by Adam Hamilton
Australian harness racing’s poster girl Kate Gath is heading to the U.S. to race.
While driving in some harness races is not out of the question, it is Gath’s other love, running, which will take her across the world to contest the New York Marathon in November.
The “remarkable opportunity,” as Gath describes it, came through her association with star Down Under pacing mare Tough Tilly and her owners, who race the now 4-year-old to raise funds and awareness for EB Research. (Click here)
It’s become a cause very close to Gath’s heart.
EB, or Epidermolysis Bullosa, is a rare, devastating and life-threatening set of genetic skin disorders.
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder is a co-founder of the EB Research Partnership.
Tough Tilly is named after Tilly Wilkes, the daughter of part-owner Corey Wilkes. Tilly, who suffers from EB, has become the face of Tough Tilly and the greater EB cause in Australia.
And Gath has become very close with Tilly.
“She’s gorgeous. She’s such a special person and to be part of the whole Tough Tilly ride with Tilly, her family and all the other great people involved in the ownership group is one of the best things I’ve been involved in,” Gath said.
Tough Tilly is a star and, like her human namesake, brave as well.
The daughter of Captaintreacherous has raced just 23 times for 11 wins, seven seconds and a third. She’s banked $A467,633.
And she’s just turned 4.
Last Saturday (May 7), Tough Tilly won at the top level (Group 1) for the third time. Perhaps more significantly, she beat Australia’s champion mare and her own stablemate Ladies In Red, for the second time in a Group 1 final.
She won on her merits, too. Tough Tilly sat parked (outside the leader) throughout and still held-off Ladies In Red, who stormed home from midfield, to win by a neck.
As if beating Ladies In Red again wasn’t big enough, the win was even more special for Gath, trainers Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin and all the owners because Tough Tilly has overcome some issues over the past 12 months, including a breathing operation.
“It’s up with the most special moments I’ve had in the game,” Gath said. “I didn’t think it could get much better than when Tough Tilly upset Ladies In Red about a year-and-a-half ago in the Vicbred final, but for her to come back from her setbacks and do it again… it was just amazing.
“You always wonder if they’ll come back as well, but she felt great in her last trial before resuming, then hit the line full of running in the heat without having any luck at all behind Ladies In Red.
“She just gave me such a great feel, I honestly thought we could beat Ladies In Red if we had some luck. She did it the hard way and still beat her.
“It meant so much to me but seeing how much it meant to everyone involved and knowing the money she’s raising for EB and the fact she’s getting people talking about it and learning about it is such a great thing.”
And that’s why Gath, who admits the thought of running the New York Marathon is “scary as hell”, eventually couldn’t say no when the EB team asked if she would run in an ambassadorial slot they have in the great race.
“I love running, absolutely love it. It’s my time, my escape from everything,” she said. “But I’ve only run one marathon and that was last December in Melbourne,” Gath said.
“To go to the other side of the world in one of the great marathons for my second sounds a bit crazy.”
But Gath’s initial response when offered the slot was to politely decline.
“I couldn’t believe it when they asked if I’d do it, but when I heard what time of year it was – in the middle of our big races – I just didn’t think I could do it,” she said.
“I told my sisters (Kirby and Courtney), and they were all over me, saying I had to do it. Then my close friend Maree (Caldow) wouldn’t hear of me knocking back the opportunity.
“They really convinced me it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one I had to grab.
“I’ve never been to New York and it’s the one place on the planet I’ve always wanted to visit. So, to go and see it and run the marathon as part of that will be incredible.
“I’ve since spoken to Jonathon Brown (former Aussie Rules football star), who ran as the EB ambassador a few years ago. He said it was one of the great experiences of his life, which got me even more excited.”
Gath ran the Melbourne Marathon in a tick under 3 hrs 24 mins and, remarkably, hopes to break three hours in New York.
She’s enlisted a running “coach” to steer her preparation.
“I trained myself for Melbourne and didn’t really know what I was doing. I have to get serious for this one, especially if I want to get my time right down,” she said.
“I’ve only had the coach for a couple of weeks and am already noticing a big difference. I’ve been doing interval training, running short stints quicker than I’d ever do myself, and when I go back to my ‘cruising’ speed, it seems so much easier.”
The remarkable thing is how and when Gath finds the time to do the enormous amount of training around her horse training and race driving commitments.
Gath and her husband, Andy, won the Victorian Metropolitan training title last year and have anywhere between 40 and 50 horses in training at a time.
Outside of that, Gath, who has won more Group 1 races than any other Down Under female, drives at four or five race meetings each week, plus the trials when required.
“I just make time. It’s a priority. Whether I have to get up and run really early, do it in the middle of the day, or get home from the races and put the runners on and go out at night, I just have to make it happen,” she said.
Gath is renowned for packing her running gear in the car and throwing it on to smash out a few kilometres if she has a break in between races at a race meeting.
Let’s hope she packs her driving kit as well as her running gear when she heads to the Big Apple later this year so you can see both sides of this remarkable woman.