By Amy Bennett
The New Zealand racing industry occupies a strong position but if it were ever in need of a makeover then the appointment of supermodel Kylie Bax Poros as New Zealand’s racing ambassador could be the thing.
Long before leaving New Zealand to strut her stuff on the world’s catwalks, Bax was hard at work on the farm at her parents’ hugely successful Blandford Lodge, setting the foundations for a lifelong love of the sport that continued when she left New Zealand aged 17 to pursue her modeling career.
After two decades away, Bax returned to New Zealand last year with her photographer husband Spiros Poros and the couple’s three young daughters, and Bax is now busy establishing herself in her new role as the country’s first racing ambassador.
The post was first mooted to Bax last winter by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing’s chief executive Greg Purcell. Although the concept of a racing ambassador is established in Australia, the idea was new to the other side of the Tasman, and required the right person to fulfill a role that was almost literally what Bax was prepared to make of it.
“Greg was a bit wary to bring on this new role and initially he didn’t know a lot about me, but I think we have built a great relationship which has just gone from strength to strength since meeting,” Bax explains. “I can’t speak more highly of Greg - he does so much work, travels so much, and is really progressive.
“The role of ambassador bridges a ditch between the racing community and the general public. For me, the role means talking to the people who are involved with the horses, listening to their concerns, and showing the general public how to be involved in racing and breeding.
“They (NZTR) initially just saw the role as me being the face of fashion in racing but now we have a voice as well, because yes, I can talk about fashion until I’m blue in the face but I can also talk about my horses until I’m blue in the face, so they got a lot more than they bargained for! They were like ‘hang on a minute, slow down, we can only do one thing at a time!’”
Among the first initiatives Bax has launched is the exclusive Silk Club, which debuted at Matamata Breeders’ Day in February and will continue on premier race days through the year.
“It brings fashion and racing together,” Bax explains. “We have clothing designers, hats, skin care, make up, and it’s all alongside the birdcage so you can have glamour and racing alongside each other.
“It will take place on selected race days throughout New Zealand, and it will also incorporate local businesses which I think is very important as you can promote each region.
“There will also be a social club horse that belongs to all Silk Club members. She is a Postponed filly, called Sisterhood, who is trained by Keith and Brendan Hawtin, and we will all be hoping that she brings even more excitement to race days!”
Bax’s early focus will be on bringing glamour and luxury back into the sport, both to attract a younger, potentially more affluent - and therefore more likely to invest and participate - crowd into racing and breeding. And it is not just racing’s audience who are the focus of Bax’s makeover - connections of runners will have the spotlight shone on them as well.
“We will give an award at selected race days I attend for the best presented horse and the best presented stable,” Bax says. “It starts from the ground up – Dave O’Sullivan said to me that there was a time when everyone would turn up to racing in a suit and look fantastic but these days they turn up in shorts and flip flops!”
As well as her role as racing ambassador, Bax and her husband have also launched Hermes Syndicates, offering ownership in horses with the couple and others through either the purchasing of shares, or through the leasing of shares as part of a club with a yearly fee.
“We have a beautiful Savabeel filly, and a number of horses that we lease, including some I bred. I want the syndicates to be open to anyone who wants to be involved, have a share in a horse and come racing with my husband and I,” Bax explains.
“We have a lot of different incentives we want to bring in for our owners; it won’t just be about waiting for your horse to run as there will be things in between like cocktail parties, stud tours and a lot of other things so that I can make sure that people enjoy their time with Hermes.”
As part of the Hermes syndicates, Bax has also founded the New Zealand Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a charitable trust which will be funded through donations from Hermes owners. The monies will then be used to fund retirement farms to look after horses that are retired from racing and retrain them, wherever possible, for new careers.
Her modeling career and fashion connections may have played a big part in Bax being offered the role of New Zealand’s racing ambassador but she is deeply passionate about the sport in her country.
“New Zealand is based on primary industries, that is our big force, and racing is a huge part of that. We employ so many people in this industry and it needs to be pushed and focused on a lot more than it is; there needs to be a marriage between NZTR, the government and the local people. We all need to come together and really embrace it as it is an industry that could be so powerful. Australia has done a great job of that and I know that we can do it here,” she says.
“I think more money needs to be injected into the sport by the government. As a country we need to embrace it, as a passion and as a sport. Racing has a stigma attached to it because people associate it with gambling, but you can gamble on rugby, or anything you want these days. And believe me, there is a lot more alcohol at the rugby than at a racetrack!
“Our horses are some of the best bred in the world and I think we should be proud of that. New Zealanders have a tendency to be quite shy but we should shout from the rooftops how good our bloodstock is.”
Bax and her husband bought a farm near Cambridge on their return to New Zealand last year and currently have around 10 mares.
After a lifetime spent with horses, Bax is a self-confessed pedigree buff, and even when living overseas during her modeling career she maintained strong links to the racing industry through both her family’s farm and her own interest.
“When I went over to New York I kept studying my horses and I had a farm in Kentucky where I bred from, so even though I was working all the time in New York, I was still keeping up with racing. Not just the Australian and New Zealand scene as well, but the northern hemisphere too, which was beneficial as I saw how the industry worked on both sides of the Equator.
“I’m very into nicking and have been since I was a little girl. I love delving into the bloodlines of mares and stallions, and I deeply believe in that. I have bred some really good horses over the years.”
Her modeling career took her around the world, but Bax is happy to be back in New Zealand.
“I came back to this country with my family and we came here to embrace New Zealand and do the best we can for our industry,” she says. “It’s important that people in racing know that I am here to listen and to be progressive.