After being a quiet achiever in one of WA racing’s powerhouse operations for more than seven years, Stephanie Bakranich is now experiencing some of her own time in the limelight. The Bullsbrook mother and trainer has made most of her living by breaking-in and educating young thoroughbreds behind-the-scenes, however, over the past two months she has attracted attention for preparing progressive Playing God three-year-old, Playing Marika, to wins at each of the filly’s three race starts to date.
Born and raised in Perth, Bakranich acquired her love of horses from her mother, a keen rider, and always aspired to pursue a career in the equine industry. She left her schooling at Prendiville College at the age of 15 to compete in showjumping around the country full-time, as well as working in a variety of horse-related jobs. From the moment she could walk, Bakranich believes her future working side-by-side with horses was inevitable.
“My Mum used to ride and she rode a lot of the police horses when she was young because her family couldn’t afford horses. She used to compete on them,” Bakranich said.
“She had a horse when we were kids growing up and I’ve had a pony for as long as I can remember. I rode at the Perth Royal Show as a kindergarten rider when I was five.”
After moving to Victoria to continue showjumping in her 20s, Bakranich began purchasing horses to train up and sell as showjumpers, many of which were recently-retired racehorses. She then spent time travelling back and forth between WA and Victoria for competitions before eventually settling down in her home state to continue her buying and selling business venture.
“I competed across all levels, but my main job was buying thoroughbreds off-the-track, competing on them as D and C-graders and then selling them,” she said.
“Because it was my only source of income, I used to turn over a lot and just keep buying and selling them.”
Despite having lived and breathed the equestrian world from an early age, whilst also having purchased ex-racehorses regularly throughout her adulthood, Bakranich had very little knowledge or experience in the racing industry. A chance opportunity led to her being introduced to the sport which, unbeknown to her, would soon open up a whole new range of doors for her career.
“A friend told me to give Frank Maynard a call to do some pre-trainers for him,” Bakranich said.
“I had some pre-trainers for Frank for quite a few years and then I ended up doing a lot of breakers for Danny Morton for a few years.”
Throughout her competition days, Bakranich formed a strong friendship with fellow showjumper, Carol Warwick, the wife of former leading harness driver-trainer and now astute thoroughbred trainer, Justin. As Justin began his transition from harness racing to the gallops almost eight years ago, Bakranich, who was then simply a family friend, broke-in some of his young horses. Fast-forward to today and Bakranich is now Warwick’s full-time breaker and educator, whilst also training a handful of racehorses herself.
“It started with only two or three horses,” Bakranich said.
“Then as Justin expanded and started buying more horses, I kept getting more and more horses to break in. It all started through our friendship, though. Firstly, we are all good friends, and it’s just gone from there.”
Warwick is now one of the state’s premier thoroughbred trainers and has won a swag of feature races, including two Perth Cups, since switching to the ‘sport of kings’.
Based in Myalup, a 90 minute drive south of Perth, Warwick’s training setup consists of his horses being educated by Bakranich from her Bullsbrook property before being transferred to his establishment as they draw closer to their race debut.
Warwick has paid tribute to Bakranich publicly in the past, including crediting her for the time and early work put into his current stable superstar and multiple Group One-placegetter, Material Man, who he described as a “handful” in the gelding’s early days.
“I do the breaking and education for all of the young horses Justin buys and then I send them down to him when they’re ready,” she said.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with him, so I kept working with the racehorses and then a few ended up going in my name to train. I mainly want to do the breakers and the education of the young horses, that’s what I love the most. My plan was never to have the horses in my name and train them, it just sort of panned out like that.”
Part of Bakranich and Warwick’s racing journey has included racing former speed demon, Hot Goods, in partnership together. Warwick purchased the Time Thief sprinter from the 2014 Perth Magic Millions Yearling Sale for a modest $4,000 and she went on to win her first five race starts before finishing her career with stake earnings in excess of $300,000.
“Justin bought her at a sale and didn’t pay much for her. I broke her in and did her early education and Justin asked if I wanted half of her,” Bakranich said.
“We had half each of her and he was really just doing me a favour. I got rid of 10 per cent of her and ended up with 40 per cent and it was great fun.”
With Warwick’s stable expanding in recent years, Bakranich now has up to 16 horses in work at any one time and, despite having only ever planned to educate young horses, she has unexpectedly acquired a small team of gallopers.
Having taken care of each of Warwick’s racehorses throughout their early preparations, Bakranich struck up a good association with one of his main supporters, breeder-owner Livio Divitini, which led to her being given the opportunity to train an unnamed Playing God filly who would later be named Playing Marika.
“Divitini’s horses are the only horses I race in my name and he decided to give me Playing Marika,” she said.
“I broke her in as well. We’d always thought she had good ability at trackwork but she trialled quite green a couple of times and we thought she should have one more trial before she raced.”
Playing Marika displayed her talent and progressiveness when winning three consecutive races in the spring. The undefeated filly made her race debut in an 1100m Northam maiden on October 17 and, despite being sent out at an $18 betting quote and having to cover additional ground after jumping from barrier 11, the filly powered to the line to defeat Over There by a half-head. Whilst it is typically uncommon for horses to win their next start after breaking their maiden status, Playing Marika produced another fast-finishing burst to beat Soy Tan Rapido by a half-length at Ascot two weeks later, before defeating subsequent next-start winner, Dawn Armada, in an Ascot 1400m event on November 21.
“She’s a nice horse and has done plenty this time in so I’m going to give her a break now,” Bakranich said.
“Despite her recent success with Playing Marika, Bakranich admits she still feels very new to the racing caper and credits jockey Troy Turner as an integral part to her stable.
“Troy helps me a lot with my horses and I’m guided a lot by what he thinks as he rides them all at the track,”she said.
“I’m not that experienced in the racing side of things, because that’s Justin’s area. My experience is mainly breaking them in, educating them and getting them fit.”
Asked if she has any ambitions to expand her racing stable in the future, Bakranich says she doesn’t want anything to change.
“I love it and I just really enjoy working with young horses,” she said.
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing with Justin. We have a good relationship and friendship, which is nice, and he’s been very good to me over the time. We’ve got a lot of mutual respect for each other and I admire him for his training so, basically, I will always continue to do the stuff I do for him if I can.”
Something that is certain about the future, however, are Bakranich’s genes coming to the fore. Her four-year-old daughter, Olivia, shares the same love of horses that Bakranich developed at the same age.
“Olivia comes to all of the races and trials with me, she’s always around!” Bakranich said.
“She already has two ponies and loves riding.”