New trainer Mark Newnham is all-in on Hong Kong

Training at Sha Tin is a dream realised for Mark Newnham but he isn’t coming to Hong Kong for the lifestyle.

Hong Kong-bound trainer Mark Newnham spoke to Asian Racing Report at his Randwick stables. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Michael Cox



When Mark Newnham took to training seven years ago he declared “there is no turning back” and he will bring the same single-minded determination when he begins his Hong Kong career next season. 

“This is something I have wanted for a long time but I think when some trainers that have trained for 20 years go to Hong Kong they are looking for the retirement package,” the 55-year-old told Asian Racing Report after he was announced as the newest addition to the Hong Kong Jockey Club trainers’ roster.

“But I have only trained for seven years … I am not looking to top up my superannuation, I want to achieve something. I have dreamt of this ever since I started training. It’s a proud moment and I am overjoyed, but I am also ready to get to work. Put it this way, I will not be coming back here (Australia) to train. I have to make it work.” 



Newnham obviously ticks the required boxes for a trainer in Hong Kong: he has trained four Group 1 winners and nearly 400 winners at a healthy strike rate of 17 per cent, but as far as volume is concerned he can’t match the Sydney mega-stables of Chris Waller and Godolphin. 

“I’ve come as far as I can here and the thing with Sydney racing now is that in the next few years it will be dominated by stables with hundreds of horses,” he said. “Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Annabel Neasham, Chris Waller and Godophin – and that trend will continue.”  

That Newnham has only 70 horses on his books – 50 in full work and 20 in pre-training – is by design though. It also fits neatly with Hong Kong’s style, where stables can have a maximum of 70 horses. 

“I like to see each horse every day, and train them as I see them,” he said as he patted Sydney Cup hope King Frankel in his Randwick stable. “I am not a system trainer, I like to treat each horse as an individual and get the most out of them. I like to see how they are eating, how they are coping and what their behavioural traits are.” 

A regular visitor to the city over the last two decades, particularly for the Hong Kong International Races, Newnham has struck up relationships with Hong Kong owners like David Lui (Shadow Hero), Edmond Lee (The Irishman), Paul Cheng (Mission Tycoon) and Derek Tam (Joyful Fortune, Lanciato). 

Newnham is what you could call a horse racing ‘lifer’. He rarely takes a day off, and when he does, the ‘lie-in’ usually doesn’t stretch much beyond sunrise; his head fills with thoughts of work and he itches to be around his horses. 

Mark Newnham is eyeing off the Sydney Cup with his talented stayer King Frankel. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

That love isn’t surprising when you consider his background. Newnham’s maternal grandfather Bert Condon was a top jockey on the tough Sydney circuit in the 1920s and 1930s. But it was through his father John, when he was Sydney Morning Herald Sports Editor, that brought his son to the races every Saturday at Randwick, Rosehill, Canterbury or Warwick Farm during a golden era of racing.  

In an era “when kids could roam around and do what they wanted”, as Newnham put it, the youngster would scurry around the feet of media icons like racecallers Ian Craig and Johnny Tapp or bookmaker-turned-television presenter Ken Callander. 

Yet it wasn’t the racecaller’s box or tap of the typewriters in the smoke-filled press room and its colourful cast of characters like Bert Lillye and Bill Whittaker that drew Newnham in, but rather the horse stalls, parade ring and racetrack. 

“I was drawn to the horses,” he said. “Bill Whittaker was best mates with dad, we would go on family holidays together, and he would play golf with the trainer Bob Thomson. That is how I got my start in racing, Bill arranged for me to spend the holidays working with Bob when I was 15.” 

Newnham had no intention of returning to school. “I was halfway through year 10, I  cleared my desk at school and in my mind I knew I wasn’t going back,” he said. “Mum and dad let me stay at the stables and I have been in the sport ever since.” 

Mark Newnham's dual Group 1-winner Shadow Hero after winning the Spring Champion Stakes. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Trainer Mark Newnham and Rachel King embrace after Maid Of Heaven's G1 Spring Champion Stakes victory. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Thomsen’s stables on the hill at Randwick overlooked an incredible array of training talent: the incomparable Tommy Smith, who won 33 straight Sydney premierships, then there was “the Cups King” Bart Cummings, Neville Begg and Theo Green, a master at guiding apprentices like Ron Quinton, Malcolm Johnston and Darren Beadman. 

Newnham moved on to Cummings and became travelling foreman, helping orchestrate interstate raids like Campaign King’s 1988 Stradbroke Handicap and Doomben 10,000 double. Stints with Newmarket-based Clive Brittain and Kevin Prendergast in Ireland gave Newnham a global perspective. 

The raising of minimum weights then gave Newnham an opportunity to become one of Sydney’s first mature-aged apprentices. He was first indentured to Grahame Begg, and then the former champion jockey Quinton. 

As a jockey and track rider, Newnham was best known for his association with Gai Waterhouse. He was not only a trusted set of hands as rider at Tulloch Lodge but a force as jockey on the provincial circuit; he won three riding premierships at Kembla Grange and a Bill Wade Medal for leading rider at Newcastle. His career also included stops in Macau and Korea. 

When Newnham retired after a win at his last ride at Kembla in 2011, he settled into a role as assistant trainer and oversaw the preparations of top class gallopers like 2012 Golden Slipper winner Pierro, 2015 Slipper winner Vancouver and the 2013 Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente. 

Gai Waterhouse's star juvenile Pierro. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

When the Waterhouse stable structure changed in 2016, Newnham looked to new opportunities, and training. 

“At the time I said to my wife Donna, ‘I cannot fail’ and I feel the same way now,” he said. 

Newnham isn’t just good with horses, he is a people person and has earned a reputation as the modern day Theo Green by guiding the last three Sydney champion apprentices: Tyler Schiller, Tom Sherry and Robbie Dolan. The role of guiding an apprentice is one that he would like to reprise one day in Hong Kong but first he wants to instill a healthy culture with his staff. 

“I hate tension in the stables,” he said. “Because if two people are not getting on then the first time they approach a horse after having an argument with someone will be in a more aggressive manner and that transforms to the horse, and then the horse is uptight as well and then the horse won’t be in the right mindset. I find the more relaxed the people are, the more relaxed the horses are. I rarely have horses parade poorly and I think that comes from having a stable that has a relaxed atmosphere all of the time.” 

Mark Newnham (centre) encourages a relaxed atmosphere around his stable. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Tyler Schiller wins on the Mark Newnham-trained Dragonstone at Kembla Grange. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

As much as Newnham is determined to “make it work”, he isn’t setting any big goals and has watched enough Hong Kong racing to know that every win is valuable, from Class 5 up. 

“I think it is a system in which every trainer is on a very level playing field … you can’t be outweighed by the sheer numbers from other trainers,” he said. “ I think that makes this a great opportunity for me. 

“When I get there I will have to train horses to their absolute best, because you are only going to be given a lot of off-casts from other trainers and horses that have been in the system. So you have to think about how to get the best out of that horse, and the best might be a Class 5 win at Happy Valley; that is still an important win to that owner and it will be a very important win to this trainer.”  




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