How do I work with a Melbourne Cup winner?

While caring for racehorses may not get you the most attention of any job in the industry, it is one of the most important roles in addition to opening up many opportunities for you.

Called a strapper, this is one of the first jobs you’ll get in a racing stable. It doesn’t often come with the glamour of being a name in a racing program but you’ll have one of the most important jobs in the industry keeping racehorses happy and healthy. After getting experience as a strapper, many people have moved on to other roles in the industry from barn foreman to media personality.

As a strapper, your day will start at about 3 a.m. when you check to make sure your horses are healthy after a night at the stable. 

Mornings are hectic with horses coming and going from the track and needing to be cooled out, stalls needing to be mucked, and the yard tended to. Afternoon stables aren’t as hectic as the mornings but horses will still go out for some form of exercise and stables will again need to be mucked. You’ll spend two or three hours making sure your horse is fed, watered, groomed and healthy before heading home around 3 or 4 p.m. If your horse is running in a race, you will usually attend the races with him. 

Sometimes this leads to a longer day of work while some races are so far away you’ll have an overnight trip. 

Winx’s strapper Umut Odemislioglu, recommends that you try out being a strapper for at least a few months before deciding it isn’t for you. The hours can be tricky and he’s seen people struggle and give up but if you put your mind to it, it opens up a lot of opportunities. 

“The hours are challenging but give it a chance for a few months,” he explained. “The first year is always hard and you have to accept that this is not a job, it's a lifestyle.”
Originally from Turkey, he moved to Australia after a stint in Ireland and has worked his way up to being a barn foreman at Chris Waller Racing. In addition to taking care of Winx, he also has to tend to any other problems that may arise in the barn.

“First thing in the morning, I quickly check my barn of 20 horses,” he said.  “They’re in the box about 10 hours overnight and anything could happen. So I take a quick look at them to make sure they’re all ok before starting the daily routine. I think every single person in this industry is waiting for horse like Winx.  This hope and dream keeps people going. She is beyond my dreams and expectations. I am just amazed how a horse can change your life.” 

If you don’t see working in the barn as the long-term job for you, stable positions aren’t the only opportunities that comes from being a strapper.

For Emily Murphy, the strapper of champion Dundeel, taking care of the horse opened up many doors for her to explore other careers in the racing industry. Today Murphy works as a presenter on Trackside TV, a role she credits much to her career as a strapper. 

“I knew Dundeel would open up opportunities for me but even at that point I didn't know what they might be, I was happy to let that part fall into place. [Strapping him was] some of the most exciting and rewarding days of my life! It changed everything for me. He opened up so many doors not only to grow my knowledge but boost my profile. My boss Murray Baker was a massive part of that too. If he hadn’t trusted me with all that responsibility and pushed me forward for media opportunities then I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Murphy’s feelings about being a strapper for a big horse are echoed by Claire Bird, who strapped New Zealand and Australian Hall of Fame mare Sunline. Her association with the legendary mare took her around the world and gave her the opportunity to be become Gerry Harvey’s racing manager. 

“I was incredibly lucky [to strap Sunline],” Bird said. “It was partly right place at the right time. She took me all around the world and I met some incredible people. Not to mention the races she won, she was one very special horse. I would not be working for Gerry now if it was not for her. Don’t work in racing to make money, if you do that is a bonus, do it for the love of horses and the love of racing. It will make it a lot easier to get up early if you truly love it.”

While the hard hours can get tiring, Odemislioglu said that working with the horses is worth it because of the trust they put in you.

“Horses are individually different characters and fragile animals. What I love most about them is if they trust you they will do anything for you,” he explained. “I appreciate Australia gave me the chance to be part of racing I love the Australian racing culture and atmosphere.”

Outside of the connection you have with the horses, no matter what job you do in racing Bird says to enjoy the experience.

“Racing, in any capacity can take you all around the world and give you amazing experiences, embrace everything you can and give everything you can a go, you never know what and where it may lead to!”