No stranger to fashions in the field runways & sashes both in New Zealand and Australia, Canterbury's Katie O'Neill wowed the judges here at Ellerslie in late February where she was announced winner of The Ned Prix de Fashion.
However, when you take a look at what this busy mother-of-four fits in to her daily schedule, you'd wonder where she even found the time to fit in hunting for her winning raceday outfit, let alone to escape to Auckland to compete in - and win - the national fashions in the field final!
So today, while Katie is well-known for her racing fashion prowess, we thought you might like to learn what else keeps this fun-loving girl so busy that she often has a 4.30am wake-up call, what 'skills' she's not quite mastered and more...
What was your first memory of the races? My first time going to the races was with my good friend who is a racehorse trainer, Tracey Lammas, to the Melbourne Cup for her 30th back in 2011. I was instantly hooked, though it wasn't until 2013 that I started competing in fashions on the field competitions.
Finish this: “A great day at the races is never complete without…”
Hot chips or a hotdog.
You’ve got four gorgeous daughters, a husband, dogs, a dairy farm, horses and more…
What’s a typical day like for you?
I always start my day with a strong coffee! Some mornings I'll be up at 4.30am to milk the cows (thankfully that's only when the staff are away!), but otherwise I'll kick into getting the girls off to school.
Then, I'll head out on the farm where I'll first organise the day with staff & jobs that need doing before I go and answer emails, do accounts & general farm paperwork until it's time to go & get the kids from school.
We'll then squeeze in time to ride the horses until 5pm rolls round when I MUST watch The Chase. After that's finished I'll cook dinner, get the girls settled for the night then hubby & I will have 'our time' which is usually an escape to the gym.
You've just mentioned the gym - what else is your escape?
I have several escapes! As I mentioned, the gym at night with good music is a regular, but I've also got date nights with hubby or a vino at my good friend / neighbour Kate’s. Come June, when the cows are dried off, we would normally try to get away somewhere warm - usually Hawaii or Australia!
Aside from the strong coffee, what is it that gets you up in the mornings - particularly on those early start days?
Between August and November it's full-on as it's calving time so I'm up working from 4.30am and getting back into the house at 6pm. I must say, the girls are amazing through this time and they [the older three] all help. They are independent, hard workers and are all on the pay role. My 14yr old could just about run the place!
What keeps me going is setting new goals every year and having the determination to be better than I was during 12 months prior.
You won NZ’s national fashions in the field final, The Ned Prix de Fashion, here on Vodafone Derby Day in late February. You looked so polished on the runway and clearly blew the judges away.
Do you have any interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits you can share from that day or any others?
Good question, as it seems to be a common theme for me to always have some type of malfunction!
I'll never forget this year on the big day at Ellerslie! We were in the car outside my friend's place & ready to roll when my daughter noticed the middle part of my earring was missing. Not just any part too, but the yellow part - an extremely important detail!
I was like, "OMG NO!" and ran back inside, found some yellow paint and tried to cover over what was now an empty hole. I asked my friends if they thought people would notice, hoping they would say no - but I got the whole "eeek!" look and realised it was never going to work. Fortunately my friend Ali found the missing piece on the floor so, with the help of some super glue, we managed to fix it in the car on the way to the racecourse.
Oh and we also did a last minute transformation of some red, pointy shoes into pink &
This was also not planned - I had intended to wear a mule stiletto.
Another one that springs to mind was at the Adelaide Cup - my dress (pictured, right) got caught in a chair and I ripped some of the lace fabric before I was about to go on stage. Fortunately, another entrant came to my rescue with eyelash glue and stuck it back together!
This is what makes it all such fun though!
What’s your favourite word or saying right now?
Being a mother of four girls I don’t seem to have cool “it“ words, but more “IT” phases such as “where is my phone?”, “Where is Heidi?” [Katie's two year old daughter], “Stop fighting!" and “Might just have a little champas...”.
Make a prediction. What is it?
New Zealand agriculture will be the shining light that will get the country through this economic downturn we are facing.
You’re a horse rider from way back. What do you look for when picking a winner on raceday?
