YEAR: 1979


Three women have been licensed by the NZ Trotting Conference to drive in totalisator races in New Zealand.

Mrs Lorraine Watson, Miss Dorothy Cutts and Mrs Anne Cooney were granted licences to compete against the men at a meeting of the conference licensing committee in Auckland last week.

Miss Cutts, from Mangere, has been granted a professional driver's licence while Mrs Watson (Methven) was given an amateur driver's licence and Mrs Cooney, a professional probationary licence. Two licences were also issued for women to drive professionally at matinees and trials.

The criteria laid down by the Conference for the granting of licences to women is exactly the same as that which applies to the men.

Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 13Feb79


YEAR: 1979

Lorraine Grant with Rainbow Patch

"Once I was in the cart I was as good as gold. Before then I knew that all eyes would be on me...if I made a mistake, everyone would see it." That was how Lorraine Watson summed up those minutes before her first race as a fully licenced driver at Methven last Tuesday. She needn't have worried, even though Lorraine and her charge Lord Burlington finished only ninth in the first leg of the double. She tried to get Lord Burlington out into the clear at the start but was forced to change her plans when Wanda Bye went into a gallop along side her. From then on she sat back on the rails with Lord Burlington running on "as well as expected" in the straight.

The most nerve-wracking part of the day was yet to come. Immediately after the race, amid the flurry of well wishers and friends, there were the inevitable television and radio interviews for the South Island's first woman to drive in a tote event. "That was worse than the race. I suppose I was a bit shy and was worried about what I was going to say. Thank goodness, it happens only once," she said later. She actually drove her other representative, Hydro Byrd, into the money in the final event on the day. Hydro Byrd began like a rocket from the outside of the second line, and avoiding a slight mix-up at the start, was soon in the lead. For a long time down the straight it looked as though Lorraine might do the trick for her hometown crowd but, sticking on well, fourth was the best she could manage. Still, she got some of the money to cap off her day. "I always get on well with Hydro Byrd," Lorraine said. "I've won a lot with her at work-outs and trials. In fact, I have few problems with either horse."

Lorraine has had a licence to drive at matinees and trials for about a year now. But she has been "totally involved" with trotting ever since her marriage to the late Murray Watson fifteen years ago. But she has always liked horses, spending all her holidays on a farm, before then riding the ponies at Caroline Bay, Timaru. She used to go with her parents to as many race meetings as she could, too.

An aunt, Rita Jackson was NZ's first woman professional galloping trainer, who made her mark in the North Island with several well-performed horses. Lorraine (I've always had a competitive streak) gets the same thrills out of driving she once got from running. She was a South Canterbury athletic champion twice, but gave that up at 16 so she could follow the horses more closely. "But driving a race is a wee bit like running. You've got to keep your wits about you and plan ahead," she said.

Lorraine helped Murray with a lot of the jogging and other work with the team he trained on their Methven property. So it was only natural she would want to carry on after he died in hospital after a race crash with Belmer Lady at Motukarara in October, 1971. "I felt I had to keep on, I didn't want to see all the work he'd done go to waste, or the horses go to someone else," she said. "And that's what he would have wanted."

Lorraine has 26 horses on the 75 acres - another 309 acres are leased out - she has now. Lord Burlington and Hydro Bryd are the only two racing, but she does have a couple of 3-year-olds coming along nicely. One is Misgiving, by Lordship out of Misleading (by Fallacy) and the other is Dotrice, by Sly Yankee out of Copperwork, a half sister by Bachelor Hanover to Misleading, both members of the renowned Purple Patch family. Misgiving has had one start at the trials but has been put aside until the spring and Dotrice is just beginning fast work.

Last Tuesday wasn't the first time Lorraine had driven in an actual race. While on holiday in Queensland a couple of years ago, she drove at a Queensland 'bush meeting'. "It was a tiny wee track that had you leaning out round the corners. The horse I drove had the trail all the way but was so slow I almost had to get out and push it to keep second," Lorraine recalled last week.

Lorraine was pleased by the reactions of her male counterparts on Tuesday. "Of course, there will always those against women drivers, but I was surprised by a lot of the others," she said. Many had wished her well before the race and had spoken to her after. "But really driving is all in the hands and feet, sex makes no difference," she said. There would be the exceptions of course, such as with a really strong puller who might take a lot of strength to control.

She said she would continue to drive her own horses at tote meetings. Unless, of course, she felt they would do better in the hands of sombody else. If she were offered other drives, she would probably accept them although at this stage she was feeling her way. She had really applied for an amateur licence so she could drive her own team. And her overall impression of her first day's racing:" A little like driving at the trials, although it's a lot more serious in the straight, isn't it!"


Extract from HR Weekly 21 Jan 98

Lorraine Grant (formerly Watson), one of the early pioneers to develop the role of women on the racetrack, died earlier this week. Based in Mid-Canterbury, Grant was 54 and had been in ill-health for the past year or so.

Grant was involved in all aspects of the Industry, breeding, owning, training, and more recently standing the stallion Happy Chatter II, and along with Dorothy Cutts and Anne Cooney, was the first to be granted a licence to drive against men.

Cutts was the first to succeed in this domain, winning with Kenworthy at the Matamata on-course only meeting in February, 1979. Grant, then Lorraine Watson, had her turn on 21 March the same year, winning at Methven, she repeated the dose on the first night (6 April) of the Met's Easter meeting winning, on both occasions with the Butler Byrd horse, Hydro Byrd.

