There was a certain uniqueness about Michael Stedman, an Australian who forged his career as a bloodstock agent on the “other” side of the Tasman, and through that became a strident advocate of the Kiwi-bred racehorse.
Reflections on the affable New South Welshman have abounded over the past week in the wake of his death from cancer at age 73 in Sydney. After following a family tradition and qualifying as a pharmacist in his central coast hometown of Terrigal, Stedman found himself increasingly drawn to racing, which included occasional stints as a bookie’s ticket writer, before becoming a regular visitor to New Zealand.
His primary role was initially as unofficial tour leader for groups of Australian trainers and bloodstock agents on pre-sale inspection rounds. That precipitated a permanent move to New Zealand in the mid-1980s, establishing his own bloodstock agency from a base in Matamata.
Amongst those he built a close rapport with were late South Waikato veterinarian Keith Gudsell, a self-described “part Australian” from his Sydney veterinary student years and a dual national in both the Australian and New Zealand rugby teams.
“Michael and Keith were a great team working together on the yearling rounds and assessing other likely sale targets,” said Lance Noble, another of Stedman’s close friends from his time as a Matamata trainer. “He always said he learnt more through Keith’s astute judgment than from anyone else.
“I first got to know Michael when I went training on my own and he was looking for someone to develop horses he was sending up to Lawrie Fownes in Hong Kong. We had a fantastic relationship, both professional and personal, and I’ll always be indebted to him.
“The biggest thing with him was he was straight up and down; if he wanted to buy a horse from you he would go through the process and everyone knew exactly where they stood. He always said New Zealand horses were a genuine article that suited the people he was buying for, and he was a stickler for doing everything above board, which was reflected in his proactive work around the Bloodstock Agents’ Federation.”
Philip Brown, principal of Matamata nursery Ancroft Stud, was another whose early acquaintance with Stedman transcended into a lifetime friendship. On behalf of Melbourne trainer Colin Little, Stedman selected an Ancroft-bred yearling who as El Segundo went on to win four Group One races including the 2007 Cox Plate.
“For Catherine and me El Segundo was a highlight that Michael played a key part in, but that wasn’t the only top horse he was involved in. He was proud to have been the agent who negotiated the sale of Let’s Elope to Bart Cummings, who prepared her to win the Melbourne Cup,” Brown recalled.
“He lived just around the corner from us and he was a constant in our lives for nearly 40 years. Michael had a wonderful sense of humour and he was a great raconteur, especially over a glass or two of good red wine.”