Dorothy Cutts' historic win remembered - "easy peasy"

by Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk

An historic moment in harness racing will be celebrated at Cambridge Raceway on Friday night, and the woman at the centre of it will be right in the action.

Dorothy Cutts was the first woman in harness racing in this country to win a full totalisator race, when Kenworthy won at Cambridge in 1979.

Now the Dorothy Cutts Invitational (6.48pm) will be run at the same track as part of Cambridge's huge Night of Champions. Run over 2200 metres, it will be a star-studded trans-Tasman affair.

"I had no idea they were having a ladies race," says Dorothy Cutts from her Morrinsville home, "I got rang one morning and I said I'd be delighted to be involved."

Among the visiting drivers will be Kerryn Manning, herself a history-maker by being the first woman to win the New Zealand Cup with Arden Rooney in 2015, just a week after Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

After Friday's race Cutts will be involved in the presentations and other formalities, 45 years after being cheered on down the home straight as Kenworthy, trained by her father George Cutts, careered away to victory.

"I went straight to the front and stayed there to win by five lengths - it was easy peasy," she laughs.

Only two weeks earlier she'd been being granted a licence to drive at totalisator meetings, along with Lorraine Grant and Anne Cooney. Cutts was granted a full professional driver's licence while Grant, who went on to be the first woman to drive in a New Zealand Cup with Rainbow Patch in 1995, was given an amateur licence and Cooney a probationary licence.

"It was the days of Linda Jones and that helped us a lot," recalls Cutts.

Another pioneer, Linda Jones was the first female jockey to be given a racing licence in New Zealand in 1977, two years before Cutts.

"I think everyone was keen to see women get a go," she says.

At the time of her landmark victory on February 22, 1979 she was asked for her reaction to the historic win.

Her reply?

"Terrific, just terrific."

She added a second victory with Inspiration, also trained by her father, at a Hawke's Bay meeting in 1982.

"We were only cow cocky trainers, as farmers we had to milk the cows morning and night - that's why I didn't get many drives."

"I helped Dad train the horses, I started when I was about 13."

"It took a long time to let us even drive on the tracks - I would ungear the horse and wash them but Dad would do all the driving at that stage."

Since then she's seen incredible change - "it's absolutely awesome".

To illustrate the progress made since Dorothy Cutts' historic first win in 1979, there were 35 female drivers winning at least one race in this country in 2023.

Together they won a total 480 races, with Sarah O'Reilly leading the charge with 78 wins.

Cutts reckons she can take some of the credit, and not just because she paved the way for them over four decades ago.

"I watch all the meetings and I watch all the girls and push them along and make them win!"

To see the field for Friday's Dorothy Cutts Invitational click here

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