He bought $2million
earner Buffering for $22,000 and Group I MRC Toorak Handicap winner Solzhenitsyn
for $10,000, so wouldn't you like him selecting your horses?.
NZTM - While the accolades were being heaped on Queenslander Robert Heathcote for training a stunning black-type double at Caulfield last weekend, there was one person sitting at home in New Zealand quietly reflecting on a job well done.
Paul Willets is justifiably proud of selecting and buying both Solzhenitsyn (NZ) (St. Petersburg) and Buffering (Mossman) (pictured Racepix Vic) for Heathcote however, given his passion for his chosen vocation, this achievement simply reaffirmed to him why he became a Bloodstock agent in the first place.
Willetts career path to becoming an agent began when he was captivated by the intricacies of thoroughbred pedigrees and breeding as a teenager, which was unusual given his family had no background in racing or breeding whatsoever.
Fresh out of High School he started a job with the Friday Flash (Racing Publication) in Wellington but decided he wanted to do more with both his pedigree obsession and his interest in British racing, so he took the plunge and headed to England where he reasoned he could learn most about the breeding game.
"It was a pretty big step for a relatively shy person, but I mustered the courage and headed to the British Thoroughbred Breeders Association and told them I wanted a job on a stud farm, paying or non paying, it didn't matter," explained Willetts. "Thankfully the man in charge, Sam Sheppard, found me a paying job within a week and I was off on the start of the adventure".
After two and half years in Britain and Germany, Willetts (pictured courtesy Kevin Robertson, NZTM) returned to New Zealand and was keen to expand on what he had learned.
"At that stage I was 3 years into the 15 year plan I mapped out for myself and was lucky enough to secure a job with Wrightson's where I concentrated on getting as much experience as possible," said Willetts.
"Wrightson's were fantastic and the grounding and education I got was a huge help to me.
"I'm largely self-taught in the whole inspection area so in those early days it was especially daunting when I would approach vendors and ask to inspect their horses, as they knew I wasn't there to buy, however once I started to get more confident it became easier and I started to get more comfortable with it."
Prominent owner/breeder John Thompson gave Willetts his first break as an agent.
"The first horse I bought was for John and we've enjoyed a great relationship ever since," Willetts said.
Indeed Willetts has purchased in excess of 80 horses for Thompson including Stakes winners Fooram (NZ) (Maroof), Penitentiary (NZ) (Pentire), Atapi (Last Tycoon) and Sound The Alarm (Just Awesome).
Willetts moved on from Wrightson's and spent the next three years at Drew Watson's agency, Pioneer Bloodstock, before striking out on his own. It was at Pioneer Bloodstock that he began to develop the tool that would become his most valuable asset.
"Because I was always keen to learn about what made good horses tick, I started to develop a database for every horse I saw as well as other horses that were performing on the track," explains Willetts.
"I would enter screeds of data about each horse including updating their race results after every start and would review the data, especially when a horse I had disregarded came out and won a major race.
"This way I built up a vast array of information and knowledge that was extremely beneficial when I examined horses as I had a full background on them from the family I had in my database."
Willetts now has over 180,000 horses in his database and is his "bible" when it comes to selecting horses for his clients.
"I work with several Australian Studs and the data is invaluable if we are looking to buy mares for them, whilst every time I go to the sales I know I pretty well have a complete background on nearly every horse on offer," said Willetts.
"I have had some people approach me to buy the data but that's my competitive edge and it's not for sale."
It was also at Pioneer Bloodstock that Willetts made his connection with the Heathcote family.
Robert's brother visited Pioneer Bloodstock after reading an advert in the Yellow Pages and met Willetts who he struck up a friendship with. At the time Robert was working as a Tour Guide in Europe but returned to Australia to take up training and Willetts was responsible for buying his first horse.
That filly was named Kaminka (Celestial Dancer) who went on to win 10 races and also provided Willetts with one of a number of humorous stories about the big Queenslander.
"We were at the sales and I went to inspect the filly with Robert," chuckles Willetts. "There was a piece of leather lying on the ground and Robert was dead keen to know what it was, so I explained that it was a head collar and then I had to show him how to put it on."
Heathcote is now one of Australia's most respected trainers and remains a committed client of Willetts, who buys horses for him every year. Their success is well documented and is likely to continue well into the future.
It's that future that Willetts is relaxed about in that he feels he is now at a place in his life where he remains driven to succeed but can appreciate what he has achieved.
"I'm fairly fitness conscious and spend regular time at the gym although I balance that by enjoying the delights of some of our local cafes when I get the chance!" laughed Willetts.
"I do spend about five hours a day, seven days a week updating my database as that is what has got me to where I am today but I have learned to take some time out."
As a part-owner of Solzhenitsyn (NZ)(pictured Racepix Vic) , Willetts has now had the Group One buzz he has supplied for a number of his clients although he was too nervous to make the trip to watch the horse he paid just $10,000 for at the New Zealand Weanling Sale.
He is making plans though to head over for both the Group II Waterford Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley and ultimately the Group One Emirates Stakes (1600m) on the last day of the Melbourne Spring Carnival. - NZ Thoroughbred Marketing