Nick Townsend speaks to the dili­gent Gay Kelle­way who picked up the train­ing reins from her fa­ther Paul

The Racing Paper - - Feature -

If he could have seen her now. What, you won­der, would Gay Kelle­way’s late fa­ther, the Clas­sicwin­ning trainer, Paul, have made of his daugh­ter? Un­con­vinced ini­tially that his ob­ses­sive off­spring could fol­low him into this most chal­leng­ing and pre­car­i­ous of pro­fes­sions and make a real suc­cess of it, he used to tell her she’d be far bet­ter off get­ting mar­ried and pro­vid­ing him with a brood of grand­chil­dren. “Fa­ther sim­ply didn’t ap­prove of me start­ing train­ing. He said ‘the game’s too hard. You can’t do it’,” Kelle­way re­calls.

Twenty six years later, she has thor­oughly dis­proved his con­tention – and the only type of breed­ing she’s stud­ied is that which pro­duced her most tal­ented sta­ble charges, in­clud­ing pro­lific win­ner Vor­tex, whose 17 wins vic­to­ries, one at Group 3 level, fi­nanced the pur­chase of her Queen Alexan­dra Sta­bles in Exn­ing, near New­mar­ket.

How her fa­ther, a for­mer lead­ing jumps jockey – part­ner of Bula, What A Myth and Crisp, among oth­ers – who later forged a re­mark­able train­ing ca­reer, would have rel­ished wit­ness­ing the achieve­ments of a woman who has so clearly in­her­ited his abil­ity to pro­cure the op­ti­mum from econ­o­my­bud­get re­sources.

Ad­mit­tedly, be­fore his pre­ma­ture death from pan­cre­atic cancer, aged just 59 in 1999, he had recog­nised the er­ror of his orig­i­nal con­vic­tion and de­clared that she’d make a bet­ter trainer than him. “He told me ‘you’ve got the gift of the gab and you work hard’,” re­calls the 54-year-old for­mer pro­fes­sional jockey.

‘Pat­tern Race Paul’ was the af­fec­tion­ate ep­i­thet of the Lon­don-born but York­shiread­opted Kelle­way be­cause of his au­da­cious, but fre­quently suc­cess­ful, as­saults on ma­jor races with bar­gain-buy horses. They in­cluded the 1978 Cham­pion Stakes win­ner Swiss Maid, for whom Kelle­way laid out 6,000gns and sub­se­quently sold on for 325,000gns.

His daugh­ter has in­her­ited her fa­ther’s in­stincts for smart buys. She once told me: “I love a bit of value. There's some­thing of the Arthur Daley in me.” To­day, she re­mains a con­firmed wheeler-dealer. “I go all over the world look­ing for horses to buy pri­vately,” she says. “I bought Cos­melli (from sta­bles) at Pisa. Re­cently, he won the Northum­ber­land Vase at New­mar­ket at 33-1 and an­other race at 25-1. The owner’s very happy be­cause he’s backed it each time. The horse has paid for him­self three times over.”

Kelle­way adds: “He’s an ex­cit­ing horse to have. He has an en­try for the Ebor, and could end up be­ing a Mel­bourne Cup horse next year if he goes on im­prov­ing.”

Where she and her fa­ther dif­fer per­haps is her ap­proach to busi­ness. “Fa­ther had a Group 1 (Swiss Maid) and a Clas­sic win­ner (French Oaks vic­tor Madam Gay), but he didn’t leave the game a rich man,” says Kelle­way. “There was noth­ing for us three kids (Kelle­way, her brother An­thony who now works for her as trav­el­ling head lad and sis­ter Sarah) and enough just to sup­port my mum (Gillian). Fa­ther was into the bank and some fella who owned a quarter of the place. There wasn’t a lot of change left. That’s why I vowed there’d be no­body else in­volved in my place. Just me.”

She adds: “I own my own place, thanks to Vor­tex (for­merly owned by Khalid Ab­dulla, and pur­chased for 18,000gns, he earned £340,000 in prize­money). Every bit of money I get from the busi­ness, I ei­ther buy more horses or put back into the prop­erty and fa­cil­i­ties. I can’t take any more than 35 horses. I’m ab­so­lutely maxed out.”

