Beyond the glitz and glamour of race day you will find a whole crew of people dedicated to working with the racehorses, often seven days a week, to keep them in top shape. In the lead up to the Coffs Cup, Focus met with some local trainers and their horses for a sneak peek behind the scenes and to learn a little about what it takes to train a winner.
Brett Bellamy, Trainer
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast? I have lived in Coffs Harbour for almost 40 years; my parents relocated here from Sydney when I was a teenager. I have always trained out of Coffs Harbour and received my trainer’s licence at the young age of 18. All my family live around the Coffs area and have always supported me.
How did you become a horse trainer? I suppose the seed was planted when my parents owned the Aerodrome Hotel alongside the Hawkesbury Racecourse, and I got to meet many trainers, owners and stable hands. Prior to that, Dad owned a horse transport business, and I used to travel to race meetings with him in Sydney and surrounding areas.
I only really became interested in training when we moved to Coffs, as I had been showing horses in Sydney, but there was limited opportunity for showing here. Dad bought me a racehorse to play with as a 17 year old, and the rest is history.
What do you enjoy most about working with horses? It’s not so much the enjoyment, as the satisfaction that you get from taking and nurturing a young horse to being an educated racehorse and then through all your hard work and effort seeing them win races. It’s the greatest feeling when you have bred horses yourself and watch them grow, change and mature into racehorses that win races.
We hear you have the most racehorses in Coffs. How many are in your stables, and who helps you work with them? I have around 30 horses currently in work at the stables. They range from unbroken yearlings to the older racing horses. As a rule, I like to keep a mixture of all, because I think you always need young horses coming along behind the older ones.
At the moment I have two senior jockeys doing riding work along with two track work riders to fill in the gaps and get the horses worked. There are also ground staff doing general stable duties.
Without giving away any secrets, can you tell us a little about how you train a racehorse? It has always been my opinion that training a racehorse is feed and work related.
This means that the more the horse can eat, the greater the amount of work the horse can cope with, so it’s just a matter of fine-tuning these ratios to achieve maximum results. I also rely heavily on feedback from stable hands, jockeys and track work riders as to how the horses are eating and feeling.
How is the season going for you so far? The season so far has been OK. I’ve had 21 winners, but as every other trainer will tell you, it could be always be better. The one thing I have learnt from being a trainer for so long now is that training happens to be a big wheel that turns. You enjoy the good times when they occur and get through the bad as best you can.
Brett Dodson, Trainer
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast? I moved to Coffs Harbour approximately 15 years ago. It looked an ideal location to train horses, being nearly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane and after growing up in Tamworth, the climate and coastal life was very appealing.
How did you become a horse trainer? I was interested in racing from an early age. I originally started out as an apprentice jockey, but grew too big very early in my career. I rode track work and became foreman for a large country stable, before taking out my licence and training in my own right.
What do you enjoy most about working with horses? Apart from the love of horses, I really enjoy the challenge of getting the best out of them. It is really satisfying seeing a horse that came to you as a young horse that knew nothing grow into being successful.
How do you go about naming a racehorse? A lot of owners name their own horses, but the ones I own and name I like to have something that relates to the sire (father) and/or the dam (mother) but without using the same words in the name.
Without giving away any secrets, can you tell us a little about how you train a racehorse? Horses are a lot like humans; they are all individuals, and I like to train them that way. Some can handle more work, racing and feed than others. They all have different mannerisms and as a trainer, finding out what is best and what every horse can handle is the challenge I enjoy.
How is the season going for you so far? For a small stable we have had a great season. From approx 43 starters we have had 9 winners and 10 placings.
Cathleen Rode, Trainer
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast? I came to Coffs for a sea change.
How did you become a horse trainer? I fell in love with Mr Ed at the age of three and wanted horses from then on. I worked at Randwick at the age of 15, then I went to the equestrian side of it for a while, giving riding lessons and things before going back to racing.
What do you enjoy most about working with horses? Getting to touch and work with such a majestic creature. I love being with them; some are so beautiful, I could stand there and look at them all day.
Do you have any advice for women who want to get into racing? Don’t take the negative things some people may say about you to heart; know who you are and what you want. It can be a heart breaking industry, so you have to be strong and willing to stand up for yourself.
Without giving away any secrets, can you tell us a little about how you train a racehorse? You must remember they are not machines, but athletes. Having a small team treat and work them all as individuals. Only the big stables can have a regime for all; they have enough of them to turn over.
How is the season going for you so far? It has been the best season ever, I would say. I have had stakes placed horses, but never a Country Champion until this year. The concept that Racing NSW has brought to life for us country trainers has been fantastic.
Paul Matts, Trainer
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast? For a short period in the early ‘90s, my parents moved to Coffs Harbour from Taree, where my dad was training horses. We moved back to Taree, but then I came to Coffs to start university. I have always loved the coastal lifestyle and found myself leaving but always returning to Coffs. I have lived back here now for the last five years straight. I can’t see myself leaving here completely.
How did you become a horse trainer? My family has a long history with horse racing, and in some form or another we have always been involved. I grew up with early mornings and late afternoons, with my dad being a trainer. I guess it was always going to be the life for me as well. I got my trainer’s licence in May 2016, and it has snowballed from there. I started with just two horses in work, and I now have a team of 10.
What do you enjoy most about working with horses? They are amazing animals. They have this presence about them that no matter how bad of a day you are having, you always get a smile being around them. They all have their quirks and personality traits, which makes it enjoyable, even though some can be like a naughty kid at times.
You can often be seen training your horses down at Boambee Beach. How does this benefit the horse and add to their training? The beach is the best training tool I have. It’s therapeutic for the horse to walk through the salt water. We walk through the chest deep water for good resistance training, and being able to work them along the beach breaks up their routine and gives them some variety. It really helps keep them mentally stimulated.
Boambee Beach has a perfect surface, which isn’t too firm to run on, and as soon as the horses have done their work, we can put them straight in the water and let them have a roll in the sand, before taking them back to the stables.
How does it feel to win a race? It’s the bee’s knees. I can’t help but scream out and be happy. So much time and effort goes in behind the scenes to even get a horse to the races. To see them pass the line first is a culmination of all that coming together, and it’s such an amazing feeling.