Young Guns – The King Brothers
Benji and Harry King posing at their family's Brighthill Farm.
Benji and Harry King might only be in their mid 20s, but these two young guns have already travelled extensively, to say the least, having worked at some of the best thoroughbred studs across the world.
Benji (26) and Harry (24), are the two eldest boys in the King family and grew up at Brighthill Farm in the Waikato, a successful thoroughbred stud owned by their parents, Nick and Anne-Marie.
Nick and Anne-Marie established Brighthill in 1996, when Benji and Harry were just four and two years old respectively, meaning the boys grew up with the farm, and were involved in the day to day operation from a young age.
“We’ve grown up with it, and have helped for as long as I can remember,” says Benji. “We always came home from school and helped with mucking boxes and as we got older handled the quieter horses and helped with yearling prep.”
Younger sister Sophie (22) and younger brother Charlie (19) also helped on the farm and continue to do so when they are home, though Sophie lives in England, currently studying hospitality, and Charlie has just finished his first year at Victoria University in Wellington.
It was an idyllic country upbringing, and both Benji and Harry recall wonderful memories from their childhood at Brighthill, racing round on ponies and enjoying the outdoors.
“I have the best memories of hanging out on the farm with Benji, Sophie and Charlie,” says Harry. “It would be 9pm and Dad would be coming up to the hill to find us and get us inside. Benji and I were very close growing up and we would go shooting together and run amuck.”
Sophie was the rider of the family when they were younger, with Harry explaining that he, Benji and Charlie didn’t ride with much enthusiasm.
“We were mucking round on ponies and getting bucked off,” laughs Harry. “I wouldn’t call it riding, more holding on! Rugby was our thing at school and we all played first fifteen.”
As kids, the big highlight of their year was always the annual Karaka Yearling Sales, held at the end of January.
“Coming up to the sales as a young kid was always good fun and adrenaline filled,” says Harry.
Brighthill Farm has remained a family affair, with all the kids usually, even in recent years, coming together to help with the yearling sales each year, though it’s only Benji and Harry who have chosen a career working in the thoroughbred industry.
Benji left school halfway through seventh form and did a sales preparation stint at Brighthill, before taking up a position at Vinery Stud in New South Wales, Australia in March 2010, which was the same time he got serious about a career working with thoroughbreds.
“I always thought I’d be involved with horses in some way, but all through high school I always wanted to be a sheep and beef farmer, that was my passion,” he says. “When I went to Vinery I still wasn’t that into the horses, I was more using the trip as a chance to travel, but I worked with really good horses there and it got me really interested.”
While based at Vinery Stud, Benji was put forward for the Irish National Stud Breeders Course Scholarship, through the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association and in 2013, he spent six months onsite at the Irish National Stud in Kildare, Ireland.
“We did everything, it was hands on with an academic side, a real crash course into racing, breeding and looking after horses, yearlings, foals, breeding and foaling,” he explains.
After the course, Benji returned to Vinery Stud to take up the position of Assistant Stallion Manager for two years. At the start of 2014 he also did a brief stint in Hong Kong with Ascot Farm, preparing Ready to Run horses for the Hong Kong International Sale.
It wasn’t long before he was successful with yet another scholarship, this time the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s Sunline Scholarship. In 2015, this saw Benji spend three months in England working at Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket, England, three months at Coolmore Stud in Ireland and then his first trip to America to spend three months at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky.
Of all his travels, Benji says Vinery Stud was one of his favourite places and learning from their Stallion Manager at the time, Jose Ramos, was a privilege.
“Jose was amazing with the stallions and taught me a few things, he was firm but fair and sharpened me up a lot,” he says.
He spent a total of about five and half years away from New Zealand, though he’s always travelled back to help at Brighthill with preparation for the January yearling sales.
Benji has been back full time at Brighthill Farm for a couple of years, with an important part of his role managing their three resident stallions - Dalghar, Preferment and Perfectly Ready.
While he’s settled for now, Benji certainly hasn’t ruled out more travel and is always open to different opportunities should they arise.
“I’ve met some amazing people and worked in some incredible places around the world,” he says. “I’ve been pretty lucky and I’ve just taken every opportunity, if you don’t you never know what you might miss.”
Younger brother Harry shares the exact same sentiment and he too has travelled far and wide, taking up good job offers with little hesitation.
