As a youngster, James Kennedy had a few years of successful punting when it came to the Melbourne Cup.
“I must have won six or seven years in a row, with no skill involved. It was pure luck,” he claims.
As a successful businessman in both running a racing operation and operating an expanding luxury watch and jewellery industry bearing his name, Kennedy’s intestinal fortitude is hardly driven by basking in good fortune.
Rather, Kennedy is more focused on correcting mistakes and avoiding future pitfalls.
“I don't think success measures all that much,” he said. “I don't think we reflect as much on our successes as we might have failures. So, when we talk about reflection, we're talking about learning and about experiences.
“I think it's those failures or challenges that are the events in life that will define us. I always tend to think that if you don't make a mistake, you don't know what to do right the next time around.
“There's a saying by Confucius: ‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’“
Kennedy is one of 12 slot holders for the 2022 Everest. It’s his second time through the process, selecting Rothfire last year. However, an injury prevented the son of Rothesay from competing in the 2021 Everest, as it did in 2020.
Kennedy knew picking Rothfire was a dicey proposition.
“I took a bit of a gamble in selecting Rothfire, who — if you take the injury out of the equation — was a favorite to that race the previous year,” Kennedy noted. “He’d come back from injury. He was as good as he ever was.
“You know, he's gonna give the race a shake, or his body wasn't going to hold up.
“Unfortunately, it was the latter.”
Kennedy settled on Embracer, trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. He finished 11th behind Nature Strip.
“Getting a horse like Embraceris not to say he's not a great horse, and that he wasn't so competitive,”
Kennedy said. “He had some good races leading in. I was caught behind an 8-ball a little bit towards the end there (with Rothfire’s late defection).
“Last year, I thought it wasn't the right thing to make a (slot decision) early, to let everything play out and let all the horses that are in the mix, run their races and sort of pick the ‘best of the best.
“But I think now if you don't go a little bit earlier, you might not be left with enough talent that can compete,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy certainly knows a bit about early chances and risk, having to jump back into the family jewellery business after his father died. With a career in finance in hand, he aggressively took a prestigious retail business with two stores and expanded it to a dozen on the continent.
And Kennedy Luxury Group did it rapidly, by industry standards. From Rolex to Longines, Patek Phillipe and Cartier, James Kennedy is trusted by top-shelf players in the timepiece industry.
“I have an obligation to those brands to represent them in the market and the Australian market,” he said.
“We extend the quality of the manufacturing into the service and experience that we can provide our customers.”
“And that comes very much from building a very strong infrastructure. That's probably what I bring to the racing industry, and particularly to Kennedy Racing. “
We have an incredible infrastructure in place from the moment we buy our horse as a yearling, all the way through to the moment that it has its first start, and then as it races through its career, and even its post-racing career.”
Whereas he was able to build on his family's success, he built Kennedy Racing from the ground up. Either way, he knows his father would be pleased.
“I think, he'd be very proud of what I've been able to achieve — whether it's taking the foundations of an existing business and making something of it or starting from the ground up.
“I think the pressure of making a mess of something you've been handed, really brings a lot into the equation as opposed to if you start from nothing, then you're sort of playing with the idea of what you have to lose.
“I take comfort in the fact that I've been able to take what was left and build it and take it to the next level as a business. And I'm proud of it and I suspect if he was here today, he would be as well.”
Kennedy won’t pass any of his stable to other operations. In Kennedy’s thought process, it’s about
“Getting the most out of the horses that want to be racehorses and finding the right solutions for the ones that don’t.”
“We find homes; we don't give horses away, ever,” he said. “We don't sell horses off to others to race anywhere else. If they don't want to race for us, (then) they don't want to (race). We'll find them homes, whether that be in dressage and equestrian for varying facilities across the country. We work with great partners to provide a sort of retraining and re-homing for each of the horses.”
While Kennedy stresses happy horses are the best athletes, he realizes that opportunities like selling slots and entering $15 million races such as The Everest. Chances must be taken. He’s even considered an entry from his own barn.
And that barn spends plenty on the welfare of the horses, in terms of equipment.
“It’s going to be no secret how much it costs to be in racing, and particularly in the manner in which I run my own operation end to end,” he said. “It costs a fortune and we need to get the return on investment as much as we can.
It's still a business and I've got to pay trainers, assistant trainers, foremen, stable hands and vets plus food for the horses.
“If we can't find a way to make (racing) at the very least revenue neutral, it makes it hard.”
Kennedy offers sound advice when dealing with risk, be it in business or on the race track.
“People can think that winning, being successful, being wealthy, can be luck, (that it) can be just handed to you. You have to be willing to lean into the risk that you're preparing to take on and be prepared to accept if you get it wrong.
“Not everyone's built for it. Not everybody wants that. Wealth is a by-product of success. It's not why you become successful. I know a lot of wealthy people who are unhappy, lonely and depressed because of the years of this survival instinct to get there.
“Then you've got people who have a good life and a good family and a nice home and are just happy with what they have. On the other end, the other thing to think about is if you really believe you want to do something, then you should do that. And the other thing I'll say is, there is never a good time. Too often I hear ‘Not yet. Now's not the time, you've got this happening, you've got that happening.’ “
To which Kennedy responds:
“I'm going to save everyone the suspense, there will never be a good time. Don't die wondering if there's something you really want to do. There's never a good time. If you want to do something, go ahead and do it, if you think it's the right thing to do.”