI Pacific Classic winner Collected (City Zip); leading Canadian breeder David Anderson of Anderson Farms, whose father Bob started with Farrell early in her career; Sean Fitzhenry, breeder of this year’s GI Natalma S. second Dixie Moon (Curlin); Patrick Gallagher and Larry Salusto, who campaigned this year’s GI First Lady S. winner Zipessa (City Zip); Mike Stidham and Hilary Pridham and Ryan Exline, who races Champagne Room (Broken Vow) as well as Tuesday’s GII San Antonio H. winner Giant Expectations (Frost Giant).

Farrell said she takes pride in the fact that many of the clients that started with her are still with her, and she said she has never been afraid to back herself with her own hard-earned money.

“Because I had to prove myself–what separates me from all the zillion other bloodstock agents out there–I felt the only way to let people know I’m good at what I do was to put my own money behind it,” she said. “The first horse we bought was with Joan Scott, I bought Dr. Zic at the June sale. She became a Grade I winner. At the same time I bought a mare with Bob Anderson named White Lightning. She was in foal to Holy Bull and that mare became the dam of a Group 2 winner [Seduire]. I’ve kept that family with Dave [Anderson]. A lot of things started at that time for me, and I’m big into whatever I do, do it well, and whoever is in my focus, do the best for them that I can. If you do that right the rest will take care of itself. I’m proud that most of the people that have started with me are still around me. I like being part of building something and I take pride in that. It’s their money but I’m spending it like it’s my own money, and I feel the responsibility of that.”

Farrell was recently at the Tattersalls December Breeding Stock Sale with Goodman, where she helped him pick out a pair of mares from the Ballymacoll dispersal for Mt Brilliant: the triple stakes-winning Abingdon (Street Cry {Ire}) for 1,050,000gns and the winning 3-year-old filly Superioritycomplex (Ire) (Hard Spun) for 400,000gns. The half-sisters are out of Justlookdonttouch (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), an unraced daughter of the G1 Yorkshire Oaks and G2 Ribblesdale S. winner Hellenic (GB) (Darshaan {GB}) and a half-sister to champions Islington (Ire) and Greek Dance (Ire), Group 1 winner Mountain High (Ire) and two other stakes winners.

“It’s an international family and we just want to spark it again,” Farrell enthused. “It’s time for that family to reignite with some of the Mr. P and the American speed. We kind of know what we want to do matings wise, but Hutton [Goodman, Greg’s son] is keen to race one of them. Abingdon is a listed winner and multiple Group 2-placed, so maybe if she was a Group 2 winner, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter, she’s done it and she’s the jewel of all that family. She’s by Street Cry so she’s Americanized already and the other one they bought is a Hard Spun, and he’s already shown he’s going be a very good broodmare sire. He has 14% stakes winners and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner [Good Magic] is out of a Hard Spun mare. They’re already one step into helping that family come over here and blossom. It’s a long distance, durable family, it just needs a bit of change in direction.”

Farrell is a regular visitor to Tattersalls, as well as Australia’s June and January sales, and rather than nominating one country that does it best, she said each jurisdiction has its strengths.

“I’ve just finished the Tattersalls December Sale and it’s a beautiful way to end the year,” she said. “It’s so charming over there, the English way and the ambience and Tattersalls itself is so unique. It’s neat for an American to go over there, and the pace is slower and the auctioneers are very theatrical. I think that’s a really fun trip for someone from the States.”

“Here in Kentucky in September and November you really have to be on your game because it’s fast-paced,” she said. “They sell a lot of horses in a day and that in itself generates an energy and people have to make quick decisions and the right decisions. Australia, I love going down there. It used to be Paris, but Sydney is my favourite city in the whole world. It’s part work and part play and the bloodstock side is thriving down there. Mr. Goodman has a sister to the dam of Hartnell so he’s going to send her down there this year to Arrowfield. We haven’t made a decision [about a stallion], but Redoute’s Choice possibly.”

Farrell was quick to recognize the contribution of her team members Tescha von Bluecher and Zoe Cadman.

“Tescha is toe-to-toe with me for every sale and whenever we can tear Zoe away from her role as a TV analyst, she comes to all the 2-year-old sales and to September,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without them, and we are a real team. We’re all spokes in a wheel and everyone has a huge contribution to make and I rely on them a lot.”

When summarizing her life and career in the bloodstock world, Farrell reflected on the words of another mentor, Dr. Michael Osborne.

“Dr. Osborne said to me, ‘Marette, my one piece of advice to you is that whatever you do, try to get as much broad-based experience as possible. Do as much as you can. The more you do the more you know and the better you’ll be.'”

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I spent a lot of time on the racetrack, and at the sales. I grew up on a farm. I’m not just someone who sits behind a desk and knows pedigrees. I probably started the other way and came to appreciate pedigrees. I feel I have a very sturdy base, a big oak tree, and can branch out everywhere. I have a wide smattering of knowledge so if someone asks me something, even if I don’t know it, I know where to go to find someone who does.”

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