Cathy Cameron with one of her favourite gallopers, Vancouver Island, after winning a 1600m-race in Grafton in the late 1990s.
Cathy Cameron with one of her favourite gallopers, Vancouver Island, after winning a 1600m-race in Grafton in the late 1990s.

Cathy loved life on the track


IT seems only natural that Cathy Smith, later to be Cathy Cameron, would be a horse lover and be involved in the racing game.

Cathy now is a Graftonian through and through but was born and lived the earlier part of her life in the NSW racing capital, Randwick.

She later became a successful trainer at Wagga, Lismore and Grafton.

Cathy announced her retirement last week just short of having led in 100 winners. She had trained 99 winners as well as numerous placegetters and was setting the five-year-old gelding, Silver Tycoon, to run last week at Grafton.

She and her partner and racing aide, former top-rating jockey Wayne Burris, were confident of winning, however, Silver Tycoon was declared an emergency for the 1400m-event and did not obtain a start when there were no scratchings.

"Silver Tycoon was near the end of his career anyway, so no more racing for him and I decided it was time I ended my training career, too, and I have retired," Cathy said.

"It is a bit disappointing having to pull the pin, as the saying goes, on 99, just one winner short of that magical century mark but that's life I guess."

Cathy is a self-declared horse lover and hobby trainer and seldom had more than two or three horses under her care at any one time.

Just the same, two of her former racers hold track records on the Northern Rivers.

Living at Randwick in her early years her close neighbours included three of the State's leading trainers, Jack Green, Reg Harris and Bill Kelso, and adding further racing flavour she is a related to the Freedman family whose members are prominent in racing throughout Australia and Hong Kong.

Cathy grew up watching the horses, their trainers and jockeys at work.

She loved to spend time visiting those nearby stables with her brother, Kenton, talking to trainers, stable foremen and stable hands, jockeys and trackworkers and watching the way they would handle, feed and work the horses, perhaps not actually realising that one day she, too, might be a trainer.

But she realised that no two horses are the same so should not be treated the same and has stuck by that creed.

In those early days she was able to borrow a track pony, a grey mare named Misty, and joined the local pony club.

"It was always pleasant riding Misty to the pony club activities at Centennial Park and meeting the other members," she said.

"I was with the club for a couple of years and although I was never into show riding as such I certainly enjoyed club events and learned a lot.

"I was 13 when I started riding track work for the Bill Kelso stable, before and after school.

"I was told at that stage I was only the second girl who was actually riding trackwork at Randwick.

"After a couple of years I began riding trackwork for Jack Green, four horses each session, riding two of them from the stables to the track and two more would come in a horse float."

That continued for three years until one day Jack was killed in tragic accident, struck by a car when crossing the road in Melbourne.

"I was asked by Reg Harris to ride trackwork for him and did so for a further 12 months and by that time I had completed schooling and had a full-time job," Cathy said.

Cathy was born in Randwick in the latter 1940s and christened Catherine Lynn Smith by her parents Jack and Patricia (nee O'Sullivan) Smith.

Jack was an electrician with the Drysdale Company in Sydney. He had been in the Australian Army during the 1940s war in the Pacific seeing active service in New Guinea and Borneo. Also during those war years Cathy's mother, Pat, enlisted in the Australian Women's Air Force.

Cathy's early education was at Randwick Primary and she was dux of the school in her final year.

She next did three years at Sydney Girls High to gain the Intermediate Certificate and then completed a stenography course in shorthand and typing at East Sydney Technical College.

Cathy's first full-time employment was with the Department of Motor Transport at Roseberry.

"I enjoyed that but from there I was fortunate enough to get the position of secretary to the general manager of the Legion Cab Company, working from our offices near Sydney Central Railway," Cathy said.

It was later that Cathy became involved with jockey Kevin Cameron. Cameron had served his apprenticeship at Rosehill with one of the leading trainers of the time, Miles Sherd. He was now freelance and had landed his share of winners.

Cathy and Kevin were married at St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick and shortly after the wedding the couple moved to Wagga, where Kevin was the stable rider for trainer Sue Stripe, a daughter of former prominent Warwick Farm trainer Bill Stripe.

