It Takes A Team

9 min read

Welcome to TDNAusNZ’s ‘It Takes a Team’, brought to you in conjunction with Thoroughbred Industry Careers. Here we highlight and celebrate some of the heroes of our industry. The strappers, riders, studworkers and people behind the scenes of our champions. The people who are up late into the night foaling or up at the crack of dawn to trackwork, working tirelessly to keep the industry running.

Today we speak to the voice behind the race that stops a nation and the strapper who looks after the first filly to win the Coolmore Stud Stakes since Nechita.

Matt Hill became Melbourne's feature race broadcaster in 2017 after his talents had taken him all over the world including Dubai, Mauritius and the U.K. Sarah Rütten is the travelling foreman for Tony McEvoy and is lucky enough to call Sunlight one of her charges.

Matt Hill - Race caller

TDN: Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get involved as a race caller?

Matt: I was brought up in the western suburbs of Melbourne and adored sport and racing. My grandfather would take me to Flemington and Moonee Valley and from there I was obsessed about being a race caller. I then practiced into a small tape recorder at the track and slowly worked up the grades. Race calling is a game of patience and timing.

Matt Hill

TDN: What other kind of opportunities has this job opened up for you?

Matt: Firstly I have met people from all walks of life, and horse racing in particular employs so many people. Being a race caller has also extended out to calling other major events such as Olympics and Australian Open Tennis. There is an adage, if you can call horse racing you can call anything, and I'm milking it for all its worth.

TDN: It’s been 12 months since you called your first Melbourne Cup how does it feel to be regularly calling some of Australia’s biggest races?

It's surreal and a beautiful responsibility. It really is pinch yourself stuff. When it comes to the Cup, it means so much to this nation and it is so unique in world racing. It's truly a privilege.

TDN: What kind of preparation do you have to do leading up to race days?

Matt: I enjoy the prep. I look at the last runs, study the colours and the history of the races. I prepare sheets that are with me whilst I'm calling the races which I call cheat sheets. They have everything I need to know there. It takes about six hours the day before to study it all.

Remember the four Ps: Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

TDN: And what about in between races, can you walk us through your race day routine?

Matt: Our main prep is done a day before where I research the horses and learn most of the colours. Between races I stay clear minded and just glance at my cheat sheets. You can't be in full concentration mode the entire day. Usually there are 10 races so you need full concentration for 20 minutes of the day - concentration at its absolute peak.

TDN: Do you find there is more pressure on major carnival days?

Matt: Absolutely. I find that so many more people are taking notice of my work, but in reality I probably put more pressure on myself.

Matt Hill calling the 2018 Melbourne Cup from the best seat in the house

TDN: What is the most challenging part of being a race caller?

Matt: The most challenging part is keeping a fresh mind and staying accurate. The punters are unforgiving and one word out of place, especially in a photo finish is a nightmare. You are only as good as your last call.

TDN: Who is your favourite horse you’ve called in a race?

Matt: Winx. What that mare has done for racing and also the race caller is truly amazing. To call her, and be the voice of her third and fourth cox plates will be with me forever.

Matt says calling Winx in her third and fourth Cox Plate's will stay with him forever

TDN: What is your favourite part of the role?

Matt: My favourite part I think is the rewarding nature of a days work. When I put my bag in the car at the end of the day, I truly am filled with satisfaction and pride. Very few jobs give you that reward.

TDN: What kind of advice would you give to someone thinking about a career as a race caller?

Matt: Be patient, work hard and nothing will stop you.

Sarah Rütten - Strapper

TDN: Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get started in the racing industry?

Sarah: I’ve always loved horses from a very young age and always had them growing up. It was a passion of mine to work in the industry and I started my first racing job when I was 15 part time as well as finishing school and it just went on from there. There is nothing else I could ever see myself doing now

TDN: What do you love most about horses?

Sarah: The thing I love most about them is that they have this way of connecting with you that not many other animals have. My horses I look after at work aren't just horses, they are way more special to me - almost like having children. Every morning I wake up excited to ride them to see them and when it comes to race day and they try so hard for you - that’s the most rewarding thing of all . Day in and day out we look after these horses, when they win and run well it makes you so proud to be a part of it.

Sarah with Sunlight after her win in the G1 Coolmore S.

TDN: What does a typical day look like for you? What are some of your responsibilities?

Sarah: I’m Tony McEvoy’s travelling foreman which means when the horses go interstate I go with them . It’s my responsibility to make sure every thing Tony asks gets done and these horses are 100% ready for the races that we aim them for. I ride trackwork, strap the horses and also go to the races and saddle when it’s required . It’s honestly a dream job. When I’m back in Melbourne I still do most of the same things.

TDN: How did you come to work for Tony McEvoy, how long have you worked there?

Sarah: I’ve always had a high regard for Tony McEvoy because in the early days I worked a few yearling preparations and he was always one of the most friendly and pleasant trainers we would parade for. He took time out to talk to everyone.

I was looking for a change from my previous stable three years ago and McEvoy Mitchell Racing were at that time looking for track riders, it’s the best career decision I’ve ever made and also the most rewarding. I feel I’m very lucky to work for not only a great trainer but also a lovely human being.

Sunlight, Sarah and Tony McEvoy

TDN: How special is it to work with a horse like Sunlight?

Sarah: I probably don’t have enough time to explain this because it’s so close to my heart I could talk about her for hours! She’s incredible and I pinch myself everyday I’m the person that’s lucky enough to ride her and look after her. It’s been a dream come true for me.

TDN: What’s she like to look after?

Sarah: Mostly she’s very easy, she’s a pleasure to take anywhere - an old hand at travelling these days. She definitely does have a fair bit of attitude when it comes to being around her in her box and the stable. She’s not afraid to lay her ears back at other horses or make sure they don’t get too close. She’s definitely sassy but also an absolute queen!

TDN: It was great to see your reaction after she won the Coolmore (Stakes), can you tell us how much the win meant to you?

Sarah: She's been a part of my life for a long time now and travelling with horses you get an even closer bond as they rely on you more because you're the only person responsible for them everyday.

The journey before winning the Coolmore had already been incredible... to win a race like the Coolmore is beyond my wildest dreams . She’s an absolute superstar and I could not be any prouder, she’s so tough and tries her heart out every single time she goes on the race track.

It was very emotional and everyone that knows me will know how much this means to me and how nervous I do get. It’s also having such happiness for Tony and the owners because they are all great people and no one was more deserving. Words can not describe how much this meant to me!

TDN: Do you find there is more pressure leading up to bigger races?

Sarah: I get nervous at any race when one of my horses is in, because when you have passion for something you love and you work hard to see them succeed then naturally it’s going to make you nervous. But of course when these bigger races come around the pressure is definitely heightened, especially when I travel as it’s all on me to make sure everything is 100% for race day and the horses are presented the best they can be.

TDN: What is the most challenging part of your position?

Sarah: The most challenging is probably having a holiday! I don’t like taking too much time off because I don’t like missing my horses race . But other then that it’s just making sure when I do travel that the horses are fit and well and that Tony is happy with them. Tony is great to work for because as long as you do your best and know how he likes things done, he’s rarely unhappy with the job you do.

TDN: What is your favourite part of being a strapper?

Sarah: Representing the stable and being proud to lead your horses around the mounting yard. Seeing them win is just the icing on the cake.

TDN: What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a strapper?

Sarah: It’s one of the most rewarding jobs. If you have love and passion for horses and dedication, it can truly take you anywhere!