Dreams of gold from black sand
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
By Rebecca Glover
In the early morning light the black sands of Karioitahi are dotted with horses working out on the deserted beach before the daily influx of fishers, walkers, surfers and vehicles.
| Moira Murdoch, below, works out racehorses regularly on Karioitahi beach. Photos Rebecca Glover |
In twos and threes they trot a couple of kilometres up the beach, then gallop back. Some enjoy a dip in the waves afterwards, or a roll in the sand once unsaddled.
Away from the monotonous routine of the racetrack, with the sea air and wide open spaces to train in, these are lucky horses indeed.
Thoroughbred training partners Moira Murdoch and Dominic Olson bring several truckloads of horses down to Karioitahi from their nearby farm each morning.
Far from the hyped-up atmosphere of raceday, the young thoroughbreds are noticeably relaxed as they go about their work. Handlers and riders work smoothly and efficiently as horses return sweating from their gallop, saddles are swapped and more horses sent out.
Some riders do an early shift before heading off to their day job or home to dispatch children to school; others work for the stable fulltime. But all are there for their love of horses.
It’s that bond with the animals that keeps Kiwis in the racing game, whether hands-on or as owners. And while racing may be the sport of kings, you don’t need a royal ransom to be involved.
Moira says that racehorse owners come from all walks of life.
“There’s all different sorts. Some buy from the sales, some breed. Syndicates make ownership an affordable dream for many.” And dreams are what keep the whole business alive. Legendary Melbourne Cup winner, Kiwi, embodies the home-bred rags to riches story that keeps beguiling punters happily sinking money into the sort of investment that makes finance companies look rock solid.
Moira points out that with 14 runners per race on average, the odds of winning are low. And of all thoroughbred foals born, only about five per cent ever win a race.
“But people enjoy the thrill of seeing their horse coming out with their colours up. Following its progress takes them outside their boundaries.”
The vagaries of racing fortunes are exemplified by one of Moira’s greatest runners never to take the Auckland Cup. Purchased as “a cheapy” but trained by Moira for six wins, locally-owned mare, La Sileen, lost a plate on the home straight, costing her the Cup in 1998. “She tried so hard, and had a lovely temperament.”
Beginning over 20 years ago, Moira was among Franklin’s early female trainers but says she experienced no gender-related problems – unlike Australian racing.
“The Aussies are far more male chauvinist than us,” she comments. “There are lots of girls in their industry but they have to do much more than the guys to get ahead.”
Moira estimates half of New Zealand’s jockeys are female, in contrast to only 30-40% across the ditch. And despite notable exceptions such as Gai Waterhouse, women trainers are similarly scarce on Australian turf.
Modest about her own successes, Moira sees little difference between male and female trainers.
“Possibly women have a gentler approach but horses will respond to the right handling,” she says.
Although centred around the horse, Moira points out that racing is a very “person-oriented” industry, and a big employer. “You make lots of friends through racing,” she says. “But horses are fickle creatures, and racing is a game of variables. As a trainer I’m trying to limit those variables, but you can never eliminate them. Racing is a great leveller, and the syndicate member who only owns one hoof of their horse gets as big a thrill to see it pounding down the home straight as the wealthy owner who paid a fortune.”