An Interview with Kate Tracey
Kate Tracey grew up loving all sports but racing took the top spot and has become her job and life. After gaining a high grade at the International Baccalaureate at A-Level, Kate attended the nine-week foundation course at the British Racing School, where she was successful enough to be promoted to ‘head girl’. After working in racing for a few years this has led her on to a career in journalism. Kate enrolled on the NCTJ fast-track diploma in journalism with News Associates where she achieved Gold Standard journalism.
When working full-time for trainer Philip Hobbs, Kate rode as an amateur in point-to-points. She bought her own ‘pointer out of Ascot sales to train and ride herself as well as getting some outside rides in the Somerset area.
Having relocated many times due to working in racing, Kate, 27, now lives in Gloucestershire. 'It’s great to have finally settled just fifteen minutes from Cheltenham Racecourse!' she reflects with a smile. Due to time restrictions, she unfortunately no longer owns her own horse but does have an idiotic tabby cat, named Fig, who is one and a half years old.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
I was lucky enough to grow up in the heart of Cornwall where my first house was on a dairy farm, so I was surrounded by animals. My parents were both teachers and neither were into horse riding so I didn’t have a ‘horsey’ childhood as such. However, like most young girls I was obsessed with horses from a very young age and eventually begged my parents to let me have horse-riding lessons at the age of eleven. My parents were very sensible financially and knew that we didn’t have the money to buy a pony and wanted me to appreciate the riding lessons. That’s why I was only allowed lessons when I understood the value of such a thing. They also wanted me to be strong enough and big enough to be able to handle a horse as well (even if my ‘horse’ was a 13hh welsh section with about as much interest in moving as I do after eating Christmas dinner).
I had lessons at my local riding stables called Chiverton Riding Centre in Three Burrows, Cornwall. I was already hugely interested in horse racing and the owners of the riding school, Jill and Stan, had worked in racing for most of their careers. They bought an ex-racehorse that I begged them to let me ride, and one day they did. I thought I was Katie Walsh before getting run away with around the sand school because I didn’t understand that ‘don’t be heavy with your hands’ didn’t mean don’t bother braking. It was a steep learning curve, like it is for most people when learning to ride, but thankfully Jill and Stan were so supportive and continued to encourage my passion.
From then on, I took jobs riding other people’s horses – I say jobs, I never actually got paid for the riding but was just overjoyed that I got to ride lots of horses in different locations. Being in Cornwall, there weren’t many racing yards in my area and most of the horses I rode, I got to by cycling to them. I simply rode as many different horses as I could so that when I worked in racing and had different lots, I would be more than prepared – that was my Dad’s and my theory at least anyway!
How did you get into racing?
My Dad was a huge sports fan and my childhood was fantastic because my Dad would take me to all sorts of different sporting events. We would go to Molineux once a month to watch Wolves play at home; we’d go to Edgbaston to watch the cricket, but most importantly, we regularly went horseracing.
I remember my first ever race meeting was on a dreary, mid-week jump card at Worcester in August 1999. The weather was awful and the calibre of racing was even worse. There was a bumper horse in the last race called Red Radish, whose name I will never forget because he got loose and caused about a half an hour delay to the concluding bumper. Barely a sole had hung around for the last race. However, my Dad and I were having the greatest day that we stayed to the bitter end after they had eventually rescued Red Radish from Worcester town centre and the race was finally able to start.
Ever since that day, I have never wanted to do anything else in my life but work in horseracing. Of all days to get hooked, the weakest racing on the wettest of days with barely any atmosphere; but as a five year old, I just simply had the most magical day.
From then on, it was weekend road trips to race meetings across the country for my Dad and me. We’d head to Cheltenham for our first day of a three-day adventure, then onto Ludlow and back to Exeter on our way home, as just one example of the trips we made that I can remember.
Because we lived in Cornwall, it was difficult to get to a single race meeting but we at least had plenty of point-to-pointing to keep us occupied in the meantime. Rarely did we miss a Wadebridge, Trebudannon or a Great Trethew meeting throughout the season.
I’m so grateful for everything my Dad did for me growing up and encouraging me in every way to pursue a career in horse racing. I lost my Dad eight years ago, which hurts when I think about all of the amazing days in my career that he’s missed. I also know that every bit of happiness I’ve experienced as a result of racing is because of the path he put me on and I’ll forever take comfort in that.
