Owner Richard Matthews lives on through champion Catch A Wave
Last Saturday, the pacer posted an emotional victory in the $1 million Miracle Mile near Sydney.
by Adam Hamilton
Andy Gath won’t forget a phone call he got back on Sep. 29, last year.
The outstanding 54-year-old Victorian trainer saw the name “Richard Matthews” come up on his phone and excitedly answered to chat with one of his favorite and most loyal owners.
But this was to be a devastating conversation.
“Richard rang to say he’d been given 48 hours to live,” Gath said. “It wasn’t a long conversation, sort of a goodbye, really, and thank you. But it was also an assurance. He wanted the horses I had for him, especially Catch A Wave, to race on. That I wasn’t to let anyone in his family sell them.
“It’s the most confronting call I’ve ever had. He was always a strong, composed man, but he was in tears, and it was hard to know what to say back, other than, ‘Thank you.’”
Matthews, who had battled major health issues for many years, died less than 24 hours later.
The timing was tragically cruel given that Gath was starting to think one of Matthews’ pacers, then 3-year-old Catch A Wave, was the best pacer he had trained through a stellar career of more than 30 years.
Sure, Matthews had seen Catch A Wave win some big races, like the 2YO Breeders Crown and the 3YO Australian Pacing Gold Bullion final, but Gath had an inkling they were just a hint of what was to come.
And he was right.
Catch A Wave has since added three more Group 1 victories, most notably the huge Chariots Of Fire/Miracle Mile double at Menangle in recent weeks.
Gath continually tries to focus on the positives out of an obviously otherwise brutal negative: that the passionate, fun-loving Matthews hasn’t been around to see Catch A Wave become the most exciting pacer in this part of the world.
“It’s bittersweet, there’s no doubt about that,” Gath said. “You can’t help but always wish Richard was there and how much it would mean to him. But the other side of it is that Catch A Wave has given Richard’s wife, Pauline and the family something to hang on to him by.
“Watching ‘Tex’ (Catch A Wave’s stable name) race in and win big races has brought the family close together around something Richard was so passionate about, through a very hard time for them all. It’s wonderful to see the joy and happiness a horse like this can bring to the family when they are still hurting from losing Richard.”
Pauline can’t go to the races because, as she said: “It was our thing, something Richard and I always did together. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Matthews’ son David was trackside for the Chariots Of Fire and Miracle Mile and admits he now finally understands why his father loved his horses so much.
“I just didn’t get it,” David said. “It wasn’t my thing, but Catch A Wave has opened my eyes to it. I see it now. I get it.”
And those eyes were popping as Catch A Wave blasted to the lead and beat Australia’s best pacers in last Saturday night’s (March 4) $A1 million Miracle Mile in a 1:48.8 mile around the 1,400 meter Menangle track near Sydney.
Remarkably, it was only Gath’s second Miracle Mile starter despite his distinguished career. The other, Hearts Legend, finished fifth in 2002.
And for his wife, champion driver Kate Gath, it was her first drive in arguably the best known and sexiest race Down Under.
Kate became just the fourth female to drive a Miracle Mile winner, following Natalie Rasmussen (Have Faith In Me, 2016), Jodi Quinlan (Sokyola, 2004) and Kellie Kersley (Norms Daughter, 1996).
She was already the winningest female Group 1 driver in Australia.
“It feels like it’s all just happened so quickly,” Kate said. “The Miracle Mile was never on the radar, but when he won the Chariots Of Fire so well, we had to have a crack at it. It’s so hard just to get a [starter] in the race. It’s only a field of eight and for so long there were only six.
“To have a drive in it was amazing, to win has blown me away. It’s just such a special win for us. We love this horse, have since day one and the connection back through Richard and now his family just makes it mean so much more. Sure we’d all love Richard to be here and enjoying it, but what a legacy this horse is providing for him and what amazing things he’s doing for us all.”
Catch A Wave, a son of Captaintreacherous, hasn’t been the easiest horse to train, including a tendency to over race and even a serious reluctance to want to turn around in the score-up behind the mobile start.
Just when Team Gath thought he had grown out of that, he almost ruined his Miracle Mile before it started last Saturday night.
As the field neared the release point, Catch A Wave was about 100 meters away, but had fortunately got a rein tangled and an attendant alerted the starter who called a false start.
In take two, he pounced on the lead and the rest is history.
“He’s got a lot better in so many ways, but he’s still got his quirks as he showed the other night,” Andy said. “But the fact he was able to burn a :25.5 first quarter to lead and then relax and back off to a :29.2 second split shows how far he’s come. Even six months ago, he would’ve just kept on trucking if Kate had [gone] a first split like that.”
Catch A Wave, who boasts 17 wins from just 22 starts and $A1,123,120 in earnings, now gets a break before another almighty challenge in the world’s richest harness race.
That’s the inaugural $2.1 million TAB Eureka at Menangle on Sep. 2.
In a promoter’s dream, it shapes up as an epic race with such a strong crop of 4-year-olds — headed by Catch A Wave, Leap To Fame and Captain Ravishing — heading the favorites for the race restricted to Australian-bred 3- and 4-year-old pacers only.
“The main reason we set him for the Chariots Of Fire to be honest was to give him some experience travelling away and racing at Menangle, where the Eureka will be run,” Gath said. “That plan certainly turned out to be so much more with him winning the Chariots and the Miracle Mile, we hadn’t even thought about it until he won the Chariots and that got him a ticket into the Mile.
“He’ll be back racing in late July I’d say for a couple of lead-up races we’ll give here at home (Melton near Melbourne) before we go back up to Menangle for the Eureka.”