Meet the 9 Newmarket stables and stud staff in finals for Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards
Nine members of staff at stables and studs in Newmarket, and the surrounding area, have reached the final round of this year’s Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards sponsored by Godolphin.
The winners, and runners-up, in each of six categories will be announced at a ceremony at York Racecourse on February 20 before one outstanding individual is named overall employee of the year.
Individual prize money will be match-funded with the same amount going to the recipient’s yard or stud, making the top prize worth £30,000 out of a prize pot of more than £128,000.
In the newcomers’ category, 19-year-old Ryan Kavanagh, who works for trainer Amy Murphy at her Southgate Stables, in Newmarket, said that until the start of the Covid lockdown he wasn’t particularly interested in racing and was at West Suffolk College learning to be an electrician.
“I needed to earn a bit of money when college was closed and Conal, my little brother, got me a job at Amy’s yard where he had been working part-time. So all through lockdown I kept learning and learning and I just fell in love with being around the horses and finding out all their different characters,” said Ryan. “When college re-opened I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do so I gave it up and went to work for Amy full-time.”
In November 2021 tragedy struck his family when his elder brother Niall, who was 20, died from a brain tumour which had been diagnosed only a month previously. Ryan was at a very low ebb. “It hit us all very hard, but after two weeks I went back to work and the horses made me smile again. Just over a year since Niall died, I am surprised at how far I have come and one of the main reasons is working with the horses,” said Ryan, who is hoping to get his apprentice licence for the forthcoming flat season.
Also hoping to impress the judging panel in the newcomer category is Stephanie Wing, who works for George Scott Racing, based at Eve Lodge Stables in Hamilton Road.
Stephanie, now 20, was only 13 and unpaid when she first started going to racing stables in Exning where she did odd jobs around the yard. Later, as a pupil at Newmarket Academy, she also attended the British Racing School on a once-a-week basis until she left school and enrolled in a course at West Suffolk College, where she gained a qualification in an exotic animals course.
“I did the course to give myself a back-up,” said Stephanie. “But I always knew I wanted to work in racing and I love what I do.”
Her role involves exercising horses on the treadmill and taking readings from a heart monitor, but she is always ready to help with other work around the busy yard. Although she doesn’t ride out, she looks after three horses including the remarkable Captain Kane who last year set a record for the most consecutive wins in a season with seven victories.
Stephanie said she often thinks of her late grandfather, former jockey Dennis Wing, who rode for Noel Murless and Harry Wragg more than 50 years ago.
“The connection with racing has skipped a generation but I was very close to my grandad and he was over the moon that I wanted to go into racing and he would be so proud to know that I had been nominated for an award,” she said.
Another category in which the Newmarket area holds a strong hand is the stud staff section in which the three finalists are from studs in Dullingham, Six Mile Bottom, and Newmarket.
Bethan Byrne has worked for 15 years for Godolphin Management Co Ltd at the organisation’s HQ at Dalham Hall Stud. She is a member of the nominations team which is responsible for the administration around the list of mares which will visit one of the members of Godolphin’s star-studded stallion roster during the covering season.
She was put up for the award by team manager Dawn Laidlaw, who described her as an active member of the team, who was friendly and approachable. She had played a part in Godolphin’s mentoring scheme and her efficiency helped ensure the smooth running of the department.
Bethan is also involved in school visits, part of Godolphin’s educational and charity programme, and is PA to the director of stallions.
After university, Bethan, who was brought up on her parents’ farm in Wales, enrolled on the BHRB graduate development programme before working for five years at Tattersalls prior to joining the Godolphin team. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.
She is joined in the final of the stud staff category by Andrew Rawlin, who has been broodmare manager at Blue Diamond Stud, in Six Mile Bottom, since just after it was founded 12 years ago by Kuwaiti owner Imad Al Sagar.
Andrew is preparing for the foaling season which gets under way later this month and is hoping that one of the new arrivals might turn out to be as good as Nashwa, last year’s winner of the French Oaks, which Andrew foaled back in 2019.
The foals are with him until just after they’re weaned at about six months old and then they are moved to the stud’s other site at Tuddenham where they stay until they go into training or the sales.
Lincolnshire-born Andrew was an instructor in a riding school until enrolling in 2001 on a course at the National Stud where he went on to work for the next seven years. Jobs at studs in Wiltshire and Dullingham followed before he took the job at Blue Diamond.
Stud chief executive Ted Voute, who nominated Andrew for the award, said: “Extremely hard working and loyal, Andrew has been an integral part of the stud for 11 years. He knows the mares so well, attends every foaling and even when he’s on holiday doesn’t leave the stud. Nothing is too much trouble and you know that if you need an opinion it will be balanced, objective and neutral. Andrew is also a great team leader. ”
Andrew, who is 43, and lives at the stud with his partner and stepson, said: “It’s an honour and a privilege to he nominated and especially to be one of the three finalists.”
Davina Burrows is also contesting the stud category final. She has worked with horses all her life and is the epitome of a person who lives for her job. She joined the staff at Salah Foustok’s Deerfield Farm in Dullingham, where 2005 Derby winner Motivator, was bred, in 1999 having previously worked at Longstones Stud in Kennett. She is one of a team of just four working at the stud and has been yard manager for the past eight years. The house she shares with her partner Mark, and four-year-old daughter, Amelia, is at the stud gate and and she is always on call.