Which trainers have you worked for?
My first ever race yard that I worked in was that of Polly Gundry, where Polly and her husband Ed trained both point-to-pointers and horses under Rules. I spent a week at Polly’s yard after approaching her at a Trebudannon point-to-point and asking if there was any way I could come and do some experience at her yard. Polly was my idol growing up, so to have her be so encouraging and so helpful was incredible for me. I went on to work for Polly for my Year 10 work experience. This was also my first time being away from home for longer than a couple of days and gave me so much confidence at the time.
On leaving the BRS, I was lucky enough to get a job at Philip Hobbs’ yard and immediately started work as a full-time member of staff. As a huge racing fan, I was in awe that I was working alongside horses such as Menorah, Captain Chris, Wishful Thinking, Balthazar King and of course, Fingal Bay. I was star struck every day at work and was fortunate enough to ride most of the aforementioned names.
I stayed for five seasons and was fortunate enough to look after and ride both Sausalito Sunrise and Fingal Bay every day for four years. I had some amazing days racing. The best day of my life was when Fingal won the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 with me leading him up.
I then went travelling within racing and went out to America to work for Leslie and Paddy Young who have a dual-purpose yard based in Pennsylvania. I had the most incredible time in the three months I spent there and got to travel the length of the country taking their horses racing, from Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina to Georgia. Every weekend was a new adventure and is something I’d recommend to anyone working in racing.
When I came back from America and had gained my journalism qualification, I went to ride out for Tom George until I had figured out how to apply my new journalism skill set.
Although I’m not able to ride out as much as I used to, I still work three mornings a week at the yard. This is because no matter how busy I may be with my four other jobs, I will never be able to quit the saddle. Anyone who has the racing bug will tell you, it’s not just something you can pick up and leave when you like. I hope to continue to ride out for as long as possible and Tom George’s yard supports me perfectly in that way.
Photo Credit: Pete Wilson
How did you write for the Racing Post and on what topics?
It’s actually quite a funny story now looking back on it. I had wanted to get into journalism for a long time but didn’t really know how to go about doing so whilst I was still working full-time for Philip Hobbs.
Then an incident occurred involving my boyfriend, Ciaran Gethings. Ciaran was involved in an unseat that caused quite a social media stir where he was accused of jumping off his horse after it had made a mistake at a hurdle. The subsequent online abuse and trolling he suffered was horrendous. I felt helpless against the onslaught he was getting and the threats made to him. He was only 22 at the time and still a conditional jockey, trying to make a name for himself.
Because of the online ‘discussion’ the incident had caused, the Racing Post phoned Ciaran the following day to ask for his comment on what had happened. He declined to answer but the story was still run in the following day’s paper. I immediately felt that Ciaran was being further targeted, that the incident was being exaggerated and the Racing Post had played to the tune of the trolls.
So I, like any protective girlfriend, took straight to Ciaran’s defence knowing how mild-mannered he is and that he wouldn’t voice his grievance. I emailed the Racing Post to complain about the article to which I received an instant reply. The editor at the time, Bruce Millington himself, responded explaining why the story was run and if he could give me a call to discuss an idea he had. Within the hour Bruce rang me to ask if I would like my own, effective, right of reply, for which I snapped his hand off.
I wrote my article focussing on the social media abuse of jockeys, sighting Ciaran’s incident as a prime example. I wanted to emphasise the damage that such a thing can do to a person. I never expected the response that I got from the article. My story was on the front page of the Racing Post the following day. As an aspiring journalist, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Not just from my own aspirations but the fact that such an important subject was getting every bit of coverage for which I could have ever hoped.
From this link-up with the Racing Post, I went on to write about many different subjects including the stable staff crisis, the importance of point-to-point racing for those working in racing, how Davy Russell’s use of force when correcting a horse was necessary and so many other stories.
It has been a privilege to work with the Racing Post and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities they have given me.
Photo Credit: Toby Connors
What other writing have you done?
I currently write for the Attheraces website where I’m a twice-weekly columnist for their Pools Panel. I was approached for the role following my work on the Final Furlong Podcast, which was previously endorsed by Attheraces.
