The jumpers are why I love this time of year

A few years back I had a regular gig on a sports show on a Taupo radio station where one of my co-hosts was renowned for asking “have I told you how much I love this time of year?” before going on to proclaim it his absolute favourite.

What you could gauge from listening to the show that it really didn’t matter what the season, or the major sporting event of the time, they were all his favourites.

At the risk of channelling him I do have to confess that this is one of my very favourite racing weeks. Of course, in the 2019 version it is a little more streamlined than the mid-winter week of my youth when Trentham hosted three days of racing over a week.  School holidays being structured differently back then, this also necessitated wagging school to make the mid-week day – the excuse being I was visiting my grandfather.  The fact I was visiting him in the owners and trainers bar at the racecourse was glossed over as something the nuns possibly didn’t need to know.

Three days of winter racing at Trentham meant straw in the birdcage to mask the otherwise knee-deep mud and out on the track it was the survival of the fittest.

While I have vague memories of traditional steeplechases, by the time we had moved back to Wellington the figure-eight course was in use and everyone soon learned the top of the old public stand was the best place to watch the drama unfold.

According to the holder (in his head) of all Wellington RC history the one and only Des Coppins, the first Wellington Steeplechase to be run over the figure-eight course was in 1973 and won by Destino, trained by Bob Autridge.

Hard to believe then, that this will be the 46th running over that course!  Of course, the race itself boasts a much longer history going back to the first running in 1884.

Looking back at past winners in living memory I found it interesting how I could recall so many of those races, yet I am often tested when trying to remember who won the previous year’s running!

My absolute passion for the Wellington Steeplechase probably started when Fleeting Moment won.  Trained by Jock Harris he was ridden by Mike Dombroski.

A keen hunter Mike once turned up at my parent’s place in Tauherenikau with a Captain Cooker piglet – I will spare the squeamish the reason why said piglet was motherless – thinking it would make a cool pet for me.  It did – until it outgrew our place and was moved across to my grandfather’s place and….well, you can probably guess the rest.  So Mike was something of an idol and, him winning the Wellington Steeplechase lit my interest in jump racing.

My grandfather despite, or probably because of, being a former jumps rider was very reluctant to train them, so he seldom had a jumper in the stable.

For me though, there is nothing better than watching a field of top-class jumpers stream over fences as they negotiate the twists and turns of the figure-eight course.  And of course, there is nowhere better to watch that than on top of the old stand at Trentham – the stalwarts will be there on Saturday for the culmination of my favourite week of the year!



Creating opportunities for women in racing

A random comment during a conversation last week with a young woman working in the racing industry was an eye-opener, and led to me taking action.

For some time now I’ve thought about creating a group for women working in racing which would allow them to network and provide mentoring opportunities for those new to the industry.  This week it happened. I mean, what else are you going to do when you’ve got a week off work, right?

The spark which finally lit the fire to get me motivated and doing something came last week with a reminder that misogyny is alive and well in racing.  Foolishly, I thought things had changed.

Apparently not, according to the bright, capable young woman I was chatting to, we’ve still got a way to go when the industry is seen to be embracing misogyny.

It was a depressing thought, but not an unfamiliar one.  I’ve fought it from day one, with my own grandfather telling me the stables was “no place for a girl.”  Despite his misgivings, that one was easily negotiated – where else are you going to find staff who will work for nothing?

In later years though the battle was real.  

I laugh about it now – the letter from a prospective employer which commenced “Dear Sir”; the sincere question from a Board member asking “who would be there to shake hands” should I attend an international meeting as the sole NZ representative; the request for coffee from “the secretary” when I was the person who had called the meeting; and so on, slights representative of a certain generation, or so I thought.

Having enjoyed a 10-year sabbatical working outside of the racing industry in businesses with very strong female leaders, where studying and developing one’s leadership style was encouraged, I foolishly thought racing might have also moved on.

However, it would seem our industry – despite its blinkered belief to the contrary – is still mired in the thinking of my grandfather’s era.  Or maybe that is a little harsh?

After all we have possibly the highest representation of female Vs male jockeys in the racing world and they perform admirably.  There is also no shortage of strong female trainers. Women are – with a few exceptions – reasonably well represented on racing club committees. Then there are the ones who are employed in positions throughout the industry.  But look at the leadership and the talking heads and you will find they are still predominantly male.  

It is more than how this looks, although the perception from outside the industry is of a blokey outfit, it is how it feels to the young women currently working in racing.

Having developed a high bullshit threshold over the years I am a little concerned to find it having been tested recently.  What has concerned me more, is that other women, young women wanting to forge a career in this industry and without my rhino hide, might be impacted by the level of misogynistic crap they encounter and chose an easier path.

I want the young females coming through our industry to be able to lean on and learn from each other and some of the more battle-scarred in the hope women in racing leadership might become normal rather than a rarity.  Hence the creation of Thoroughbred Racing Women’s Network, a closed Facebook group (we’ve also got a presence on Twitter too @TBRacingWomens1) to allow that to happen.

As someone who has benefited greatly from having some incredible mentors throughout my working life, the option is there for members of the group to either mentor others or be mentored.  Networking and social opportunities are also part of the master plan which will evolve as the group grows.

The only prerequisite for membership is that you be a women who is currently employed in racing.

And while I may have been initially apprehensive about starting a group which might not attract any members that fear was quickly put to bed with a message from one young member.

“Get me on board – I’m going to see how far I can get in this industry!”