Even among the confines of one of the world’s most densely populated cities, Mark Newnham feels like a liberated racehorse trainer.

In a territory beset by socio-political unrest in recent years, Hong Kong has paradoxically provided a sanctuary to allow Newnham an opportunity to be the trainer he couldn’t be in Australia.

By any measure of success, Newnham’s career in Sydney was on a trajectory that underscored a reputation as an accomplished horseman.

The countless hours of knowledge acquired while working for training legends such as Gai Waterhouse and Bart Cummings were put to work in a meticulous approach.

And the rewards came sooner rather than later.

Two years after opening a stable in 2016, Newnham trained the first of his four Australian Group 1 winners while establishing himself as a fixture among the top 10 on the Sydney premiership table.

While understanding the needs of an elite racehorse was the easy part, Newnham admits keeping on top of the stable’s day-to-day business affairs was not his area of expertise.

That’s why life as a Hong Kong Jockey Club trainer couldn’t be any better for the 55-year-old as he approaches the halfway mark of his first season in the Asian racing hub.

“I’m a horseman, not a businessman,” Newnham tells The Straight. “I would prefer not to run a business.

“The jockey club runs the business here and they run it well.

“They employ your staff, they pay your staff and they bill your owners. I don’t have any expenses, I don’t have any outgoings and I get paid by the club once a month.

“For me, it takes away all the aspects of training that I don’t really like and that’s running a business.”

“I’m a horseman, not a businessman. I would prefer not to run a business."

Key staffing appointments ensured Newnham’s Australian stable returned a profit in what he described as a “well-run business” despite hefty monthly expenses.

“There are plenty of trainers I know (in Australia) who don’t make much money and that’s simply because they aren’t trained in running a business.”

“Similar to myself, they have been in the industry since they were teenagers and don’t have great accounting skills.”

Despite obvious challenges, Newnham’s Sydney stable established a profile and a following on the back of Group 1 success.

Maid Of Heaven delivered for him on racing’s biggest stage in the 2018 Spring Champion Stakes before Shadow Hero and Nakeeta Jane followed suit in the ensuing 12 months. Newnham was seemingly on his way.

Yet behind the scenes, it soon became apparent he needed to increase the size of his team to keep pace with the emergence of the mega stable - the yards that are becoming more corporate-like in their operations.

These are the ones Newnham insists are changing the face of Australian racing - and most likely not for the better.

An attempt to expand his string of horses was continually thwarted because boxes were at a premium in a situation that Newnham says should sound alarm bells for Australian administrators.

“For me to stay in Australia I probably would have had to go from 50 to 100 horses because the bigger stables are getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

“Once you lose your position on the table, just through weight of numbers, you are less relevant when it comes to yearling sales and new owners.

“I would think in five years’ time, Australian racing will be dominated by half a dozen stables - if it is not already. And they’re going to have hundreds (of horses) in work.

Mark Newnham
Mark Newnham celebrates a winner at Randwick. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Newnham now trains on what he calls a level playing field because Hong Kong stable numbers are capped and he is hopeful this will allow him to generate plenty of momentum in 2024.

From almost 100 runners since the start of the season in September, Newnham has trained nine winners and his freshman stable has earned $HK7.7 million ($A1.5 million).

“The transfer horses that have come into the stable have managed to get a win or two … they’re doing their job,” he said.

“But I had always planned to have a good second half of the season with the new horses starting to race now. That’s pretty much how I envisaged it would go.”

Newnham is also creating a long-term stable roadmap, built on an Australian-Hong Kong pathway he established as a Sydney trainer.

He expects “five or six” yearlings from last week’s Magic Millions sales will find their way into his system for Hong Kong clients, some of whom supported his Australian stable.

One of them is a $260,000 Capitalist colt out of Gibraltar Girl, a stakes-performed Manhattan Rain mare Newnham trained during the latter part of her racing career.

“I had a few of my owners conditioned to buying yearlings because it is hard to buy a barrier trial horse, or horses that have raced, for a reasonable amount of money,” he said.

“It can actually be more cost-effective.

“Over the years I have prepared a lot of horses for owners to come here - you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

“Some horses have got here and surprised me. They’ve done really well and others like Shadow Hero got here and didn’t.

“Finding the right horse is not an exact science but you do your best with what you’ve got.”

The Capitalist colt out of Gibraltar Girl
The Capitalist colt out of Gibraltar Girl purchased by Mark Newnham on the Gold Coast (Photo: Magic Millions)

It’s an outlook that promises to serve Newnham well as a trainer trying to leave an imprint on a racing-mad culture, just as fellow Australians John Size, David Hayes and David Hall have done over their Hong Kong careers.

“There is no doubt (racing) is the biggest show in town, it’s mainstream everywhere,” Newnham said.

“That’s what it is like but that’s what makes it work here, the fact that it is a big show.”