Since he embarked on his own training career a few months ago, it has pretty much been plain sailing for rookie trainer Jack Bruce and Saturday, September 24 a 6-year-old gelding named Axe (Written Tycoon) gave the young handler a day to remember when he provided him with his first stakes win in the Listed Weetwood H. at Toowoomba.

After stints as assistant trainer to Bjorn Baker and then latterly Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Bruce decided the time was right to go it alone, setting up his base in Deagon in Queensland on May 1. 

Things have happened quickly for the New Zealand native. He sent out his first winner when Head Up High (Pierro), his fourth runner, took out a BM62 at Beaudesert on June 21.

Now, with Axe’s stakes victory and Graphite Mist’s (Capitalist) win at Gatton on Thursday, Bruce’s total-winning rate sits at a respectable 13 from 48 runners and he is firing at an extraordinary strike rate of 27 per cent. However, despite this rich vein of form, the numbers are not something Bruce likes to dwell on. 

“I haven’t reinvented the wheel by any stretch of the imagination,” he told TDN AusNZ. “I just try to keep a really simple system and keep the horses as happy as I can. 

“When you talk about strike rates and those sorts of things, although they are really nice to have, I suppose as a training philosophy they are not my primary focus.

“I suppose that is the big lesson I have learned from the trainers I have worked for is that each individual horse has to be trained in isolation and you have to figure that horse and try and get them going as best you can and place them to best effect. 

“You have to keep the focus really individual and that is a big lesson I have learnt from my former employers in Sydney and I have tried to take that through into my own training process.”

It was perhaps fitting that the biggest win of his career to date was provided by Axe, given the association he had with the horse since he was a yearling.

“Bjorn Baker trained him in Sydney and he was a yearling when I was working for Bjorn, so I knew the horse and I knew Bjorn had a handy opinion of him,” he explained. “He was purchased by Spendthrift and when he was no longer required as a colt in their stallion syndicate he was sold to Michael Costa.”

Michael Costa saddled the gelding to four victories, but, after he took up the opportunity to train overseas, he advised Bruce the gelding would be a good investment for him. 

“Michael had him in work and had a share in him himself and when he left to train in Dubai I discussed with him what sort of horses I should be trying to get a hold of,” he continued. “He mentioned Axe and said he was the type of horse I should be trying to acquire.

“He mentioned he wasn’t himself last preparation and if I could get him back to where he was in the winter of 2021 he would be the type of horse I could have a lot of fun with.”

Bruce forked out $55,000 on the Inglis Digital March (Late) Sale earlier this year and assembled a group of owners to race the son of Written Tycoon

“On Michael’s recommendation I bought him and some of the original owners stayed in and I put a group of people to take the other half of him, and I guess, as they say, the rest is history.

“He is the highest-rated horse I have in the stable at the moment and it is just really pleasing when you start out and you’ve got one horse rated at that open handicap Listed level to be able to win a stakes race with him so early on and get a good return for everyone who has come in and supported me, so I am really happy with the way that has turned out. 

“I was aided by a good ride by Samantha (Collett) and that was the winning of the race, but it is great to get a horse of his calibre so early on in my career and to be able to turn that into a stakes win is really, really pleasing.”

Just like running any business, training comes with its ups and downs and while his career is still in its utero stages, Bruce said he is enjoying the new challenges he is faced with, while he places specific emphasis on the good team he has assembled around him. 

“It’s a big step up in terms of responsibility from working as an assistant or a foreman for another trainer. The breadth of jobs you have to cover increases, but it is something I am really enjoying and I have always wanted to do this for a long time,” Bruce said.

“I am lucky I have a great team around me and I have been able to assemble that quite quickly as I have grown and I think that has been the key to a lot of the success I have had so far. 

“I have a great crew of staff at my Deagon base and they are really enthusiastic people who love their horses and I reckon I have assembled a great crew, who are really keen and I think that has definitely helped with the results so far. 

“It has been really good to get these sorts of results early on, but my focus has always been, and will always be, that I want every horse I line up to run well and to the best of their ability and you want them happy and healthy and racing well.”

