Even running in a marathon, Kate Gath is always focused on Catch A Wave

by Adam Hamilton

Kate Gath’s love of running is legendary.

The superstar Aussie harness driver enjoys speed off the track as much as on it and has competed in several marathons, including New York in 2022.

She’s deep in training again for her second attempt at the Gold Coast marathon in July.

For the past year or so, each time Gath has slipped her running shoes on, she’s paused for a moment and thought “will I think about him today, or not?”

No, she’s not referring to husband Andy, but rather star pacer Catch A Wave.

For all the joy and success Catch A Wave has brought, and there’s been plenty of it with 20 wins from just 35 starts and almost $1.3 million in prize money, Kate admits, “he’s also done my head in at times, as well.”

Catch A Wave stormed to stardom and looked on the verge of greatness when he won the rare and huge Chariots Of Fire and Miracle Mile double early last year.

But in 13 starts since he’s managed just three wins and finished back at the rear in his two biggest targets, the $2.1mil TAB Eureka last September and the $500,000 Hunter Cup in February.

To call him an enigma is a stretch, but he’s certainly been a source of great frustration – to connections and punters.

“He’s definitely been disappointing this past 12 months or so,” Kate said. “After he won the Chariots and Miracle Mile, most would’ve thought if he’s not as good as Leap To Fame, then he’s not far off him.

“You’ve seen what Leap To Fame has done in the 12 months since, doing amazing things and becoming a champion, while we’ve been scratching our heads and wondering what might have been so many times.”

Catch A Wave has always been quirky, from the days he wouldn’t go onto the training track, to the Vicbred final night he almost missed the score-up to the start the race because he wanted to dash down into the infield.

Kate hoped, and still hopes to some extent, it’s something he will “mature out of,” but the now 5-year-old is taking time if that’s the case.

“He still feels immature, but maybe it’s just him,” Kate said. “Some horses are like that and have quirks all their lives.”

On one of her runs, Kate thought back to the lengthy spell Catch A Wave had after winning that Miracle Mile in March, last year.

She pondered why it seemed to be a bit of a fork in the road of his career.

“It’s probably been more in the past few months that Andy [Gath, Kate’s husband and Catch A Wave’s trainer] and I have really noticed how physically different the horse is to when he won the Chariots and Miracle Mile,” Kate said. “He’s really filled out. There’s no comparison when you see the photos from those races back then and compare him now. It’s even more pronounced when you sit behind him and see how big his bum is now.

“He’s really grown up and out. He spelled at Pauline’s place. She’s the wife of Richard [Matthews], who owned Catch A Wave and passed away in late 2021. Pauline was really mindful of making sure he had plenty of feed and spelled well. He certainly did.”

The theory? Kate and Andy think they may not have been working the bigger and stronger version of Catch A Wave hard enough.

“In a few of the races, he’s over raced and not finished it off, or been rundown and pulled-up big, like he needed the run,” Kate said. “After a while we just thought, That’s it, the gloves are off’ and increased his workload. We still can’t be sure it’ll change things, but we haven’t got anything to lose. Now at this [very] top level, he has to be at his very best.

“The early signs are good. When he won at Melton [March 30], he felt much more like the Catch A Wave of old. He sort of towed me, then really picked up when I wanted him to and hit the line strongly. Maybe we haven’t had him fit enough.”

Kate reflected on the glorious phase through the Chariots Of Fire and Miracle Mile and how it was the busiest and hardest phase of Catch A Wave’s career.

“Not just the racing, but the travel,” she said. “He raced three times in four weeks at Menangle [near Sydney] and travelled up and back from Melbourne [20-hour return trip] each time. It did him no harm and maybe he actually thrived on it.

“So, we’re increasing his work in training, mainly by replacing the slow jog days with fast jogs and just increasing the speed of all his work in general. And we’ll be racing him more often.

“He didn’t need a lot of work when he was younger because he was smaller and got away with it more on natural ability, but maybe he needs it now.”

The proof will come soon with Catch A Wave booked on a flight Monday (April 8) from Sydney to Perth to tackle Australia’s second-richest pacing race, the $1.25 million Nullarbor at Perth’s Gloucester Park on April 19.

The 5-year-old son of Captaintreacherous has had two lead-up races at Melton and, in line with Gath’s comments, will have another at Gloucester Park the week before the Nullarbor.

“So, the Nullarbor will be his fourth [race] in five weeks and he’ll be back again a week later in the other big race over there, the [$300,000] Fremantle Cup,” Kate said.

Gloucester Park, a rare and traditional half-mile track, will represent lots of firsts for the Catch A Wave team.

The horse himself has never raced there, Kate hasn’t driven there and Western Australia, where Gloucester Park is located, is the only harness racing state in Australia where the highly decorated Andy hasn’t trained a Group 1 winner.

Kate’s not worried about Catch A Wave handling the tight track.

“He’s never raced on a half-mile track, but our training track is the same size and we’ve never had one get around it better than ‘Tex’ [Catch A Wave’s stable name],” she said. “I know Andy would love to tick a box in his career and win a Group 1 in WA.

“And, as for me, I’ve watched a lot of racing at Gloucester Park and it’s so different. They race and drive very differently to what I’m used to. I always said to Andy, if he ever took a horse to Perth, he could put a local on it, but I’m not letting Tex go anywhere without me, so that’s why I’m going.”

Just the fact Catch A Wave is going to Perth is a surprise given Andy had ruled it out just a couple of months ago.

“We’d put all our focus on trying to defend his Miracle Mile crown, but he pulled-up quite lame after a lead-up [start] at Geelong and we thought he’d gone amiss,” Andy said. “It was a scary 24 hours or so, but thankfully they found it was a corn with an abscess buried underneath it. He was treated and recovered really quickly, but not quick enough for the Miracle Mile. So, we were left with a fit horse ready to go and had to revisit two races we’d ruled-out, the Race By Grins [Cambridge, April 12] and the Nullarbor.

“In the end, Rob [Tomlinson from Regency Foods Australia] made us a good offer to [race] in his Nullarbor slot and knowing the Fremantle Cup was the week after added to the attraction.

“In the end, he’s at a stage of his career where he has to race and needs to stand-up. And it’s also a rare opportunity to [start] in two races worth $1.55 million in the space of eight days and not have to take on Leap To Fame, who is far and away the benchmark horse in this part of the world.”

It’s now become a trademark of Kate’s to punch out a long training run of her own on the morning of a feature race, especially when Catch A Wave is racing.

It will be hard for her to think anything else bar him when she’s pounding the pavement in the hours before the Nullarbor on April 19.