Good Luck Laura

Date: 1 May 2023

Good Luck Laura

 

Laura Macnab is proof of progress made within the New Zealand thoroughbred racing industry, and where it can lead to, as she takes up a position in the United Kingdom.

 

Intelligent, vibrant, and straightforward, Macnab is stereotypically suitable to deal with thoroughbreds, possessing the personality to engage and enjoy life outside work, and if defined in equine terms could be: sensible, quality, and character. 

Te Akau principal David Ellis CNZM gave Macnab a job working through school and university holidays at Te Akau Stud, and before leaving she advanced to the position of Foreman in one of the stable's barns at Matamata.

Macnab had her time highlighted at Te Akau when strapping Imperatriz (I Am Invincible) to win the BCD Group Sprint (Gr. 1, 1400m) and Foxbridge Plate (Gr. 2, 1200m); Maven Belle (Burgundy) in the Almanzor Trophy (Gr. 3, 1200m), and Pin Me Up (Pins) in the $1m Karaka Million 3YO Classic (Restricted Listed, 1600m). 

She graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, majoring in Equine, from Massey University, and successful in her application, she also completed the 2020 NZTBA Irish National Stud Breeding & Management Diploma Scholarship, sponsored by Keith and Faith Taylor Trust (Trelawney Stud). 

But it really started for Macnab when she bought a horse off the track to produce as a show horse and “absolutely fell in love with his nature and his trainability”, and fell further in love with the racing industry when riding track work at Awapuni. 

She explained the depth of her passion during an interview with Emily Bosson, wife of Te Akau stable rider Opie Bosson:

“The thing that stood out for me is that everyone involved wants the same thing,” she said. “They want the horses to be running as well as they can, or breeding as well as they can. And as much as I love the horse I love the people, as well.

“People have been so helpful and no one is afraid to give you some advice, so I guess I came into it because of the horses but stayed because of the people.

“I like educating the yearlings, teaching them how to have a bit, how to stand nicely, and we're setting them up for their future careers. 

 

 

“I get attached to them and it's quite cool to follow them. I don't know any other sport where you can literally raise them and see some of them go on to become champions and superstars. 

“I was lucky working at Te Akau that I was able to see their stable stars coming through. Melody Belle is one that I've always followed with interest because we saw her when David (Ellis) bought her as a yearling and she went on to win so many Group Ones (14) and performed so well.

“I absolutely loved the Irish National Stud Scholarship. I think it's such a great course and it gave us real confidence in our skills in the breeding sector. We spent time in the foaling unit, we did night watch, postnatal care, and we also got to work in the stallion barn. 

“I love every aspect of the industry and can't decide whether it's racing or breeding I want to go into. I just want to keep learning and contributing to the industry. 

“It's the horses that keep us wanting to do this; I think they're incredible animals and it's a global industry that can take you anywhere in the world.”

Over the past 40 years, David Ellis has given hundreds of people an opportunity to work in every facet of the racing industry and virtually all farming roles as well.

He is particularly proud of Macnab, whose parents farm in the Te Akau district. 

 

 

“Laura came to work for us while she was still at school,” he said. “She used to work in the school holidays on the farm and continued in the university holidays where she achieved a degree with distinction.

“She's from a racing family in Wanganui. Dave Macnab, her grandfather, won the Duke of Gloucester Cup three times as an amateur rider, trained horses, and was a Life Member and President of the Wanganui Jockey Club for a number of years, and her mother bred Welsh ponies and had stallions, so there's a strong family connection to horses and riding.

“Her parents live in the next valley from us and Laura's absolute love is the horses.

“She looked after Imperatriz for the last two years, and she's one of the most reliable and capable people you could ever meet, with great integrity. She's an absolute star and I've got no doubt that a big part of the Imperatriz success story, winning five Group One races, involves her and the team in the barn where Imperatriz resides. 

