Gai Waterhouse is one of very few horse trainers these days who prefers to watch her runners from the grandstand.
While the majority of her fellow trainers are glued to a television monitor, Gai likes to surround herself with owners and soak up the atmosphere that only a racetrack can generate.
Goulburn trainer Tash Burleigh has developed a routine, which she believes is worth at least two lengths to her horses. “Some time ago I asked Sky Racing presenters John Scorse and Chynna Marston if I could watch one of my runners on their TV monitor”, recalled Tash. “The horse happened to win, and so did the next runner I watched at the Sky mounting yard location”.
This procedure continued over many weeks, during which time more Burleigh runners saluted. Nowadays, Tash is totally convinced that her horses gain some kind of spiritual advantage, if she watches the race with John and Chynna.
Imagine the atmosphere at the Sky Racing location at Goulburn on Saturday, when Tash Burleigh’s horses ran first and second in the $150,000 Country Championships qualifier. This remarkable training feat, has catapulted Al Mah Haha and Bocelli(JPN) into the $500,000 Final at Royal Randwick on April 6th.
It was business as usual for the thirty three year old trainer, when I called her mobile phone on Sunday afternoon around 4.30pm. She was on the job at her Goulburn stables, feeding the team of thirteen horses and checking for any telltale signs of impending problems.
Natasha “Tash” Burleigh grew up at a little place called Tyabb on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. She is the eldest of five children (three girls and two boys) born to Gary and Jan Burleigh. “Nobody in my family has caught the racing bug, but they keep an eye on the results and watch the occasional replay”, said Tash. I’m sure they’ll be watching on April 6th”.
A little palomino Welsh mountain pony called Sunny, remains the prime catalyst in Tash Burleigh’s pursuit of a life with horses. “I was only seven when my great aunt Coral announced she was looking for a home for her palomino pony”, recalled Tash. “We lived on a ten acre property on the outskirts of Tyabb, so it was no trouble for Dad to fence off a nice little paddock for Sunny. I knew he had been broken to harness and had actually been in a sulky of some kind but he was new to the saddle”.
Tash had that pony for eighteen or nineteen years. She gradually got to know other youngsters with ponies and it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see four or five of the “Tyabb team” in the local kiosk drinking milkshakes, with their trusty mounts tethered outside.
Young Tash Burleigh was a tiny kid and admits she struggled to tighten a girth early days. “I got over that problem by riding bareback, which probably enhanced my riding skills”, explained the horse lover. “There’s no doubt it improved my balance and coordination on a horse, but it did create a problem of another kind. After a while my legs started to rub skin off Sunny’s shoulders, to the extent that people assumed his rugs were causing the problem”.
A few years down the track, a young Burleigh graduated to riding racehorses in trackwork on famous Balnarring Beach. She slowly fell under the spell of the thoroughbred horse.
Her then partner Todd Rawiller (brother to Nash and Brad), had taken out his trainer’s licence and was planning a move to Bendigo. Tash agreed to become apprenticed to Todd and accompany him to Bendigo.
Trainer Paul Banks provided Tash Burleigh with that magical first winner, when he put her on a More Than Ready gelding called Tamland in a 950 “scamper” at Berrigan on 27/8/2011.
The young jockey had ridden around fifteen winners by the time she decided on a move to Warwick Farm, where she was able to transfer her apprenticeship to Leanne Aspros. When Leanne’s horses completed their trackwork Tash was able to ride some work for Guy Walter, Paul Cave, John Steinmetz, Gary Portelli and Dave Mills.
Tash has never forgotten the first winner she rode for Guy Walter. “Guy put me on a well-bred Galileo mare called Baggy Green in a 1600 metre maiden at Goulburn”, she recalled. “He told me to let her get back a bit, and to ride her quietly. She flew out of the gates straight onto the bridle and led all the way to win easily. What could he say”.
Tash Burleigh eventually found her way to Goulburn and to a position with respected trainer Graeme Spackman, who lost a battle with cancer two years ago. When Graeme offered her the role of stable foreperson, she made the decision to quit race riding.
