Motukarara’s track manager – “I love the job”
By Dave Di Somma, HRNZ
6 December 2023
With the ever popular grass track season in full swing the onus is on track managers around the country to ensure their tracks are in top condition. For Victoria Bryant, the track manager at Motukarara, her “new” job is a world away from what she did previously.
In a short space of time Victoria Bryant has come a long way.
In her words the former banker “fell into” her job as the track manager at the Motukarara Racecourse just outside Christchurch, and now can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“This is my fourth season now, it is a real job and I really love it.”
“I couldn’t even put the PTOs on a tractor when I started,” she laughs.
Now, the routine of hitching up the blades and manicuring the more than 1800m of track is about as second nature as it gets.
“There’s a bit of real estate alright,” she says, “what I would call a race day mow can take anywhere between five and five and a half hours.”
She had no formal qualifications or training before taking up the job, though she’s always been round horses. A competitive rider for many years she still has four horses at her property in Ladbrooks.
“I lost my job (in the bank) due to Covid and the track manager here had resigned and my dad (Geoff) was on the committee I was doing some mowing and helping out when someone said I should go for the job.”
Along the way she’s learnt a lot and had a lot of support and help from people like HRNZ’s Track and Venue Inspector John Denton, Kevin McClintock, who’s a key part of the team at Addington Raceway, her part-time helper at Motukarara, Ben Skelton, and local trainer-driver, the late Murray Edmonds.
“I think about Murray every day I’m out there – he was great and we used to have a few laughs too!”
It’s believed Bryant is the only woman to be the dedicated track manager at a harness racing venue in this country, not that she puts too much store into that.
“Anybody can do anything as long as you are prepared to put the work in.”
“I’m not trying to be hero, I’m doing a job and I didn’t see myself here but I am here and I’m loving it.”
“But I couldn’t do what I do at Mot without the amazing help and support looking after my son Roux from my Mum and Dad (Wendy and Geoff).”
Unlike some of her thoroughbred racing counterparts Bryant doesn’t use penetrometers or other fancy equipment, relying more on “feel”.
“Common sense is a big part of it plus asking a lot of questions.”
“I now know every square metre of that track and can tell how much water it needs, and where.”
It’s all about striking a balance.
“Ideally you want a track that is good for the horses with a bit of give in it but not enough so the track gets too cut up.”
“The soil is very sandy and generally drains well as long as it doesn’t get too saturated.”
While Bryant has been widely praised for the racing surface and the way Motukarara looks on race day it has had her challenges.
In November last year the race meeting was cancelled because of surface water in the middle of the track just by the winning post.
“I felt I let the club down but really it was out of anyone’s control, there’d been something like 28 mils of rain overnight.”
In contrast at last year’s December meeting it was “35 degrees and stinking hot.”
“But it’s easier to irrigate a dry track. Wet is trickier for sure.”
In recent weeks Bryant has had some tight turnarounds with the Banks Peninsula Trotting Club meeting on November 26 followed by the Akaroa Trotting Club meeting on December 2.
“So that was two meetings in six days …. we did the assessment after the first meeting, then there was mowing, repairing divots and other manual repairs, plus the irrrigation … it was all go.”
Right now is peak hour for Bryant, with the December 29 meeting by far the biggest of the year. It can attract up to 8000 people on course.
“During the busiest times of the season I can work 14-16 days straight and then during the winter sometimes all it takes is 10 hours per week.”
“But even when I’m not working I’m often thinking about it!”