“If you fall off a horse, get straight back in the saddle” is an adage Stephen Baster knows better than most.
Now a real estate agent for Marshall White on the burgeoning Mornington Peninsula, just three years ago Stephen was a top jockey riding Group 1 winners for well-known horse trainers like Gai Waterhouse.
Needless to say, he’s fallen from a horse more than once, and the 47-year-old says the high stakes world of horse racing provided the perfect preparation for real estate.
“I remember when I first started in real estate, an agent pulled me aside to say, ‘Don’t get too upset if you only list one in four properties you present for’,” Stephen recalls.
“I said, ‘I’m used to winning one in 10 (horse races), so one in four is great’.
“My longest stretch was 89 rides without riding a winner, so you can imagine how that plays on your mind.
“So I’m quite resilient when it comes to real estate. Racing set me up very well in that regard.”
Stephen was just a kid when he started in the racing industry, heading off on what was supposed to be a school holiday trial at a stable near Brisbane.
Only 15 at the time, Stephen says he loved the experience and never looked back.
“I moved out of home a couple of days after my 15th birthday,” he says.
“I told my mum I was going to give it a try during the school holidays and I was going to live at the stables during that time.
“Initially, mum was rapt, but then when I said I wasn’t coming home, she wasn’t so rapt.”
A year later, Stephen headed to Melbourne to start an apprenticeship at Caulfield for trainer Mark Riley, who trained the winner of the 1993 Oakleigh Plate and 1994 Newmarket Handicap – Mookta.
Over his career, Stephen estimates he had about 15,000 rides for about 1500 winners, including 14 Group 1 winners.
He rode in the race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup, nine times, and finished third in 2007 riding Mahler, who was trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien.
Humble to the core, Stephen still doesn’t reckon he’s much chop as a jockey and puts his success down to his strong work ethic.
“I honestly don’t think I was that good as a jockey, but I turned up, I worked hard, and I clicked with some of the horses,” he explains.
“I loved the animals, and that helped me get through it. I had no fear whatsoever, I just clicked with horses really well, and I think they’re just big softies at heart.”
The great unknown
Stephen says with about 50 per cent of his rides, he didn’t meet the horse until race day so riding a winner came down to how the horse was trained and his ability to study their previous rides.
“Some horses I rode every start they had in their career, and a lot of times I rode a horse five to 10 times in their career,” he says.
“But each week, I’d have about 20 different rides on different horses.
“Luckily for us (jockeys), the majority of the horses are really well educated, and then with technology, we’d get to watch and study all of their replays.
“I’d watch their trials, which is where they’re learning to race, and I’d watch their previous race starts. Most of them are quite similar.”
But Stephen admits he did have a soft spot for a couple of horses over the years, including Gai Waterhouse’s Pinot, who he won the $1 million VRC Oaks with back in 2017.
“I rode Pinot every start in her career,” he says.
“I absolutely loved her and felt I had a good connection with her.”
A career post racing
But as Stephen moved towards the twilight of his career, he started thinking about what he’d do post racing and settled on real estate.
He says he always had a natural affiliation with the property industry, having bought and sold 18 times before finally settling with his family on the Mornington Peninsula seven years ago.
It also didn’t hurt that one of Gai Waterhouse’s main horse owners happened to be Marshall White Senior Director Jack Bongiorno.
“He said it would probably be a good career for me, and then I got to know a few other people, and John McGrath also gave me a lot of advice,” Stephen says.
“During my last three years of riding, I wasn’t riding full time, so I had a bit of spare time, and I started dipping my toe into real estate and learning as much as I could before I made the jump.”
That jump came at the end of the 2019 Spring Carnival.
“I rode my last race at Sandown, at the Sandown Cup, gave away all my jockey gear the next day and started in real estate on the Monday.”
That was in mid-November, and by March the following year, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit Australian shores.
Stephen says while the Australian real estate market in the ensuing two years went gangbusters, he didn’t hit the ground running, raking in listings.
“It started off a little bit slow with lockdowns and things like that, but the people I was with were really supportive, and I knew it was just like riding,” he says.
“The Spring Carnival was when you made the most of your moment, and at the other times of the year, you’d have a quieter time.
“My life has always been like a yo-yo in that respect, so I guess real estate is similar. You have good times and bad times.”
Stephen says in the horse racing industry, jockeys deal with people from varying walks of life, including wealthy sheikhs.
So he’s never had trouble building rapport with potential vendors, and the biggest hurdle for him initially was convincing them he could ride a winner in the property market.
“I knew a lot of people, but they didn’t want ‘the jockey’ to sell their house,” Stephen explains.
“I was relatively inexperienced even though I’d done three years part-time.
“But while people were initially hesitant to list with me, once I got some runs on the board, things changed, and now I get a lot of people from racing calling me for advice.”
A straightforward approach
Not one to move in for the hard sell, Stephen says his real estate philosophy is all about delivering high-quality service and working as hard as he can to achieve the best result for his clients.
“I know how important someone’s home is to them, and I just try to do a very good job and not be an agent that hounds people for the sake of trying to get business,” he says.
“Most of the clients I’m getting now are from referrals and doing a good job for them previously.”
In terms of results, Stephen says he’s doubled his sales in the 2021-22 financial year and is looking to build on that heading into 2023.
“I just want to keep trying to improve and get nice properties to sell for people,” he says.
“I haven’t got any goals to be writing the most dollars or anything like that. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing and getting my three or four listings each month.
“My focus is just doing a good job for my vendors.”