Bruce has also described his support system outside the people who work for him has been instrumental in his solo career and said he often seeks the advice of former employers. 

“I have a good wider support, including my former employer Bjorn Baker, who has been a massive help to me and I talk to him almost every day and even Dave Eustace, I had a good chat with him the other day and he had a few pieces of advice for me,” he said. 

“That’s the great thing about racing is that it is as much a people industry as it is a horse one and during my time in Australia I have had such great support from people and that has continued when I have been training on my own account, which is something I am really appreciative of.”

Another key player helping the trainer run his business is the well-established bloodstock agent Jim Clarke of Clarke Bloodstock (FBAA), who has lent a hand, not just in sourcing stock for the young trainer, but also been a sounding board in the runningof the business as a whole. 

“I’ve known Jim Clarke for many years,” explained Bruce. “He had my role at Bjorn’s before me and he got me my start in Sydney racing and the job at Bjorn’s. When I came up here to train he has been a big help in terms of a bit of strategy and where my business is heading. He has also been great for advice on what horses I should be looking at.”

Clarke has already tasted success with Bruce, having purchased Cherrypick(Lionhearted), a one-time for Peter Moody, for $70,000 via the Inglis Digital March (Early) Online Sale and duly repaid the pair’s faith when grabbing his second career win at Ipswich on July 14. 

“We had a big group of owners for her (Cherrypick), some were first-time owners and for him to pick out a quality horse and get a return straight away was something really great. 

“Jim will be a big part of my strategy going forward in terms of yearling sales and he is constantly on the lookout for tried horses to bolster my team.”

With a stable full of mostly tried horses, Bruce said he is looking forward to his first full yearling sale season and, with the help of Clarke, he is hoping to snare a few 2-year-olds to plunder the wealth of riches Queensland has to offer. 

“The yearling sales are a very jubilant time in Australia and the yearlings are the future of your stable and I’m going to look for horses that can be the future of my stable,” he said. 

“Naturally, I will be using Jim Clarke to help me out and I will also back my own judgement and identify horses that I think are going to be effective in Queensland.”

However, despite naturally wanting to focus some aspects of his business on the juveniles, he is always keen to keep an eye on those tried horses, like Axe, and take advantage of the prizemoney in the state. 

“Prizemoney in Queensland is continuing to increase all the time and I think the week in, week out metropolitan racing they have up here, there are plenty of opportunities for horses to come up here, like for example Axe has been up here and earned a lot of money up here,” he explained. 

“Those older geldings are the types of horses I want to surround myself with as well as yearlings and I am on the look-out for those types of horses. But I think Queensland racing offers a big opportunity for 2-year-olds and that is what I will be shopping for in January.”

Bruce’s philosophy is very simple: “What I am trying to do in Queensland is get groups of people together to race nice horses and win races, whatever level that might be and I think if you can achieve that regardless of the horse’s ability, you’ll be doing well. 

“I think Ciaron Maher is the master of getting inside a horse’s head, assessing a horse, finding what it’s best at. You see that with all his results, 2-year-olds, stayers, jumpers and Classic fillies. It doesn’t matter what level of ability they have, or what profile they have, he has that extreme ability to assess what that might be and get the maximum out of it. I want to take that philosophy to Queensland and stick with it and try and get a result for everyone.”

Bruce’s future plans seem very clear, but what now for his latest stable star? 

Magic Millions Raceday in either the Magic Millions Snippets or R. Listed Magic Millions Cup, a race he finished eighth in earlier this year. 

“The long-range target will be either the Magic Millions Snippets or Magic Millions Cup on the Magic Millions Day in January and has been since I bought him, but there are some nice races that we can target in the run-up to it,” he said.

“His next target will be an Open Handicap at Eagle Farm in three weeks’ time and then from there, there are many different paths to the Magic Millions, but you’ve also got a race in Sydney like the Starlight Stakes or a race in Queensland – Keith Noud – and the big race lead-up to the Magic Millions will be the Buffering.”

Original article from TDN Aus NZ on October 4th 2022 –