Kate Gath has a need for speed.
The record-breaking harness racing driver, who is no bigger than most jockeys, spends most of her time sitting in the sulky behind 500kg racehorses. Her 34 Group 1 driving wins are the most by any female in Australia.
It’s a career lifestyle which sees her drive at about four race meetings each week, travel all around the state to do so and still find time to co-train 40 or so horses with her husband, Andy, at their Long Forest stables, just outside Bacchus Marsh.
Rather than putting her feet up or taking in some Kayo or Netflix, in the rare gaps between racing or training horses, Gath feeds her other passion, her other need for speed.
She’s going running herself, almost every day of the week and for about 8-10km each time.
Just last month she drove three hours to the Hamilton Cup meeting, competed in the first two races and had a three-hour gap until her next drive.
She jumped back in her car, drove around and found a lake and smashed-out a 7km run at a 4min30sec/km pace and headed back to the racetrack where she won the Cup on Fourbigmen before the three-hour drive back home.
“Running is like meditation for me. It keeps me sane and it’s the only ‘me time’ I get,” she said.
“I love to go for a run before a big race meeting, I feel so good after it and it gives me great focus.
“I didn’t have time to run before that trip to Hamilton so I found that nice little lake. I’ll often go for a run at the country meetings if I have a big enough gap between races.”
Kate Gath hard at her Long Forest property in 2016. Picture: Colleen PetchSource:News Corp Australia
Harness racing star Kate Gath says running keeps her sane and her dream is to run a marathon. Picture: Kate GathSource:Supplied
What started as “therapy” has grown into a mission through Gath’s competitive streak.
“I really want to run a marathon now. It’s my dream. Seriously, finishing a marathon would be up there with driving a Group 1 winner for me,” she said. “I have to find more time to train and go longer distances. I have to make it happen.”
In a breakthrough year, the 37-year-old added plenty to her already impressive CV, including: becoming the most successful female Group 1 driver in Australia, winning her first Victorian metropolitan driving title and landing the inaugural Gavin Lang Medal for the most Group 1 driving wins in a season.
Perhaps the greatest compliment came in September when Gath was chosen ahead of the best drivers in the land to partner then pin-up pacer Ride High.
“That genuinely shocked me. My heart was beating out of my chest when I got that call to drive him. I know it didn’t last long (before Ride High was injured) but what a thrill it was. He’s the fastest horse I’ve ever driven and to be entrusted with the drive on him was such an honour.
“I look back on last season and think what an awesome sport this is when you can have your best season and be in the prime of your career as a 37-year-old female.
“I’ve never felt even once I’ve been treated differently because I’m a female, but I was lucky to have some many amazing successful females before me, including Kerryn Manning who was absolutely dominating when I started out.”
Kate Gath driving McLovin to victory in The George Gath on Shepparton Gold Cup night last month. Picture: Stuart McCormick/Raceday PhotosSource:Supplied
Gath believes in the power of positivity and often pumps herself up on the track before a big race by looking around the big names among her rival drivers and telling herself she’s as good as any of them, but certainly wasn’t always the case.
“Early on I drove winners but I really had no idea how to drive, the horses just ran for me,” she said.
“I remember it was a bit intimidating driving About To Rock in that Hunter Cup he won when I was only 20. I thought I was actually pretty composed, but Dad said I was eating ice cream before the race which so isn’t me.
“I wouldn’t say I’m overly confident now, but I do feel comfortable driving in any race anywhere. I’ve been fortunate to drive some amazing horses and no doubt that helps a lot.”
Gath is still as hungry and ambitious as ever, maybe even more so, and is chasing her third win in Australia’s biggest trotting race, the Great Southern Star, at Melton on Friday night. She’s just not sure which of the stable’s star trotters she’ll be aboard.
The quirk of the Great Southern Star sees two qualifying heats run early in the night before the final on the same night.
“I’m hoping McLovin and Majestuoso will be in different heats so I can drive them both then decide who I drive in the final if they both make it through,” she said.
Gath training one her horses at her Long Forest property in 2016. Picture: Colleen PetchSource:News Corp Australia
Aside from running that marathon she so desperately wants to, Gath has one big, burning desire left on the racetrack.
“I’ve still got plenty of fire in my belly. That’s what drives me,” she said.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win so many big races, including an Inter Dominion trotting final, but I would absolutely love to win the Inter Dominion pacing final. That’s still the best of the best for mine.”
KATE GATH RATES HER FIVE BIGGEST WINS
2006 HUNTER CUP – ABOUT TO ROCK
“I’m not sure anything will top that, my first big win. Maybe if I win an Inter Dominion pacing final. He was an outsider, I was really just starting out and we won one of the sport’s greatest races in front of a big crowd at Moonee Valley. I was blown away, genuinely speechless after it.”
2018 INTER DOMINION TROTTING FINAL – TORNADO VALLEY
“There’s something special about the Inter Dominion. There were layers to this win. He was undefeated through the heats, expected to win the final and I really felt he deserved to win it. It’s the most pressure I’ve felt and probably put a lot of on myself because of all the layers to it. It meant so much to win it.”
2012 VICTORIA CUP – CARIBBEAN BLASTER
“The most remarkable win I’ve been part of it. He drew out so badly and his chances looked gone. He needed the leaders to go crazy up front and they did. He was such a special horse in my career and did so much for Andy and I, including his Chariots Of Fire win. He almost won a Hunter Cup, too.”
2020 VICBRED FINAL – TOUGH TILLY
“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to win a big race more than I did on this filly because the whole connection with Tilly Wilkes (who has a condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa or EB) and the emotion around it. She’s so inspiring and Tough Tilly is racing to raise awareness around EB. The filly lifted to the occasion and showed the sort of courage you’d expect given she’s named after Tilly (Wilkes).”
2014 SA PACING CUP – CARIBBEAN BLASTER
“ ‘Huey’ as we called him gets another mention because this win came in my home town Cup, which was the ultimate growing-up in a harness racing family. There was added factor of unfinished business because I thought we had it won the year before, but Smoken Up fought-back and beat us. Then we turned the tables the next year.”
Kate Gath and Tornado Valley winning the TAB Inter Dominion Trotting Championship Grand Final. Picture: Stuart McCormick/Raceday PhotosSource:Supplied
Originally published asHow harness star satisfies need for speed off the track
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