A Life

Joan Walker and trainer Mick Kent with Amadeus. 

A Life's Passion

Earlier this year, Joan Walker found herself back in the winner’s circle at Flemington when her latest racehorse, Amadeus, was first across the finishing line in the Listed Chester Manifold Stakes. The moment was particularly sweet for Walker as she personally knew the former VRC chairman and grazier, Sir Chester Manifold.

It had also been some time since Walker had a win at Flemington. Her respected stayer and crowd favourite,
Reckless, enjoyed a series of successes in the 1970s and Walker said Amadeus shares many similarities with Reckless, including a willingness to please and a sharp competitive streak.

A Life's Passion

Joan Walker and fellow thrilled connections of Amadeus at Flemington in January.

“Winning the Chester Manifold Stakes was exciting because I remember Chester and he did so much to preserve racing. Winning the race named after him was a thrill. And to win with the same line of horses that date from my grandfather’s time is also very special,” said Walker.

“My grandfather and his brother had racehorses and always went to Sydney together for the Easter sales. In the early 1930s they bought a mare called Androver and she is the beginning of the family of horses that we still have today.”

Walker’s father, Graham Godfrey, was a Melbourne surgeon and he was also a racing enthusiast who helped instill a love of horses and racing in his daughter.

“On a Sunday morning Dad would take me to see the horses at the trainer’s stables near the beach in Mordialloc. But for my sixth birthday I persuaded Dad to take me to the races at Moonee Valley. I saw the horses walking into the mounting yard ‘dressed’ for racing and I’d never seen anything so beautiful,” recalled Walker.

“I’d only seen the horses in the stables and then I saw those same horses turn into these magical creatures. If I had to pick a moment as to when I fell in love with racing – that was it. I caught the disease then and there is no cure.”

While raising her family with husband Roland, who sadly passed away last year, Walker juggled motherhood, working at The Alfred Hospital as a technician and continuing her family’s racing bloodline. Asked to name highlights in her lengthy career in the industry, Walker nominates breeding Reckless and winning three feature cups – Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane as a landmark. That same year in 1977, Reckless ran second in the Melbourne Cup behind Bart Cumming’s Gold and Black.

Reckless would never have been on the track if it wasn’t for Walker – she saved for two years to get enough money for the service fee that resulted in Reckless – a mating between her family’s horse, Impulsive, and Better Boy.

“I saved money in a special account and when I had enough money, I rang Mum and told her what we were going to do. And so we had Reckless,” said Walker.

“He was a wonderful horse, but unfortunately on that Melbourne Cup Day the heavens opened and Flemington was under water. But Reckless ran a brave race when he usually couldn’t go a yard in the wet. That attitude is = something you dream of having in a horse.”

Trained by Phar Lap’s former strapper, Tommy Woodcock, Reckless was a crowd favourite, who attracted the sentimental dollar on that first Tuesday in November back in 1977.

Walker has been a longtime champion for other women in racing, too. She is a founding member of the Wakeful Club which began in 2001 and is named after one of the great Australian thoroughbreds.

The organisation was initiated by foundation president, Marie McCullough. One of the key events of the Wakeful Club is the Lady of Racing Award with past winners including Christine Puls, Amanda Elliott and Michelle Payne.

“The Lady of Racing award shows what women have done and continue to do in racing. It honours and recognises the role that we have played because, in years gone by, women weren’t as acknowledged,” said Walker.

“There were obstacles for women in racing but they never bothered me personally. I remember the white line that restricted our access to certain areas of Flemington – but I found it useful because it kept the men over the other side and I had a lovely expanse of racecourse to myself.”

Racing has been a constant in Walker’s life, and a comfort. When her beloved husband died last year, her horses and the support of her many friends in the racing industry offered solace.

“My husband refused to be involved in racing but he was a constant support,” said Walker.

“Racing people are wonderful and the industry has saved me and my family on a number of occasions when we’ve been down. Through racing we have got over difficulties and moved on to something wonderful.”