“It's great that Laura's going over to Europe to get more experience for her resume.  It's a great follow-up to the knowledge she gleaned when she won the Irish National Stud Scholarship, and the experiences associated with that.

“We hope that in time she will come back to work for us again because she's just so good with the horses and a is a wonderful human being - we wish her very well in all her endeavours.”


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Now settled in the UK, where riding work in Newmarket, Macnab took the time to formulate her very interesting timeline:

“I first started working for Te Akau when I was 15. Growing up in a rural community there are not many opportunities for employment (bar working on family farms) and my parents always encouraged us to be getting out and earning our own money. 

“Te Akau Stud is only 15 minutes from home, so I emailed David (Ellis) about getting a job for summers and school holidays. From the age of 15 to 21, I worked every summer and school holidays out at the farm, doing all sorts of roles including riding pre-trainers and breakers, handling mares, foals, weanlings and yearlings, and general day to day jobs such as shifting stock, and helping on the sheep and beef side of the farm whenever needed. 

“I went away to university between this time, and after finishing there, I applied for, and was successful in getting, the NZTBA Irish National Stud Breeding Management Diploma Scholarship. In 2020, I spent eight months living and working on the Irish National Stud in Kildare, Ireland, with peers from around the world learning every aspect of thoroughbred breeding.

“On returning home, I spent six months doing the breeding season and yearling prep and sales for Trelawney Stud.

“Following my time there, I then started at Te Akau stables, beginning as ground staff. After a few months, I went into an assistant foreman position in the Uni Barn, and then into a foreman role alongside Hunter Durrant, which I did for just over a year. 

 

 

“My role was to ensure the day to day running of the barn went smoothly, the team in my barn knew the agenda/jobs/events for the week coming up, and to keep Mark Walker and Sam Bergerson updated on the welfare and general well-being of each horse in my barn.

“I started at 3am, feeding breakfast/noting waste feed and taking temperatures, general welfare checks, taking any bloods and administering any medicines, before beginning track work at 4.30am. 

“During track work my role was to co-ordinate horses, riders and staff throughout the morning to ensure everything worked smoothly. One of the most important aspects was to be two or three steps ahead of myself, and to always be prepared for what was coming up next. This meant being organised, keeping to a schedule, with strong communication within the team to make sure everyone knew what they were doing and when they needed to be certain places. 

“It was important also to note feedback from riders/Mark or Sam, and to be aware of how the horses were returning back from exercise in order to be able to recognise any issues and treat them accordingly. I spent a lot of time working alongside the vets, treating and checking horses and getting them in tip-top condition for their next race.

“I also did a bit of track riding over the quieter periods which is something I really enjoyed doing, and have come over to the UK to do more.

“Dave and Karyn have been a wonderful support to me in the industry, ever since I started working for them in 2016. They always made time to talk to me about how I was getting on, discuss any news in the stable and made sure that I was happy in whatever I was doing. 

“Dave was extremely supportive in my decision to apply for the Irish National Stud Scholarship, and gave plenty of advice during my application and interview process. Both Dave and Karyn always made a point of coming and speaking to me whenever they were at the races or the stables, and nothing was ever too much trouble for them.

“Jamie (Richards) was excellent to work for. He had high standards and high expectations of his staff, and it made me maintain and up-skill my own high standards to meet them. He was tough, but extremely fair, and I really admired his ambition and work drive. I learnt a lot about running a barn from him, in terms of both the admin and horse welfare side of things, which are skills I have taken with me to the UK.

“Switching over to Mark (Walker) when he returned was an easy transition. Mark brought a wealth of knowledge and experience and was extremely approachable. He valued the opinion of the team that already knew the horses and was always open to any new or different ideas that staff had. 

 

 

“The way he was able to tailor his training methods for each horse was admirable. My favourite example being Imperatriz after her spring preparation, stripping her training back to lots of tread-milling and swimming, and staying off her back as much as possible when we discovered the issues she was having with running on unsuitable tracks. As a result, we had a much happier, sounder horse that was back to winning Group One races (NZ and Australia).

