Trailblazer Tracey O'Meara charts new course for women in Irish horse racing

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Breaking new ground: Irish racing's first female clerk of the course

If it was a gimmicky graphic like the over-hyped England v Ireland battle for the Prestbury Cup at Cheltenham, this one would read: British racing 12-1 Irish racing.

The horse-racing industry might be one of the few sporting environments where women and men generally get to compete on an equal footing, but the Irish still have some ground to make up because the going is only good in places.

After the progress made by female trainers and jockeys in the past decade or more, it was inevitable all that success would eventually extend to course management - which is where Tracey O'Meara comes in.

The County Waterford woman is the first female clerk of the course in Irish racing, but surely not the last.

"There are 12 female clerks of the course out of 59 tracks in the UK," she says.

"I suppose it's still quite a small minority and there are a lot more females working in the British Horseracing Authority and through different roles in racing in England, and I think Ireland is following.

"We have a female judge in Jennifer Walsh and we have two female clerks of the scales and plenty of veterinary assistants and vets who are female as well, but it is nice to be the first female clerk of the course. It's definitely something I'm proud of."

Training

O'Meara's story begins at Tramore racecourse in Waterford, where her father, Seamus, was the groundsman.

She says: "I was always involved with horses. I got lots of opportunities through Sue Phelan, Bill Fleming and Paddy Graffin to work on the track on race days.

"I spent 10 years there working on race days so that was a great grounding to get."

But like so many Irish harbouring hopes of a career in horseracing, O'Meara headed across the water.

Two years were spent as a racing executive at Lingfield, which included 12 months training as a clerk of the course.

A 12-month stint as clerk of the course in Brighton and Fontwell soon followed.

"It was great to have two tracks because in England there aren't too many clerks of the course that get two tracks," she explains, "I had a national hunt and a flat track which was a brilliant experience."

Down Royal racecourse
Down Royal is one of the four racetracks where O'Meara is clerk of the course

"I think the most challenging aspect of my job is that everybody has an opinion and you have to take those people's opinions on board.

"My motto would be that every day is a school day and you're always going to learn something from somebody so listen to what they have to say and if you can take it on board, take it on board and try to improve things for them."

She gave herself five years to 'make it' in England, but in the end it only took three before she earned an opportunity to fulfil her dreams in Ireland.

In December 2018 she took over the reins at Down Royal, Downpatrick, Sligo and Kilbeggan.

Four tracks for the price of one, and she is taking it all in her stride.

"You hope going away to England, and the experience you gained there, would always stand to you, but I always wanted to come home," she says.

"We have great jockeys, great talent and great breeders and we are probably the best in the world for producing good horses so you're very proud to be Irish, and a female, when you're involved in racing.

"Look at Cheltenham, look at the female jockeys like Rachael Blackmore, Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly. It's great to see them doing so well.

"Rachael has been challenging to be Irish champion jockey all season and she's just phenomenal. She's so modest and she works so hard to be here, you'd have to give all the credit to her."

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Rachael Blackmore amazed to be challenging for Irish jockeys title

Blackmore, O'Meara and many women like them are the beneficiaries of changing times.

A decade or two ago good horses bred in Ireland were sold to owners who housed them with English trainers, for English racing.

Now the cream stays at home with leading Irish trainers such as Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead and Jessica Harrington.

Speaking at a recent event for 20 x 20, the all-inclusive movement to shift Ireland's cultural perception of women's sport by 2020, Harrington embraced the advancements she's witnessed.

"Thirty years ago when I started as a trainer, the men looked at me and said "Well she's got a family, she's got a husband, and she's got to look after them first, what's she doing here?"

"When I started the officials on every race course was run by men, everything was men, and now it has changed."

O'Meara couldn't agree more. Let's leave the last word with her.

"Things are changing," she says. "It's all on the up for females in the racing world."

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