The journey of Alastair Pulford

A profile of the Zimbabwean who set sail for Australia at the age of 21 and went on to become Darley's Head of Sales
Alastair Pulford - Head of Sales in Australia

For the past 13 years, Alastair Pulford has been at the helm of the Darley nominations team in Australia.

When Alastair joined Darley in 2003 the roster consisted of 10 stallions. The roster rapidly progressed over the following few years to the extent that in 2008 and 2009 Darley stood 27 stallions in Australia. In 2015, Darley stood 22 stallions, split between Kelvinside and Northwood Park.

Not content with a roster that would be the envy of his counterparts throughout the industry, Alastair still has a great desire for the Darley stallion roster to continue to progress. It is a desire spawned from a lifelong ambition to work with the best thoroughbred bloodstock in the world.

Alastair was born in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. He was introduced to horses by his neighbour Murray Lindley, who would go on to become the leading trainer in Zimbabwe.

“Murray always had a few horses and we both ended up going to Sharon Paterson’s for riding lessons,” Alastair said.

“Sharon worked at the Zimbabwe Bloodstock Agency (ZBA) and it was through her that I met Robin Bruss. I started working for the ZBA in my school holidays and at 16 years of age Robin got me a job as an apprentice racecaller.

“Robin was a great influence, teaching me much about pedigrees, conformation etc. but above all he was and remains a ‘big picture’ thinker which you needed to be in Zimbabwe.”

After finishing school at 18, Alastair became the assistant handicapper in Zimbabwe and 12 months later when the handicapper left Alastair stepped up to assume that role.

“I was still calling the races as well. There were only about 1000 horses in training in Zimbabwe so you knew them all backwards. Come race day I wouldn’t even need to learn the colours.”

Three years later at the age of 21, Alastair made his first visit to Australia. It was only a brief visit but it was long enough to convince Alastair of where he wanted to be.

He moved to South Africa and spent another 12 months working with Robin Bruss before making the big decision to move to Australia permanently.

After moving to Australia, Alastair started working casually as a bid-spotter at the yearling sales. Following a sale conducted by ABCOS at Belmont Park in Sydney’s west, Alastair joined the organisation full time.

“Adrian Hancock replaced Terry Haddleton as General Manager of ABCOS and I stepped into Adrian’s role,” Alastair said.

“I spent 12 years in Adelaide with ABCOS before I joined Magic Millions and moved to their head office in Queensland.”

Four years after joining Magic Millions, Alastair was on a yearling inspection trip through the Hunter Valley when Harry Mitchell introduced him to Darley’s Managing Director in Australia at the time Olly Tait.

“Olly and I got on really well. Darley was advertising for a nominations manager so I applied and I fortunately got the job.” 

A lot has changed within the organisation since Alastair joined in January 2003, the most profound of those changes coming early in 2008.

“The purchase of Ingham Bloodstock Enterprises was huge,” Alastair said.

“It changed our focus from a commercial yearling selling operation to the biggest private racing and breeding operation in the country. It made us all much better at what we do.”

The quest to get better continues and as Head of Sales, Alastair has no plans to rest on his laurels.

“It is difficult but it is extremely important to continually renew your stallion roster,” he said.

“One of our KPI’s is to have three of the top 10 stallions on the leading sires’ table but going forward I would like to exceed that.”

Set to embark on his 14th season leading the nominations team, Alastair prepares with as much dedication and enthusiasm as he did his first season back in 2003.

“I enjoy the challenge that faces you every year. It is always daunting when fees are released in April, but it is very satisfying to look back at the end of the year knowing you achieved your goals. On top of that, the product and the people I work with are outstanding which makes my job a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.”