“I am on the stud from 6am to 10pm or camera-watching at foaling time,” said Davina, “you can’t switch off and I just love my job. The horses are all my babies and I just love seeing the foals grow and then some of them come back here to have foals of their own.”
And when she does have any spare time Davina is training for the Cambridge half marathon which she hopes to complete in March to raise money for the Alzheimer’s charity and she is also planning a charity sky dive in August.
As for her being named a finalist, Davina said: “I am very excited to be honest. I was very shocked to get into the top 10 and reaching the final was so unexpected I just cried.”
One of Newmarket’s finalists in the dedication category is Claire Ricks, who has worked in racing for more than 40 years and, at 68 years old, still rides out every morning and drives the horsebox for trainer Marco Botti at Prestige Place in Snailwell Road. Her nomination, made by secretary Connor Norris, came as a complete surprise.
“He even made a video behind my back showing me at work, which he sent in with the nomination,” said Claire, who doesn’t think there is anything exceptional in what she does.
“I start work at 5.30 every morning, ride out a couple of lots, pull a couple of manes and do a few other jobs until about 11am then I might set off at 12 for something like the 8.30pm race at Wolverhampton and be back at about midnight.
“They look after me and don’t give me anything particularly naughty to ride out and there are three or four of us who share the driving but with 90 horses in the yard and year-round racing, we’re always busy,’ she said.
Claire has worked in her present job for 13 years and previously for Luca Cumani and Robert Williams among others but is now entertaining thoughts of retirement. “While I can still do the job, I’m happy to do another season. After that we’ll have to see. But I’d have to have plans. I can’t understand people who retire and then just don’t do anything. That wouldn’t suit me at all.”
Patrick McConville, who is both stud hand and tractor driver at Hascombe and Valiant Stud in Cheveley, has also been nominated in the dedication category.
”I was shocked and surprised but also delighted to be nominated as I see myself more as a background worker and then when I heard I‘d made the final 10 I was just stunned,” said Patrick.
Patrick came to England from Ireland, where he had worked in one of Europe’s first equine hospitals, without a job to go to.
“I had a crisis. Due to a drink problem it didn’t suit me to stay in Ireland so I came to stay with my sister in London but there was no work for me there so I arrived in Newmarket with only enough money in my pocket for a couple of days,” he said.
His kind landlady drove him out to the Swinburn family’s Genesis Green Stud at Wickhambrook where he was taken on straight away and stayed for eight years ending up as second man. On a chance visit to Hascombe Stud he heard there was a vacancy and the manager suggested he put in his cv. An interview with Sir Philip and Lady Oppenheimer resulted in a job offer which he accepted and he has now been with them for 28 years.
Patrick, 61, said that although he enjoyed all aspects of his job it was looking after the paddocks which was his first love. “The land is my baby. The regeneration of the paddocks every year is a wonderful thing and good grass is needed to get the nutrients into the babies and the old girls.”
Exning-based trainer Gay Kelleway is one of the three finalists hoping to win the community award, given to honour the work of the late Rory MacDonald at the British Racing School.
Gay has spent the past year organising help for horses and other animals in Ukraine caught up amid the chaos brought about by the brutal invasion by Russia. It started with a misunderstanding when, in January 2022, Gay heard that a retired trainer planned to take supplies to Ukraine.
Assuming, wrongly as it turned out, that it was supplies for horses, Gay loaded her horsebox with equine necessities, much of it donated by the racing community and, with her friend and driver, Neil Carson, son of former top jockey Willie, set off for the Polish/Ukraine border where they found a yard manned by volunteers who were doing their best to help stricken animals among the great humanitarian disaster.
“They were desperate for money and supplies to help them look after horses, some of them on their last legs, which they had rescued from inside Ukraine where they’d been let loose by their owners amid the bombing and shelling,” said Gay. “There were other animals, dogs and cats, which had also been collected up and we saw some truly horrific sights.”
On her return to the UK, Gay started a justgiving page and since then, she and Neil have been backwards and forwards to Ukraine.
“I’ve had a wonderful career thanks to horses,” said Gay, who is 59 and has been training for 32 years. “At this point in my life I decided it was the right thing to do to give something back.
“Maybe I’ve organised it, but I have had super people around me which has made it possible and we’ll try to carry on as long as we are needed.”
With Gay in the final is Margo Walsh who, in her role as the Jockey Club’s operations and community project manager, has been involved in leading a number of initiatives in Newmarket including one in February last year when a team of from Newmarket Racecourses, Jockey Club Estates, The National Stud and Racing Welfare, worked at the town’s community orchard in the Yellow Brick Road which had been choked by brambles.
The work was to help the area grow into a sustainable haven for biodiversity. Bug hotels and bird boxes were put up to make the orchard suitable for schools and children to learn about nature through the curriculum or through the Jockey Club’s community outreach teams. “This was just one of many events we hope to support on the wider Yellow Brick Road project,” said Margo.