Volunteering comes naturally to Kate Austin, a racemaker, careermaker and Secretary of the London Racing Club, not to mention a lifelong racing fan, and more recently an owner and breeder
I’m an East Londoner by birth and residence, apart from three years in Nottingham, teacher-training. I retired after forty-three years teaching teens Drama and English in Plaistow and Custom House. My grandparents used to take six-year-old me to Brighton Racecourse when on their annual jaunt to the races. Grandma used to regale me with stories of how she went in a hired horse-drawn carriage from Victoria Park, Hackney to Epsom to see the future Prince of Wales; King Edward and George V’s horses run at the Derby meeting. It sounded so romantic! My Grandpa also made me watch Arkle. I still hear his voice echoing through time, ‘you’ll never see a horse like this again!’ He was right, although Kauto Star ran him close for me. Red Rum; Dessie; Sea Pigeon; the drama of Shergar and toughness of Dawn Run all ensured that racing simmered in my consciousness.
From watching to owning
In 1999, I stopped smoking! As someone who got through four packs a day, that gave me a significant pay-rise! I saw an advert for Peter Harris syndicates and joined. What an eye-opener that was – mornings on the gallops followed by brunch in the Syndicate Clubhouse. Our horse was called Strudel Ruse. Incredibly, she’s still living her best life, in her 20s, with fellow owner, Don Clarke, now a lifelong friend.
I wanted my own racehorse, though and when I joined London Racing Club, commentator Mark Johnson recommended seeing trainer Lucy Wadham. Then fate stepped in – Lucy had been offered a Coolmore-bred, horse coming back from injury, and for a nominal sum he could be mine! So deal done, Executive Decision entered my life and my heart. His transatlantic owners were chuffed, too. Rarely out of the first four thereafter, Ed won three times for me and twice on Saturdays! Every other horse I’ve either owned or bred stems from that decision: to stop smoking and stay stopped.
From Mum choosing my colours, visiting yards, seeing your horse progress to the track and, luckily, win, to ensuring that each horse is cared for after racing – there really is nothing like it. Both the pleasure and responsibility are great.
Volunteering enhancing my life
I would recommend becoming a racemaker (for the British Champions Series) and a volunteer career maker (a Careers in Racing initiative) without hesitation. I could talk about repaying the pleasure that racing has given me in the second half of my life; how it enhances my retirement years, making them exciting, leading to wonderful friendships and opportunities that being a teacher wouldn’t have provided, but it’s much more fundamental than that.
Firstly, any operation stands or falls by its staff. There’s no doubt that the ‘filibustering’ and delays to Brexit have created concerns related to staffing. As an Owner and supporter of equine welfare, I want sensible groom to horse-care ratios; enough staff to ensure fair days on/ off. I want to see greater employment diversity with young people realising that the range of roles and the progression paths in Racing/ Breeding/ Administration does not depend on ‘contacts’ but merit -regardless of gender; orientation; ethnicity or ‘class’. As a retired teacher I know how schools/ colleges work and the issues likely to be raised.
The great point about Racemaking is that it’s enormous fun! I love interacting with experienced racegoers – especially those even older than me; hearing their memories and ensuring they have access to all the racecourse has to offer. Similarly, first-timers also need Racemakers – to welcome and guide them to specific areas – especially on major days. We want you to return, all businesses do! Most importantly we want you to enjoy yourself, while at the same time learning to appreciate racing’s wonderful heritage and the glorious Thoroughbred at its core.
Finally, for any young people thinking about moving into the racing industry; progressing to higher education or just seeking employment, it looks great on your CV. It’s a way to stand out. I’d recommend it without hesitation.
The London Racing Club (LRC)
I joined the LRC nearly 20 years ago when I became an owner. Firstly, because it brought me into contact with other racing enthusiasts and secondly to learn more about racing through guest and preview evenings. I became Secretary a few years ago and have responsibility for organising our events and co-ordinating the Committee. We continue to promote all aspects of UK and International racing through in-town evenings; yard visits and members’ visits to racecourses. Our website, quarterly magazine, London Racegoer, Twitter-feed and E-News highlight key issues, give exposure to new trainers and syndicates. We also explore racing history and give Members the opportunity to contribute. It costs £25 pp per annum and we usually meet at the Holiday Inn about two minutes from Gloucester Road Tube. We’re a not-for-profit club and really appreciate the time our panellists give us – not to mention the brilliant Raffle Prizes.
I think the Racemaker and Careermaker initiatives have helped to bring the appeal of racing to a broader demographic. By going into schools/colleges we are educating younger people and ensuring those with negative views are addressed and challenged. Racing is one of the few sports where women can go alone and not feel uncomfortable. It’s also a great venue for family outings, especially as most race meetings have free entry for U18s. You don’t get that in football or rugby! So let’s push that angle even more. Racehorses have proved to be the most versatile of equines. As a result, many retired racing thoroughbreds have been used by organisations to rehabilitate traumatised Veterans; children with special needs and in the States to rehabilitate prisoners. On the broader level the Racing, Breeding and Betting industries employ thousands of people and the great racing festivals bring visitors (and their wallets) from all over the world. I’d say that bringing together an international racing community at a time when the world seems a more fractured entity is possibly Racing’s greatest benefit. It’s certainly a force for good in its widest sense. May it continue to be so.