A horse that is relaxed but still on its toes a wee bit. Something that has a good eye, a shiny coat, is in good condition and if my good friend Tracey trains it, or her husband Cameron Lammas [jockey] is riding it, of course I had better back it!
Have you owned any ex-racehorses as hacks and if so, can you tell us a little bit about them?
Sure have! My first one was when I was 17 - his name was "Boof“ & he was by a stallion called Clock n Dagger. He was bred in Canterbury and was an amazing eventer. I then bought a grey thoroughbred by Grosvenor many years later who I did a bit of everything with.
You always rock incredible, polished outfits at the races and, unlike many of us kiwis, aren’t afraid of colour either. Where do you get your inspo from to keep nailing all these looks?!
I spend a lot of time on the internet looking at international fashion weeks & the latest trends before pulling together the bits I like from all the different looks. If I find something that makes me go "OMG" I send it to my close fashion friends and if they give me a similar response, I think "game on!" and, in a rush of excitement, click "buy now" on the outfit or fabric!
Best purchase you’ve ever made & why?
A much-loved family member called Pete [right] who is a 12hh Welsh pony that has taught all my kids to ride and now is carting the 2 year old around. He’s safe, no fuss, low maintenance and is just the kindest, littlest dude in the world!
Oh and some Andrea Moore boots that I still get regular comments on. They're four years old and still going strong - they honestly look great with absolutely everything!
We all know racewear isn’t just about wearing the right label, or spending huge amounts to pull-off a winning look.
What is your advice for someone wanting to start entering fashions in the field events?
I think if you are wanting to enter fashions in the field for the first time, you should look up racing fashion websites, blogs & groups and look at the winning outfits (the second-hand millinery & racewear Facebook groups are good for this).
Start following racing fashion people on social media too - their accounts will give you an idea of what it takes to be at a competition level. Don’t be afraid to message these ladies & gents either - even if you don’t know them, most of us are so passionate about it and we love to help! I will certainly help anyone that comes to me.
What are you horrible at?
House work and sticking to the speed limit..!
What personality traits are you well-known for among friends & family?
Honest, compassionate, down-to-earth, friendly, generous and loves a fun time! (I had to ask other people and this was the feedback I got - I don’t like talking about myself lol).
[Ed's note: We can confirm Katie is all of those things]
What’s one thing you’d like people to know about the racing industry?
It's easy to get involved and it's so much fun! Also, the horses love it and they are loved and cared for.
Have there been any racehorses that have stood out to you?
Who Shot Thebarman [ 2014 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup winner, Sydney Cup winner & four-time Melbourne Cup runner] - not only does he have a great name, but he's got a great back story behind him too.
Aside from your great ones from The Ned Prix de Fashion, can you share any other great racing fashion ‘hacks’ you’ve mastered?
A great hack for me has been paint! It's amazing what you can paint to match shoes or handbags.
I'd also suggest not limiting things to their 'purpose'. I once used a beaded necklace from Lovisa as a belt to break up a dress. Another time I used a silver trophy (which was a jewellery case) I had received from the Christchurch Hunt Club as clutch! I've also turned a lace top from Max into a turban for a winter raceday.
There's plenty more hacks too! However, I'm not as creative as some of my friends such as Claire Hahn and Ali Moore - some of their hacks are next level!
You’re clearly an animal lover. What is it about them that has seen you effectively dedicate your life to them?
Animals are so forgiving and loyal. They just give so much to us. I have always been obsessed with them since I was a wee toddler.
It's just in my genes - I can't really explain it!
If you were a racehorse, what would you be called?
“Judge the book not the cover” or, “Enough with the BS”.
And finally... you recently cut your long hair in a very cool bob. What’s better – short or long?
I love the bob and I especially loved how it really made my winning outfit from The Ned Prix de Fashion.
I do have extensions I can use if I want a different look, so I technically have the best of both worlds.
You can follow Katie on Instagram here (and help her build a new account after her other got hacked!)
Want to get to know some friends of Ellerslie and members of the team? Get to know them here - we have plenty more profiles to come!