Seasoned horse trainers travel to country and city race tracks far and wide, but none quite as remote as the hard packed sandpit that envelops the tiny town of Birdsville in Outback Queensland.
To race in this tiny town means to race in a part of outback history. This isn’t your grassy, classy, glass of champagne race you’ll find in the big cities. This is a dusty, musty, 12 cans of beer and a curry camel pie kind of a race, and that’s what we love about it.
Horse trainer, Denise Ballard, is no stranger to the dirt and dust and definitely no stranger to Birdsville with a story that echoes the outback spirit.
“I was born into a family that made a living on the land as drovers, contract musters and then managing properties,” she says.
Denise started riding horses at Julia Creek in 1973, competed in her first race four years later and in 1994 she became an owner/trainer. When it comes to the outback, horses and competitive racing she has seen it all.
Denise’s lifelong passion for horses brought her, as it does many others, straight to Birdsville. In 2003, Denise had two horses in the races as an owner/trainer, and this year she plans to bring eight or nine of her best.
“Each year we always try to buy one or two new horses, and Birdsville is always on our mind with them,” she says.
“They have to be very fit for the seven-hour truck trip, then race. We tend to give them a couple of easy weeks after the weekend.”
Although the logistics of transporting eight or nine horses around the outback would put any good truckie to shame, Denise wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if it does mean missing out on a few cold ones.
“If I win any races we do have a few quiet drinks but always keeping in mind we have to be up again around 4am the next morning to pack up and head for home.”
With this year’s races pegged to attract crowds of over 8,000 it’s going to be hard for many other people to have the self-control of Denise. Unless she wins, that is.
“If I ever win the cup that could be a different story,” she says. “Guess I’m lucky to have a husband that doesn’t drink and drives the truck home. So it wouldn’t matter too much if I’m a bit rusty on Sunday morning!”
Here’s hoping we can raise a cheers to you, Denise! Good luck!
Words Ben Brayley