Celebrating Auckland Cup Week® | We chat to Kelsey Rothery

­­From fascinators to foal watch; Kelsey Rothery exemplifies all the ways one can enjoy thoroughbred racing.

Kelsey has had a unique experience here at Ellerslie, one which not many people, outside of jockeys, can lay claim to. She, riding her off-the-track thoroughbred, Showcase (winner of the City of Auckland Cup), led out the field of the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup, completing an exhibition gallop back to the Birdcage in front of the thousands of spectators.

It's just one of many amazing experiences that her relationship with both thoroughbreds and the racing industry has brought about.

In advance of this year's Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Day, we sat down to chat with Kelsey about all things thoroughbred.

Kelsey with Showcause, one of her off-the-track thoroughbreds

Kelsey first started riding trackwork when she was 18. Now, she has multiple three-day eventing titles on her personal 'Wall Of Fame' aboard thoroughbreds, educates a couple of horses a year off-the-track for on-selling, and has placed runner up in a fashions in the field event. It’s safe to say she’s made the most of all facets of the industry.

It’s an impressive list, and one that bears testament to her success - but Kelsey is undeniably a cool, calm character. It’s clear to see that Rothery is a woman who simply loves what she does, and happens to be very good at it.

Alongside her passion for thoroughbreds and all the parts of the wider industry, Rothery is also a keen equestrian - who began riding practically before she could walk.

“My parents had a rule that we weren’t allowed to spend more than $1000 on a horse, so that pretty much meant we could only buy thoroughbreds”.

This didn’t stop her from competing at the highest levels of eventing, and has led to yet another passion being added to her already 'chokka' schedule, rehoming ex-racehorses.

New Zealand, in particular, has an excellent reputation for rehoming racing thoroughbreds and developing them into sporthorses. In fact, there is such high demand among equine owners to get hold of one, that Kelsey’s sister Gina Schick started Event Stars to facilitate the connecting of ex-racehorse and rider. Now, Cambridge-based Gina has a Facebook page with more than 30,000 fans who can attest to the benefits of a partnership with a off-the-track thorougbred.

Tell us a little bit about your industry-journey so far.

I’ve done a bit of everything really… I started riding track before work to make some extra money to fund my eventing, and my brother-in- law is Rodney Schick who owns Windsor Park Stud, where I worked for a couple of seasons, as well as doing foal watch on and off.

I’ve done yearling prep for Windsor Park and Maara Grange and I've prepped ready-to-runners (editors note: 2YO thoroughbreds, due to be sold in one of the Ready to Run Sales either here or in Australia), horses approaching their first trial, I buy yearlings and really do a bit of everything!

A quiet moment with one of Windsor Park's yearlings

And your sister is involved in the industry as well?

Yes, Gina has Event Stars which concentrates on taking thoroughbreds off the track and rehoming them. I’ve also worked for her on and off over the years as well helping her ride the horses and that sort of thing.

So when did you first start riding eventers?

I’ve ridden since I was three or four, and eventing had definitely always been my passion, so I started competing as soon as I was old enough. And my parents always had a rule that they were never going to spend over $1000 on a horse, so that kind of meant thoroughbreds were really the only option! Because I event, I’ve always gravitated towards thoroughbreds as they’re very trainable. They gallop, they jump, they do dressage and they’re everything I’ve always been after and I definitely click with them more than any other breed.

Kelsey competing another one of her thoroughbreds

Did you always know that you wanted to be involved in the racing industry?

I think it was a little bit of a natural gravitation - and then I’ve just found my niche. I’ve made a lot of really good friends in the industry, and I actually can’t imagine ever doing anything else. Both personally, my hobby riding and my job as well.

What’s been the highlight so far?

Probably producing thoroughbreds who have won titles at national level. In fact, the first thoroughbred I competed to 4* level was The Felon, who was a failed Ready to Run purchase after a bad scope. He went on to finish 2nd in the Super League series (behind Clarke Johnstone and his Olympic mount, Balmoral Sensation).

Have you had a favourite horse?

Yes, it would be Showcause. He was a champion stayer and I got him off the track and have done everything with him, and have had him coming up 9 years. He won both the National One Day and Three Day Event titles throughout his career. He's retired now and enjoying the paddock life (for the most part!).

Showcause showing his jumping chops at Kihikihi.

And can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Fashions in the Field?

That was a little bit of a last minute spur of the moment decision really. Me and a group of friends had a table booked, and I was like maybe it would be a bit of fun… I’ve done a few Hooves, Hats and Heels with the horses before but I’ve never done a straight Fashions in the Field. It was just a bit of a hey, let's give it a crack. Found a second hand dress, borrowed some bits and pieces, and yeah came in runner up which I was thrilled about because the girls take the competitions pretty seriously! They all looked amazing and their outfits were beautifully put together, so I was thrilled to be runner up. And a bit of fun to do something a bit different, I’ve never done something like that before.

For more about fashion at Ellerslie, click here.

Kelsey's Fashions in the Field entry

What’s your favourite raceday on the Ellerslie calendar?

Definitely the NZB Karaka Million. I love the Karaka Million. It’s the middle of summer, there's usually people over from Australia and it’s such a fun vibe. It’s also a really good chance to catch up with everyone before the sales kicks off.

It also has the most people from the industry - I feel like everyone's there. So it’s a chance to see people you don’t often see. It’s a fun, not too serious, event.

Check out the highlights video from this year's event here.

And tell us in your own words, what was it like to lead out the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup field?

That was one of my favourite moments. It was just fun to do something a bit different and out of your usual realm. I’m really passionate about rehoming thoroughbreds after racing so it was nice for people to see Gazza (Showcause) still performing at a high level and just encouraging people to take on horses after racing.

And also just so fun to gallop up the Ellerslie straight. So much fun.

Cruising down the Ellerslie straight

Given the ever-changing nature of the current COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand, we’re unable to predict what position Auckland will be at come 13 March for Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Day; however, we’re keeping a close eye on Government updates regarding the COVID-19 Protection Framework and its impact on events. Click on the link below for the latest updates.