“The Te Akau operation is well known for its professionalism and desire to win races for its owners. As a result, everything is well organised, with a dedicated team across all the barns. Clear communication is the key in the running of each barn, and the ability to adapt was also incredibly important. Teamwork was absolutely vital to get everything professionally, and to the expected high standard. 

“I learnt so much from every member of the team, as well as learning to delegate, lead and be responsible for their roles as well. The operation as a whole enables everyone and every horse to perform at the best of their abilities, and give them every chance to succeed. I think the best way to describe it is a well-oiled machine, hard working and full steam ahead.

“I'm a big believer that you get out whatever you put in, so it's always been really important for me to work hard, say 'yes' to every opportunity, and to do whatever job is given to me to the best of my ability. 

“I thrive with a challenge and I'm always looking for something new to learn or up skill. The ultimate goal is to become a racing manager somewhere, as I think it encompasses all aspects of racing that I love and really interests me. 

 

 

“I genuinely love the racing game, I think it's exciting and has a world of opportunities for anyone who is willing to put in the hard yards to get there. There is nothing more exciting than watching horses like Imperatriz absolute bolt home in a Group One, particularly when you can appreciate all the work that everyone has put in behind the scenes.

“I also love to travel, and had a small taste of racing in the northern hemisphere when I lived in Ireland, so I've always said that I wanted to come back and learn more about racing on this side of the world. 

“Whilst the racing industry is generally the same the world over, there are so many other systems and operations in place that I'm excited to explore. Travelling and learning in the UK has always interested me and I'm really looking forward to the challenges and new experiences to come.

“I'm currently riding out for John and Thady Gosden at Clarehaven Stables (below) in Newmarket, UK. John Gosden has famously trained exceptional horses such as Enable, Mishriff and Stradivarius, and so far the team here has been really welcoming and encouraging. 

 

 

“Riding out and working here is so different to NZ. I only ride three a morning as opposed to the 10 or 12 that can be worked by one rider in NZ, and we ride each one for about an hour at a time. I have sat on a huge range of different horses. This has been a really great experience and so beneficial for my riding skills thus far. I feel like I ask a lot of questions, but everyone has been so amazing at sharing their knowledge and experience with me. I'm already learning a number of skills that I'm excited to bring back to New Zealand one day.

“My overall opinion of NZ racing is that whilst there is a lot to improve in terms of prize money, there are still exciting and exceptional racehorses coming out of the industry. It is well documented that NZ horses (both bred and trained) can stack up against the best in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, and I genuinely believe that NZ horses are just as good as any horse the world over.

“Ask anyone in the industry and they will always tell you that the industry needs to continue to attract energetic young people who work hard and take pride in the results.  I am lucky enough to have worked and learnt from some of the best in the business. I am also proof of there wonderful career path that exists in racing, and Te Akau has really provided me with that world of opportunity.

I do hope that organisations such as the NZ Thoroughbred Racing Academy gain more traction and support, as I believe it is an exceptional tool in helping people learn the skills needed to have a successful career in the local industry.

 

 

“I'd just like to further reiterate how much I appreciated the team I was a part of at Te Akau Racing.  Nicole Shailer in particular taught me everything about being a barn foreman, and was always available to answer any questions or help in any way. The team there is some of the most talented horse men and women I have ever worked with, and they always have horse welfare at the fore.

“The vet team at Waikato Equine, in particular Dr Ronan Costello and Dr Doug Black, were incredible to work alongside, and were always available to answer any questions or queries I had. They really worked some magic to get horses racing, and they play a huge role in the Te Akau team.

“I can't thank my team in Uni barn enough for all they did for every single horse in that came through our barn. We were lucky enough to have some huge successes and some amazing horses come through the stables, and every single one of the team played a massive part in their education, welfare and racing careers.”

"It was a privilege to produce such wonderful results for our owners."

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