A very capable and patient trainer, Grant had more success than most with sons of Lord Module. Flashing By and Burgundy were sons of the Lordship horse to win four races. Hydro Byrd won six, Jay Ardee seven, but the star of the stable was Rainbow Patch, a striking chestnut by Main Star who won 10 races.

Grant has the honour of being the only woman to drive in the NZ Cup, driving Rainbow Patch in Il Vicolo's Cup two years ago. Grant was a member of the Silks and Satin Club, a supporter of harness racing in the Mid-Canterbury district, and a polished entertainer in the Methven Choral Society. She is survived by her husband, John.

Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 20Feb79


YEAR: 2014


With Natalie Rasmussen leading UDR tables and Sam Ottley aiming at becoming the third female to top the Junior Driver's premiership, women are driving high just now. And considering it took 80 years for them just to be licenced their achievements are notable. The pioneers were Ethel Abbott and Bella Button both of whose careers were ruined by Victorian hypocrisy.

Abbott was granted a licence by the Otahuhu Trotting Club in 1890 aged just 16. She was a pioneer of riding astride, wearing bloomers as did Button. But official licences were issued nationally and theirs were always refused.

Button drove winners in Canterbury but with a one day club permit. Because of these two the subject of female drivers was discussed as early as at the first Trotting Conferencein 1896. It was noted that "rules would have to be changed" to allow them to be licenced but there "seemed to be some degree of support fot it". 75 years later it happened.

Button, originally from Mid-Canterbury, owned and trained Star, the first winner of the inaugural Ashburton Trotting Club meeting in 1890. As usual she sent the good news home by carrier pigeon. She drove in lightweight "wagons" and later in the high seated sulky in ladylike fashion. Something of a legend, Bella also starred in the then famous Australasian travelling rodeo show. O'Neill's Buckjumpers.

At one Christchurch Show she was asked to ride all four contenders in the final round of the hurdles and did. She was the first woman to win a race at Riccarton only an hour after Slow Tom, a horse she had developed and sold, had won the 1904 Grand National Steeplechase.

The licencing system drove her out of trotting and when she operated from the landmark Brooklyn Lodge stables at New Brighton in later years she was mainly involved with ponies and show-horses - though she was in demand for educating or sorting out difficult racehorses. Jack Litten was one who spent his early working days with her at Brooklyn Lodge.

The arrival of speed carts and the "unladylike" poses they required seemed to prevent progress of female drivers for decades even though the talent was there.

Another noted horsewoman, the formidable Julia Cuff, later of Hinds, was the first woman licenced to train in Southland in 1935 but she was not suited to race driving. It wasn't until the "Eyelure Derbys" and similar - mainly non tote races showing female talents in the 1970's - aided by the push to licence female jockeys, that real progress was made. A number of stars of those chose to remain amateur.

Una Anso operated her own stable of horses with the "Red" prefix at Otorohanga and became the first woman to win at trials. Then three raceday licences were granted in 1979 to Dorothy Cutts (open licence) who became the first to win a totalisator race against the men with Kenworthy at an on-course only meeting at Cambridge in February that year.

Lorraine Watson (amateur licence) followed as the first southerner to win with Hydro Byrd at Methven and Anne Cooney was granted a junior driver's licence. As Lorraine Grant the former was later the first woman trainer of a NZ Cup starter, cult pacer Rainbow Patch.

The female profile was raised in 1972 with the visit of personable American Bea Farber, the first woman to drive in the World Driver's Championship after topping the American UDR ratings three years in a row. She ultimately drove over 1800 winners. The real American pioneer had been "Grandma" Burright who drove for 25 years including at major night meetings until well into her 60's in the 1950's. The immortal Greyhound's trainer-driver Sep Palin held her driving in high regard.

The amazing feat in American up until then - still astonishing today - was 11-year-old Alma Sheppard driving trotter Dean Hanover to a world 3-year-old record 1:58.5 in a time trial at the Red Mile in 1937 a feat which had her rivalling Shirley Temple for national media attention. Alma's media response on this remarkable feat was "I didn't do it. The horse did it" and she retired from public driving in her teens.

In the last two decades here Jo Herbert(twice) and Kirstin Barclay have topped junior driving premierships and Nicole Molander(Group Ones) and Nikki Chilcott(500 wins) have made a major impact. Herbert, no longer driving, had three NZ Cup drives placing fourth in one of the best female efforts before Rasmussen. Earlier Maria Perriton and Karen Williams won the Maurice Holmes Junior Trophy at Addington, Lyn Neal drove at the top level, Maree Price won trotting features and others such as Michelle Wallis and Susan Branch had moments in the headlines.

So why has there not been a greater overall commitment in the Australian style of Kerryn Manning's 3000+ wins?

Maybe the brutally frank Farber who had no family, had the last word. In the heat of battle she once said, it was so ruthless it made no difference to rivals if you were "a man, a woman or a hippo." The track grit caused her complexion problems and she rarely shopped for clothes or had time for it. "I am 37, my sister is 50 and everyone says she looks younger than me" was another quote. Then there was her retort to a media question about her private life with then husband, trainer Chuck, a marriage she once claimed as "as much a business arrangement as a relationship. You try having a sex life when you work 20 hours a day," said Bea who retired to Florida in 1995 with multiple arthritic, muscle and joint injuries caused by years in the racecart.

Maybe a lot of skilled Kiwi horsewoman just had other prorities.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 19Mar2014

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