For Kelle­way, race­horses are a life-long ob­ses­sion, “a drug”, as she de­scribes it. She part­nered the first of 60-plus win­ners as a 17-year-old and re­mains the only woman to have rid­den a win­ner at Royal As­cot, on her fa­ther’s Sprow­ston Boy in the 1987 Queen Alexan­dra Stakes, af­ter which her yard is named. In to­tal, she has amassed 592 win­ners and this sea­son has recorded 15 win­ners from 30 horses.

“It’s still a tough old game for the smaller trainer,” she says. “Abil­ity’s never re­ally got you on in rac­ing. It’s who you know, not what you know. Ini­tially you have to have a lot of money be­hind you to be­come a trainer. Gone are the days of the Clive Brit­tains and the Barry Hills (both started off work­ing in sta­bles). I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have started now in this era, not here”

She adds: “If I was start­ing over again, I’d prob­a­bly go to France. You’ve got bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties there, as a small trainer. I have very good friends, Ni­co­las Caullery and Marine Henry. I re­mem­ber when they started they had ten horses six years ago, and now they have 80 (in Chantilly).”

Kelle­way, right, whose part­ner and as­sis­tant trainer is a French woman, Anne-So­phie Crombez, trav­els to Deauville in Au­gust. “I’ll be tak­ing some French­bred horses I haven’t raced yet. One’s a very nice horse called Fairy Tale. To be hon­est, France would be a golden op­por­tu­nity for a young trainer who hasn’t got a lot of money. For­get about here. It’s a rich boys’ club.”

Kelle­way aims straight for the so­lar plexus with that aside. But then she was never one for diplo­matic niceties, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity – or lack of it - in rac­ing.

A study com­pleted last year has re­vealed that, of 75 New­mar­ket train­ers, there are only eight women. Ask her for an ex­pla­na­tion for this dis­par­ity, and she refers you to the pre­pon­der­ance of Mid­dle East own­ers. “Name me a woman trainer who trains for an Arab, a big one,” she re­torts. How­ever, press her fur­ther on why there are not more women in the train­ing ranks over­all, and she re­sponds: “It’s a hard bloody busi­ness. To­day you’ve got to deal with so much. You’ve got to be a so­cial worker, an ac­coun­tant, you’ve got to be tough, be able to get up early in the morn­ing, and you can’t be wear­ing make-up every day. You don’t have time to put it on.”

Last year, the trainer made the news pages of the na­tion­als when she claimed that, through­out her ca­reer, she had re­ceived sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse by high-profile jock­eys and train­ers.

“Just be­cause they didn’t want me to ride I got ha­rassed. It was a joke – a girl rid­ing,” she says, in the man­ner of Lady Brack­nell speak­ing of a ‘hand­bag’.

Ask her whether sex­ism per­sists in the sport, and she main­tains: “We still live in the dark ages, so yes, very much in rac­ing, I think.”

And yet, at­ti­tudes have cer­tainly pro­gressed, you sug­gest. Three years ago, for in­stance, that she had opined: “You don’t see the big Arab own­ers queu­ing up to put woman rid­ers up.” To­day, you re­mind her, Josephine Gor­don rides for Godol­phin.

“She started rid­ing for Godol­phin af­ter there was a lot of public­ity that fe­male jock­eys don’t ride for them,” says Kelle­way. “She should be their sta­ble jockey – she’s good enough. She’s way ahead of some of the lads. She’s a jockey. Not a woman jockey.”

Kelle­way ad­mits she would vo­ra­ciously seize the op­por­tu­nity to ride in to­day’s en­vi­ron­ment, if she could wind back her years. “God, yes. Give my right arm. I was so hun­gry when I rode. I just wanted to be a jockey. I lived for it. My dad said: ‘You’re ten years too soon’. I was bloody 30 years too soon!”

To­day Kelle­way has one sig­nif­i­cant out­stand­ing am­bi­tion. “I’m des­per­ate to com­plete the dou­ble at Royal As­cot – ride and train a win­ner. Do you know what, I’ve had sec­ond, third, fourth and fifth. Fajr was beaten a length in the Buck­ing­ham Palace Stakes in 2007. That’s as close as I got to train­ing a Royal As­cot win­ner.”

Given her ded­i­ca­tion to the cause, you sus­pect her day will come.

“It’s still a tough old game for the smaller trainer. Abil­ity’s never re­ally got you on in rac­ing. It’s who you know, not what you know”

Ebor bound? Cos­melli is an ex­cit­ing horse for the yard


The late Paul Kelle­way

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