Jack Milner: Trainer Candice Dawson does not see herself as a woman working to succeed in a man’s world. She would rather believe that women are able to compete on a level footing, it is just a case of women not believing they can go for it.
“I don’t see any advantage a man would have over a woman in this job,” says Dawson. “It’s not about needing extra physical strength, it’s about having the ability to train a horse.”
Working with horses was inculcated in Candice as a very young girl. “My father had a couple of racehorses and when we were kids he gave us the option in the mornings of either watching the horses work or caddying for him on the golf course.
“We were three girls and none of us was too keen on golf so the horses were a far better alternative.”
She started to ride from the age of six and as Candice grew older she completed a horse mastership course. She finished in the top two on the course and the benefit of that was being able to spend time with renowned equine and athletic physiotherapist Winks Greene.
Her first job in a racing stable came from Michael Airey but later she was offered a job with Geoff Woodruff on the Highveld. She spent 10 years with Woodruff, including the period in which he won five national trainers’ championships.
Candice was then offered a job with KwaZulu-Natal’s Kom Naidoo who gave her the option of opening a satellite yard anywhere in the country. She chose to stay on the Highveld and had a lot of success for the yard. She trained a number of Graded and Listed winners but the best was probably Royal Zulu Warrior who won the Grade 2 Charity Mile over 1600m at Turffontein.
Candice then received a challenging offer – to train in Mauritius. She accepted the offer and admits that was the only time she really felt her ability challenged because she was a woman.
“I was one of only two women to have been granted an assistant trainers’ licence on the island and then later my trainers’ licence. One could feel the tension from the team who felt this was not a job for a woman.”
However, once she had run her first two horses everything started to change. “They started to accept me more and I could actually feel them changing. I was very proud of my achievement,” said Candice.
It was then she received an offer from Kathryn Ralphs to return to Joburg and train. “Kathryn and I are equal partners in the business, I train the horses and she is my business partner.” They also brought in Candice’s sister, Tammy, who also had worked for Woodruff and Mike de Kock to complete the triumvirate of women’s power.
Slowly but surely the stable has proven itself as a competitive business and they are churning out a regular number of winners.
When Candice looks back at women who have trained in South Africa she has been most inspired by Jean Heming. “I have not met her by I was told by Terrance Millard that he rated her highly. If people like him had respect for her she had to have reached great heights in her field.”
However, the one area Candice would like to see women given a helping hand is among the jockeys. “It’s a fact that overall women are not as strong as men and, while they have other attributes which helps them to compete, when they get in a close finish they are at a disadvantage.
“Perhaps we need to consider giving them a sex allowance to help them become more competitive. I have no idea what it should be – maybe 1kg would be enough.”
That, she says, she will leave to the powers that be to sort out. Candice, meanwhile, is content to take on the men in the training yards.