At the same time Cathy was employed as a stenographer with the law firm of Lumleys, a branch of the London insurance group Lloyds of London.

The Cathy and Kevin marriage lasted just three years.

"It was lucky as there were no children to our marriage and we were divorced," Cathy said.

Cathy worked for Lumleys for nearly seven years and then transferred to the Wagga Police Department as stenographer for the district superintendent.

In the meantime Cathy became a horse trainer and the knowledge she had gained in the trackwork and frequent visits around the Randwick racing stables, watching and learning, became invaluable.

She retained the married surname of Cameron, although now it was Miss Cathy Cameron.

It did not take long for her first race winner to come along, a chestnut mare named Journey Lass, which she part-owned.

Journey Lass had finished second at her previous two starts and was sent out as 7/2 favourite.

Ridden by claiming apprentice Des Bowditch she won the Wagga Maiden Handicap (1260m) by 1-1/2 lengths from 4/1 shot Beau Saga with 12/1 outsider Lavina Joy 4-1/2 lengths away for third placing.

A month later Journey Lass won a 1400m Improvers Handicap at Narrandera but almost collapsed from heat exhaustion after taken back to the hosing down stall.

"It was because of the hot day and standing around in the sun for some time when the horse float broke down on the way to Narrandera from Wagga, and the mare did not drink much water to counteract the hot weather," Cathy said.

After treatment by a veterinary officer including being given a special salt solution Journey Lass appeared to have recovered and handled the float trip back to Wagga satisfactorily.

Cathy's dad Jack had a heart problem and was given only six months to live unless he moved to a more suitable climate.

Cathy and her parents subsequently moved north to Ballina, where Cathy received a work transfer to the Lismore Superintendent of Police office and was able to continue her early morning and late afternoon work as a hobby trainer.

"The months Dad had been given to live stretched to more than 10 years but Mum and I were both devastated when he finally succumbed to the heart problem," Cathy said.

Cathy and her mother moved to Grafton in 1982 with Cathy working in the Department of Agriculture office in the State office block, and she was able to continue training.

Of those to come under her care she named among the best performed over the years, Stratheden, Final Straw, Marksman, Turner River, Bold Tambelle, Zokkfire and Go Alone.

"Stratheden was an exciting front runner and won five for me in the Wagga, Gundagai, Albury and Griffith area including three in a row at one stage, going from Maiden class to open company," Cathy said.

"I bought Final Straw for just $700 at a Gold Coast tried-horses sale, and besides a number of placings including seconds in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, he won three in a row for me at Grafton.

"The Grafton wins were The Owners and Trainers 1200m Improvers Cup, followed by the 1200m Boyd Boland Progressive Cup and then The Grafton Print 1400m Association Stakes.

"Final Straw was the sire of Marksman, which I also trained and which was the winner of 11 races.

"Turner River won six all up for me including his first three starts and later two Iluka Cups.

"Bold Tambelle was an honest and popular galloper and it was though her that Wayne Burris and I became life partners."

Wayne, who had ridden successfully in the capital cities of South Australia and the three Eastern States had been riding in Queensland for some months and was driving back to Adelaide to ride under contract there but was halted by floods at Murwillumbah so decided to stop for while on the Northern Rivers.

Cathy had Bold Tambelle nominated for a Saturday meeting but her regular jockey, Alan Abrahams, was unable to turn up to ride trackwork so Wayne offered to help out.

Bold Tambelle used to pull in races but Wayne found the secret and became the regular jockey.

The horse still holds the Lismore 1900m track record and is likely to do so for some time as the Lismore Turf Club has discarded that race distance, at least for the time being.

Burris continued to ride trackwork and in races for Cathy until a serious accident that all but claimed his life in October, 1998.

He was sidelined for 18 months and then rode a winner for Cathy on his first day back.

Not long after he gave up the saddle as at times he suffered from dizziness and loss of balance.

"I owe a lot to Wayne," Cathy said.

"He has always been a great help to me, not only with his competence in handling horses as a jockey or trackworker, but with his sound advice and his reassuring and quiet manner as my partner."

Cathy said that now retired she would not be attending race meetings but would follow major racing on Sky Channel.

"Most likely at some time in the not to distant future Wayne and I will make a tour of Australia," she said.

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