In early 2017, Tara Vanderstok packed up her belongings, left her family and friends behind in NSW, and travelled to South Australia for a new life as a steward for Thoroughbred Racing SA (TRSA).
It was a brave decision, driven by her love of horses and a willingness to do just about anything to reach her goals.
Fast forward to 2020 and Tara has just ticked off a major accomplishment: being appointed acting Chief Steward at a race meeting.
Tara, now 24, was given the nod for the recent Penong Cup non-TAB meeting on the state’s west coast.
“It was my first big step to chair my first race meeting,” she said.
“It was quite exciting and I felt like all the hard work had paid off.”
Tara’s race-day duty was essentially ensuring the meeting was conducted in accordance with the Australian Rules of Racing. It involved plenty of pre-meeting preparation, close scrutiny of the races as they were run, reviewing video footage of each race, and making relevant post-race reports.
Small fields were the order of the day and Tara says she felt fortunate the meeting was largely without incident.
It was also a long day, starting with a 9am flight to Ceduna and ending when she – and her TRSA colleagues, plus a handful of jockeys – arrived back after 8pm. However, the unusual hours and demands of the role are all worth it for Tara, who – as a child – watched her mother work as a trackside photographer in NSW.
“I took every opportunity to go to the races and when I was young my goal was to be a jockey,” she said.
“I grew up on a horse stud, so any spare hours were spent with horses and that’s where my love for them started.
“When I was 13 I started working at Lismore Greyhound Racing Club, learning all facets of racing, from photo finishes to boxing dogs in trials.”
A few years later she saw the position of cadet steward for TRSA advertised and decided to put her hand up.
“I wanted a new adventure and to further my career in racing,” she said.
“I applied and three weeks later landed in South Australia. I have been here almost three years as a cadet steward, which was a big move for me, leaving my friends and family behind.
“But my passion for horses is what draws me to the industry…”
Far from resting on her laurels after chairing her first meeting, Tara now wants to continue her growth within the industry.
“Penong was very memorable, a milestone in my career as a horse racing steward,” she said.
“Upon reflection, it has been a long road to this point and now I’m so excited for what’s next.
“My future ambition is to get more exposure to meetings as a chairman.”
Tara made special mention of TRSA’s stewards department.
“Especially chief steward Johan (Petzer) and deputy chief steward Matt (Santoro) for mentoring me over the past years,” she said.
“I am loving the opportunity – no two days are the same.”