Following in Benji’s footsteps, Harry spent time at Vinery Stud after he’d finished school, heading over in February 2012, and like Benji he also wasn’t initially set on a career working with thoroughbreds, but his time at Vinery soon changed that.
“I didn’t necessarily want to be involved in horses, it wasn’t a long-term gig,” says Harry. “I just wanted to meet people and do a bit of travelling, but the horse industry offered so much of what I liked, including networking and travelling.”
Harry spent the next couple of years between Vinery Stud, Brighthill Farm, Ascot Farm working for Bruce and Maureen Harvey on several sales preparations, and he also helped at Yarraman Park on an Australian Easter Yearling Sale too.
At 21, after a few years going back and forth between New Zealand and Australia to work, Harry remembers his dad saying he needed to decide whether he wanted to sink his teeth in and get serious about working in the industry, or go off and do something else.
“That was a turning point, I was meeting incredible people, bloodstock agents, trainers and you have this moment where you think ‘I’m either going to be a flash in the plan or I’m going to take these opportunities and do this properly’,” says Harry.
He decided to get serious with the horses, and in 2015, using a one-way ticket to Ireland he’d received as a birthday present, Harry was on the plane and straight into a yearling preparation job with Baroda and Colbinstown in County Kildare.
He also met chocolatier, Mary Ann O’Brien, and after finishing at Baroda and Colbinstown, he spent Christmas that year house sitting for Mary Ann and working in her chocolate shop, Lily O'Brien's.
“That opened my eyes to what else you could make money in, not just horses, but chocolate too!” says Harry.
Harry returned home on New Year’s Day of 2016 to help with the yearling sales, but didn’t stay put for long, heading to Hong Kong in March, where he spent eight weeks preparing horses for the Hong Kong International Sale.
“Hong Kong was something out of this world, I’d already been on a rugby trip there, but being there and seeing the passion these people have for the industry, going to Happy Valley Racecourse on a Wednesday night, it was unreal,” he says.
Back in New Zealand, Harry was approached by Duchess of Bedford about an Assistant Manager role at Roundhill Stud in Limerick in Ireland.
“I went after the 2016 May sale in New Zealand and did six months there from June to December, they were brilliant to me and looked after me well,” he says.
Returning to settle in New Zealand in December 2016, after years of non-stop travel, Harry decided to explore the administrative side of the industry and following the 2017 Karaka Yearling sales, he started a six-month business course at Wintec.
While studying, Harry worked part time at the TAB to get to know as many names and faces in the New Zealand racing scene as possible.
“I’d done all the practical stuff and I needed to do something different,” says Harry. “It was great to travel and do the yearling preps, but I wanted to add another string to my bow and give the admin and marketing side of it a crack.”
It’s the variation of jobs on offer that makes Harry particularly happy to be a part of the thoroughbred industry.
“That’s the beauty of working in this industry, you don’t have to be a jockey, stud groom or trainer,” he explains. “There are so many alternative opportunities that allow you to be involved in many ways, you just have to be committed, know what you want to achieve and be ready to work hard.”
With guidance and encouragement from Danny Rolston, Bloodstock Sales Manager at New Zealand Bloodstock (NZB), Harry put his CV into NZB and took up a position as Marketing and Hospitality Coordinator there in February 2018.
The job has seen him relocate to Karaka to be close to the NZB office, but he still heads back to Brighthill Farm almost every weekend to work with the horses and catch up with his family.
While their day jobs look very different right now, with Benji hands on at Brighthill Farm and Harry in the office at NZB, both share the same passion for the thoroughbred industry and intend to stay involved for life.
Benji would love to have a go at racehorse training and is looking at heading to Australia next winter to gain some experience, while Harry aspires to one day manage a big stud farm or be a racing manager.
Questioned about whether they might take the reins on their own family farm, both boys say it’s a possibility, but for not for some time yet - they’ve both still got more travelling to do and are happy with how things are at the moment.
“If Dad said to us in 20 years time to take over, we’d probably go for it, but Benji would need to be on board,” says Harry, and perfectly in tune with his younger brother, Benji echoes Harry’s thoughts.
“I wouldn’t turn it down, but at this stage, it’s all running pretty good as it is,” says Benji. “Dad and I work really well together and we are planning to progress the farm together, with me taking more responsibility all the time.”