For Natalie McCall, there was no possible career choice other than working with horses.
The daughter of successful trainer Ray McCall, Natalie McCall, has always been surrounded by thoroughbreds—and she can’t picture that changing anytime soon.
The Sunshine Coast trainer only has a small team in work, but that is just the way she likes it.
McCall takes pride in her hands-on approach to training that has been so effective with her boutique stable.
Driven by her immense passion for the animal, McCall has enjoyed a profound tutelage from a young age.
“Dad trained forever. I started out with him, obviously, and he was a good horseman with some good success,” McCall said.
“One of his best horses was one I owned. When I was about 10 I had two ponies die within a month of each other, so when we went to these sales where he said ‘pick one out and if it is cheap I will buy it for you’.
“I picked this little chestnut filly who we paid $1000 for.”
The chestnut filly was Grand Shower, who turned out to be a sensational purchase for the McCall family—a metropolitan winner and one of the few horses they opted to retain as a broodmare.
Despite being “mongrel-bred”, Grand Shower saved her best work for the breeding barn, producing nine foals to race for nine winners, including Group 2 winner Messiaen.
The gelding had 82 starts for 12 wins, including winning the Group 2 QTC Cup (now known as the Moreton Cup) before contesting the 2006 Stradbroke Handicap.
Despite the temptation of building a long-term partnership with her father, McCall opted to expand her horizons and pick the brains of leading South East Queensland stables.
“(Training partnerships) wasn’t really a thing back then and (Dad and I) fought too much to train together,” McCall joked.
“I was with Dad for years before I decided I wanted to learn off as many people as I could.
“Dad was a very good trainer, but I just wanted to learn different angles and different ways.
“I went to Brisbane and rode freelance work before going to work for the Hawkes full-time.”
Armed with an impressive resume and a long tutelage under her father’s eye, McCall opted to take the leap and attained her own training licence in 2007.
“I started off with some hand-me-down horses, as you do at the start of your career, and built from there,” McCall said.
As we celebrate yet another sensational Stradbroke Handicap and Winter Carnival, this time of year always brings back some sensational memories for McCall.
The youngest trainer (34 at the time) to win a Stradbroke Handicap, McCall’s sole Group 1 victory came in the 2014 edition of “Queensland’s great race” when champion jockey Damien Oliver produced a beautiful ride to boot home race outsider River Lad.
“(River Lad) won a couple of starts including the Rocky Sales Race (Capricornia Yearling Sale) before he came to me,” McCall said.
“He won his first start with me, then he won a midweek race and then again on a Saturday.
“He was always a really good worker but did a lot wrong. It wasn’t until he ironed out those faults that he really stamped himself as a good horse.”
McCall holds little doubt it was the close connection she held with her horse that gave her the confidence to believe River Lad was up to the grade.
“Even when I was with Dad I have always pushed myself and wanted to do better,” McCall said.
“When we had Messiaen, Dad had a bad heart attack, so I trained him for a couple of preps pretty much on my own.
“Dad was always keen on running him in the Class 6 in town, but I always bit back and said ‘no way, let’s throw him in the deep end, he is running well’.
“Sometimes you have a little bit of the mentality where you don’t want to look like an idiot and put horses in races where they have no chance, but that never worried me [with River Lad].
“I think you have to have a bit of faith in your horses and back them in when you feel they are going well.”
It is this hands-on approach that McCall credits for her confidence in her horses and how best to place them.
“You learn how horses need to be ridden and even something as simple as whether they will be better suited on bigger tracks or smaller tracks,” McCall said.
“Anyone who knows me will tell you I am very fussy and particular. I need things exactly how I like them, and doing a lot of it yourself helps you screw them down more and really get to know your horses.”
McCall has taken this approach to another level after she and her husband, Mick, recently purchased a spelling farm near Gympie.
An hour’s drive away from their Sunshine Coast base, McCall described the purchase of Wyuna Lodge as a long-term dream.
It will allow the stable to keep an even greater eye on their horses and enhance the pre-training process.
One horse in particular who will thrive off this process is untapped speedster Tiger Shark.
The two-year-old daughter of Rich Enuff has recently returned to the stable after tackling the Listed Dalrello Stakes in April and could ‘stay fat on the smell of an oil rag’ according to McCall.
“She is a really nice filly,” McCall said.
“I love her. She is my favourite filly in the whole stable. I don’t usually get along with the fillies as well as the boys, but I love her.”
Tiger Shark ran third on debut in a 1000m 2YO Maiden at the Sunshine Coast, which turned out to be a sensational formline.
Race winner Appin Girl subsequently won the Listed Dalrello Stakes before running third in the Group 2 Spirit Of Boom Classic, while runner-up Abounding went on to run second in the Group 3 Ken Russell Memorial Classic and Listed Bill Carter Stakes.
“I knew she would need the run on debut but Nikita and I discussed the race and we both agreed we needed to make sure we used her speed and ‘let fast horses be fast’,” McCall said.
Berriman made a good thing of Tiger Shark at her next start, taking her straight to the front and dominating throughout.
“She had to do some work in front but I loved the way she dropped them when she went for home and there is no doubt she would have had more up her sleeve if Nikita asked again,” McCall said.
“She is the fattest thing. She would stay fat off the smell of an old rag, although I knew she would need the run on debut.
“1200m won’t be an issue. She is a machine”