Now, I provide my best exotic bets for the day’s racing as well as compiling my placepot selections from a certain meeting. The idea of the Pools Panel initiative is to get readers to think about different ways of betting. It isn’t simply, backing a horse to win or betting each-way, it’s discussing all manners of different bets. It is a lot of fun to write about.
Please explain your role for William Hill Racing.
I’m currently a pundit on William Hill Racing Radio, which is a brilliant role and one which I fully enjoy. William Hill Racing Radio has its own broadcast studios in Leeds where there are the betting TV studios as well as their radio studios. Within the radio section there are usually three people broadcasting. You have a presenter and two pundits who all cover every race from Britain and Ireland every day of the racing calendar.
When I started the role, I was almost intimidated by the amount of racing I was going to have to cover. My first day on the radio had over 30 races on the day and, at that time, I didn’t know how I was going to cope with analysing each of those races. However, the skills and the knowledge my punditry role has bought me has been invaluable in my development.
I am now able to preview races at a much quicker rate. I know about so many more horses than I ever thought possible and my race-reading has sharpened up no end.
Sometimes you have to trust yourself that you can do what seems like an impossible task at first and once you do, your confidence will sky-rocket.
I’m currently doing my punditry role from home due to Covid restrictions, which actually makes my life a lot easier as it saves on a six-hour roundtrip to Leeds for me!
I have my laptop up with my race cards and show of betting, my TV on and remote to hand to change between racing channels, and I’m sorted for the day covering the racing from home.
Photo Credit: Toby Connors
What are your favourite lots at Tom George’s?
I used to ride The Big Bite and Fanfan Du Seuil every day and they were my favourite lots of the day. The Big Bite has subsequently moved yards to join Henry Oliver where I'm delighted to see him continuing to show his abilities. Fanfan is still at Tom George’s and I’m fortunate to still get to ride him as and when. Fanfan remains a firm favourite of mine.
Otherwise, I love riding Darling Du Large. She’s an absolute treat to have anything to do with and is also a long-standing favourite of mine.
Currently, I ride Oscar Robertson probably most frequently and, although a challenge in some areas, is another who I really look forward to riding out. Other than that, because I’m only able to ride out three mornings a week, I get all different lots. Luckily for me, most of Tom’s horses are beautiful rides so the majority are very enjoyable!
What does Racecourse Hosting involve and at which racecourses have you done this?
I got into hosting via David Crosse. I had just finished my journalism course and was riding out for Tom George because I didn’t want to work full-time in journalism just yet. I liked having the freedom of riding out so I was looking for a job to do so on an almost freelance basis. Ciaran suggested to me I message ‘Crossey’ to ask about hosting. Crossey was immediately so encouraging and suggested that I shadowed him for a day so I did.
Then I quickly built up an understanding of what the role entailed as well as the confidence to try it myself under Crossey’s supervision. The racecourses also got to know me and so when the time came for me to have my first solo job, I was able to take it in my stride.
The role involves entertaining hospitality guests on a race day. I begin my day by talking and tipping through the race card in the hospitality boxes and restaurants – hoping for plenty of winners because there’s nothing worse than walking back into a disappointed box when I’ve had a nightmare of a day tipping-wise!
Following the tipping, I then run tours for the day. The tours may involve taking a large group down to the final fence to watch a race up-close from a private area sectioned off for my guests only. Alternatively, I may take guests to meet a jockey between races where they can ask any questions about the jockey’s rides, results or just general insight. Other tours include meeting the commentator and then watching a race from the commentary box. If the racecourse has an equicizer, then we can set guests challenges of trying their hand at pushing out a horse for two minutes – needless to say, those that attempt such challenges soon have a newfound respect for jockeys.
Racecourse hosting is one of my favourite jobs. It’s a lot of fun making someone’s day that bit more special and, if the access we give guests encourages them to come racing again, then that is just the icing on the cake.
The racecourses I work for are Sandown, Ascot, Newton Abbot, Warwick, Windsor, Lingfield, Carlisle, Huntingdon, Chester, Haydock and Plumpton. I’ve also worked days at Cheltenham, Leicester, Market Rasen, Newbury and Wincanton.
What was the best advice you were given?
