INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS

As the mega-stables grow, Minervini sticks with corner store model

The big New South Wales stables are hard to compete with but Mark Minervini has found his niche after a seachange to Newcastle.

Mark Minervini has a refreshing perspective when it comes to his stable matching up against the relative corporate might of the mega stables of Waller, Waterhouse and Maher.  

“My first job was at a little independent supermarket in Adelaide when I was 14,” he tells the Report between races at Randwick. 

“We had Coles down one end of the street, and Woolies down the other. They were closing in but my boss always used to drum it into us; they can beat us on price, they can beat us on volume, but they can’t beat us on service; that is our niche. 

“When that old lady comes in every morning, find out her name, say hello to her every morning and give her a little bit of love and attention. They won’t get it at the bigger stores.”

In the vertically integrated Racing NSW world of bigger, better and stronger – amid the attention-grabbing prizemoney announcements, pop-up races and promised quick returns on pricey yearlings – small cottage stables like Minervini’s are feeling the squeeze.  Those stables getting by on a relative handful of affordable yearlings or tried cast-offs from those mega stables, training for mum and dad owners and knockabout Newcastle tradies with a tax return to spare. But they are going the way of the suburban corner store.

The trainers Minervini is competing with have a corporate structure, investors and business managers. The trainers – many of them in partnership – are sometimes even employees, rather than the boss. Stabling is moving away from metropolitan tracks and their historic, rustic barns and old, shade-providing trees – the commercial lure of real estate too great to resist for clubs – and into cheaper purpose-built complexes, all concrete, fluorescent lights and metal. 

It is just too big an industry to be a one-man band anymore.

“It is almost like corporations and the trainers are the figurehead,” he says. “They have massive resources and what seems like unlimited budgets, so how do you compete? The trainer isn’t running the business, they are on a wage, and I think there is going to be more and more of that. It is just too big an industry to be a one-man band anymore.”  

Not that Minervini is complaining about his lot – a born-and-bred South Australian, at 55 he pressed the escape hatch on training in Adelaide after seeing an industry strangled by government over-regulation into terminal decline. 

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Minervini favours a 'service with a smile' approach to his training. (Photo by Grant Courtney)

“The way things were going I would have been better off collecting the shopping trollies in the Coles car park than training horses,” he says.

He lobbed at Newcastle on a semi-desperate reconnaissance mission, sight unseen, and “didn’t know anything about the place” before one coffee at Merewether surf house on that first visit changed everything. 

As he looked across the sparkling Pacific Ocean on a perfect day, he called wife Michelle and said he thought it was about time they moved north.

Since his arrival at Broadmeadow, there have been four rounds of Racing NSW prizemoney increases plus expanded initiatives like the Midway Series and Provincial Championships.

The sting in the tail is that the rich have become richer. 

As provincial and country prizemoney rises, the big metropolitan trainers extend their reach. Waller had more horses entered at Gosford on Friday this week (19) than Minervini has boxes (16). 

As the big guns vacuum up the glut of prizemoney and it becomes a high-volume game, there is a real estate war of sorts as the conglomerates sniff out boxes at satellite locations to expand.

When Minervini made the move to Newcastle it was in the midst of an historic drought, then came bushfires, Covid and then historic flooding. But he is glad he took the punt when he did, given the waiting list of higher credentialed trainers from other states desperate to take advantage of the Peter V’Landys never-to-be-repeated prizemoney giveaway.

In 10-15 years maybe someone like me won’t be a trainer.

“A trainer with my resume would not get in now, I have 16 boxes but I could fill more if I could get them,” he says. “If I had known how hard it was going to be I wouldn’t have done it but I am glad we have. 

“If you had known, I had to pack up home, my wife, the dog, the business, all of the horses and then convince clients it was a positive thing. It was a massive undertaking for a bloke that is 55, and we are doing it on our own, I don’t have any huge financial backers. 

“Enough owners stuck solid but the majority dropped off, which I understand. Covid didn’t help. We have had a few hurdles, but we are still here. 

“In 10-15 years maybe somebody like me won’t be a trainer. You wouldn’t want to be starting now without money and power behind you.”

Minervini is testament that the corner-store approach still has its place. His best horse Quick Tempo tackles a benchmark 78 at Rosehill on Saturday and his $25,000 yearling price tag is typical of where he has found his mark.

“It is tough but you can find them,” he says. 

Quick Tempo has won five from 10 and earned connections more than $120,000 and heads into his race after a fast-finishing fourth that caught the eye of leading jockey James McDonald. 

“I have to pinch myself sometimes with the jockeys we get to put on,” Minervini says. “We had James’ agent calling up asking about this ride, and we have Hugh Bowman on a runner as well.” 

James McDonald boots home Niffler at Randwick. (Photo by Grant Courtney)

That first job stacking shelves in the independent supermarket is still serving him well. 

“Since I have come up here I have used that. A lot of our clients have felt intimidated at the bigger stables, they don’t feel like they can pick up the phone and talk to the trainer about the horse,” he says.  

“We have picked up a lot of clients from those bigger stables and syndicators because of the communication problems owners have had. They feel uncomfortable. I am not Chris Waller, or John Hawkes, but what I do pride myself on is communication. If you call me and I don’t answer, I promise I will call you back.”

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