When Steve Morris was young, he’d often throw a ball for his pet, who’d catch it in his mouth and roll it back.
Most kids would have had a similar experience, but Morris’s pet was different. The animal playing fetch was a racehorse.
“We moved out to a property between Gisborne and Bacchus Marsh when I was five years of age,” Morris told aflplayers.com.au.
“My old man bred horses, and the first horse that we bred – that I can remember, anyway – was a trotter called Djerriwarrh, named after the Djerriwarrh Reservoir, which our property backed onto.”
Morris’s personal connection with Djerriwarrh fostered a love for horses – which in turn became a passion for racing.
“That horse was a champion. It went on to win 27 races in Australia before we sold him off to the States. I was going along to Moonee Valley every Friday and Saturday night to watch him, and he just kept winning.
“I’d always loved horses, but that sparked my interest in racing.”
While footy has always been Morris’s biggest passion, the Richmond defender says racing has never been too far behind. He owns shares in a number of horses trained by Amy Johnston in Mornington, as do a number of his Tiger teammates.
He and Jack Riewoldt, Nick Vlastuin, Brandon Ellis and Trent Cotchin each own a share of a horse called Denmark – which ran fifth on debut in recent weeks – while Morris and Chris Knights are part-owners in another, Crackajack. More recently, Morris’s energies have gone into Auricano, a two-year-old gelding that’s part-owned by former Richmond cult hero Jake King and likely to debut in coming weeks. He is also currently syndicating a yearling colt by Bel Esprit, the sire of World Champion Sprinter, Black Caviar.
— FirstClassBloodstock (@fcbloodstock) January 29, 2015
Though Morris thoroughly enjoys owning horses, he’s always had the belief that “there’s room for improvement in the communication side of racing.”
“When you own a horse, you really want to know how it’s going. Often trainers will just email a paragraph saying, ‘it’s going well and is a chance to race in a couple of weeks’, which can be quite frustrating when you’re really invested.”
Morris found himself wanting photos, vision, video updates – anything that would help him get a better understanding of how his horses were tracking, given he wasn’t often in a position to see them in the flesh.
Through discussions with Australian cricketer Cameron White, whose girlfriend is Morris’s sister, and David Raphael – a race-caller who’s gained a reputation for selecting promising yearlings in recent years – the trio created First Class Bloodstock, a business that syndicates horses and aims to provide those involved with a more personal and engaging experience of horse ownership.
— FirstClassBloodstock (@fcbloodstock) June 22, 2014
“We’ve got a view to breeding horses and training them, long-term, but we’re just dipping our toes in [with syndication] for the time being – just because we love it.”
Morris personally produces regular video updates, which are emailed to those who have a share in their horses, and tries to interact with those in his syndicates personally, when possible.
“As an AFL player, you have to live the life of an athlete 24-7 – but that doesn’t mean you have to be thinking about footy 24-7.” – Steve Morris
“We create events as well, so that people can get an insight into the life of an AFL player and the world of cricket – things that aren’t generally afforded to the average punter.
“I guess that’s an added bonus of what people get when they race a horse with us. We just like to make it pretty inclusive and give everyone an opportunity to share in one of our passions.”
Though the 26-year-old isn’t entirely sure what will become of First Class Bloodstock in the years ahead, it’s unlikely to expand greatly in the short-term.
“With our workloads, Cam and I are mindful of creating too much work for ourselves. We just bought a colt, and we’re syndicating him at the moment. From there, we’ll syndicate on demand.
“When we feel like the interest’s there and there’s an opportunity to buy another horse, we will… But we don’t want to be in a position where we don’t have the time to put together the videos that we do, and where we’re skimping on quality just because we want another horse or two.
“That’s part of the reason we don’t want to go really big just yet.”
It may become a significant business venture in the future, but – for the moment – Morris is happy for his love of horses to remain a simple passion project that gives him an outlet from the mental demands of AFL.
“There’s no doubt that, as an AFL player, you have to live the life of an athlete 24-7,” Morris said.
“But that doesn’t mean you have to be thinking about footy 24-7.”
Want to learn more about First Class Bloodstock and find out how to get involved? Be sure to head to the new First Class Bloodstock website (designed by Morris’s teammate Chris Knights and his web-design company ZibMedia).