Work smarter not harder. I had previously always been of a mindset that the more I do and the more I tire myself out, the more I’ll be rewarded. It’s taken me a while to think differently and I still need to remind myself of this lesson, but I believe I can finally say that this is the way I work nowadays.
What is the best advice you can give?
Don’t think you have to have everything figured out. If you have an ambition, break it down into small steps that are attainable which will lead you to where you want to end up. As long as you’re happy in what you’re doing to get to where you want to be, then that is plenty enough.
What is your favourite racecourse?
Growing up, my ‘local’ track was Newton Abbot and it remains my favourite. Some of my earliest memories of racing are of getting the train up to Newton Abbot and going for some breakfast with my Dad before heading to the track. We were there so early we’d be sat watching the bookmakers setting up!
There was a rivalry that will forever stick in my mind between a horse called Mantusis and Javelin that I was enthralled by. I appointed myself as head of team Javelin and couldn’t wait to watch either turn up and run at Newton Abbot.
To this day, I’ve had some fantastic experiences at Newton Abbot, from leading up, to my new role as hospitality host.
The atmosphere throughout Newton Abbot is fantastic and the racecourse team run such a smooth operation. I’m so happy that my holy land as a child has since become a place of work for me and still carries the same enjoyment.
What is your favourite meeting?
Of course, it goes without saying that the Cheltenham Festival is the number one meeting for any racing fan because of the quality on offer. But in terms of experiences from a meeting, my favourite would have to be the Punchestown Festival.
My first encounters of the Punchestown Festival were when working for Philip Hobbs and travelling over with our runners. My first year, I went with my boy, Fingal Bay, after he had won at the Cheltenham Festival. It was also my first experience with riding on a racecourse which really is such a rarity in itself and is certainly an experience I will never forget.
The racing is evidently top-class, but aside from the sport, the craic I had for the week is on another level. The racing almost has to take a backseat because the atmosphere is just so fantastic; it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in it.
I’ve since been back with more runners and a couple of years ago I got to enjoy it as a racegoer which was equally as fun.
Kate with The Big Bite when winning at Chepstow racecourse
Photo Credit: Chepstow Racecourse
What is your favourite holiday destination?
I’m very lucky to have been to some amazing places around the world. But I have to say my absolute favourite holiday destination ever and a place I can’t wait to go back to is Disney World, Florida – I know, I know I’m 27 years of age but it really is the most magical place on earth. It’s almost wasted on children and is somewhere I can’t wait to go back to, as an adult without kids or not, haha!
What is your favourite drink?
I’m a sucker for a milkshake, I love those chocolate-bar flavour milkshakes like Kinder Bueno or white chocolate button flavour!
What is your favourite meal?
Definitely fish and chips from our local chippy is the best! I won’t even hear anyone argue with me that their chippy is better because I know for a fact that we have the best! I always get chips with a fishcake, a battered sausage and gravy, yum!
Kate speaking at the 2019 Lockinge meeting at Newbury
Photo Credit: Francesca Altoft
;What is your favourite movie?
I love thriller movies so any scary movies that come out around Halloween-time is usually my go-to cinema trip. My favourite movie that I could watch over and over and not get sick of it is Shutter Island. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s brilliant and once you’ve watched it a first time you have to go back and watch it again to see what you missed. Otherwise, it’s Step Brothers or Anchorman!
What are your interests/hobbies?
I’m a huge fan of all sports. I’ve always had football in my life and I’m a Liverpool fan so last season was fantastic (not quite so much this year but it’s to be expected really) and I’ll watch football for an evening or try to go to as many games as I can when I’m able to. I also love my cricket and again, watch it as much as I can and attend as much as possible. I support Somerset CCC and try to get tickets for their Twenty20 games but they’re like gold-dust.
Aside from sport, I really enjoy fashion and I like to read and watch features on trends and outfit inspiration content.
Otherwise, I haven’t really got time for many other hobbies with the amount of my life that racing takes up. But I’m lucky in the sense that horse racing and riding horses is my hobby but it just so happens that I get paid for it and get to call it work!
Any other random information:
My karaoke song of choice is Eminem’s Lose Yourself, which I know word-for-word off by heart – there’s a fact you didn’t know about me for no apparent context!!