Tash’s four year career had yielded around fifty winners, and a great deal of satisfaction. “My opportunities were very limited and I felt I should channel my efforts into some other avenue of racing”, said the former Victorian.
Tash looks back on her time with Graeme Spackman as a very valuable phase of her life. “He was a remarkable man and a very gifted horseman”, she said. “Few people realise what an incredible sporting background he had. He was proficient throughout his life in table tennis, basketball, tennis, and squash and he excelled at polocrosse. Shortly before he died, Graeme told me he intended to retire and recommended I should take out a trainer’s licence and keep his stables going. He was a key figure in my life”.
Tash Burleigh’s very first training win was with a gelding called Reverence in a Bong Bong maiden on 18/11/2016. “It was a low key start, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled had the race been at Royal Randwick”, reflected the young trainer.
Memories of her second win will always be tinged with sadness. She won with a mare called Hangover Monday at Nowra, on the very day that Graeme Spackman passed away.
Tash Burleigh’s emergence as a very serious horse trainer has been well documented over the last two years. She and partner, former jockey Patrick Murphy, run a very efficient training operation from the stables previously occupied by Graeme Spackman. “Patrick and I ride the bulk of the trackwork and collaborate on all matters concerning our team”, explained Tash.
Patrick, who was indentured to the late Guy Walter, showed great talent in the saddle before increasing weight put him out of business. His Dad Lindsay Murphy is the highly respected general manager of racecourses for the Australian Turf Club.
The couple literally walk their horses out of the stables onto the back straight of the Goulburn racecourse. “We have the daily use of an excellent sand track, and a B grass which is available three days a week. From time to time the course proper will be made available on request”, enthused Tash. “We have the use of a small hill track, and there’s another area where we can pop them over a few barrels and cavalettis”.
Tash will be forever grateful to a handful of special horses who’ve helped to launch her training career.
Territorial entered the Burleigh stables after three unplaced runs for the Snowdens and has put together three wins and several placings.
Waratah Thoroughbreds have generously supported Tash with horses like Lucky Prospector (3 wins), Trevelyan (2 wins) and Bocelli (3 wins and the Qualifier placing last Saturday).
Fireman Sam I Am has won four races for Tash at Kembla (2), Canberra and Gosford.
Ribands (named after a champion pacer of the 1950’s), has won five races including a dead heat.
Napoli, formerly with the Snowden stable has won a couple of races. This son of Snitzel had to be gelded belatedly, and seems to be slowly putting it together.
Al Mah Haha started his racing life with the Waller stable and won a Canterbury Maiden before being sent to Tash. He was having his fourth start for his new trainer when he won the Championship Qualifier on Saturday.
The young trainer was extremely chuffed recently, when an unraced four year old mare called Anges entered the stable. This daughter of Husson (ARG), is owned by Nick Moraitis who raced the champion Might And Power and several other talented gallopers. “She’s got a few quirks, but came through her trial pleasingly on Saturday and should be at the races shortly”, said Tash.
With the Country Championship Final still over a month away, Tash has to decide whether or not Al Mah Haha and Bocelli will need another run. “I’ll be closely monitoring their fitness levels over the next ten days”, said the trainer. “If either horse appears to be in need of another race, we’ll look for a suitable event. A quiet trial may be sufficient. The horses will tell us which way to go”.
Tash Burleigh is an immensely likeable young lady, who is away to a very promising start in a brutally tough game. She and Patrick share all the attributes necessary to make a go of it, even when the ice is crackling under their feet in the middle of a Goulburn winter.
To be a part of the hustle and bustle of the Royal Randwick birdcage with two runners in a half million dollar race is a lot for any country trainer to comprehend.
For Tash Burleigh it’s light years away from a peaceful bush trail at Tyabb, sitting bare back on a little palomino pony called Sunny.
(Banner image courtesy Bradley Photographers - Tash wins on Baggy Green for Guy Walter Goulburn 2012.)