Kiely gets on board story by Raelee Tuckerman (Bendigo Advertiser)
VANESSA Kiely’s heart has always beat in time to the sound of horses’ hooves coursing around the Lord’s Raceway harness track. She’s been a regular there since childhood. She has not had as much hands-on involvement as her dad and two younger sisters - who are breeders, owners and trainers - but she’s about to make her own mark in the industry.The 42-year-old was recently elected to the Bendigo Harness Racing Club committee and will serve an initial three-year term helping promote the sport and the club in this region.She is the second woman to join the board, following Merna Graham in 1991. “I have been around harness racing my whole life and I love it,” Vanessa says ahead of tonight’s 50th Bendigo Pacing Cup meeting. The newest committee member is the daughter of Strathdale owner and former breeder John Kiely and his wife Hazel, and sister to owner-trainers Rebecca Morrissey and Chelsea Wills. “The passion, love and enjoyment we all get out of the sport is great,” she says. “My favourite harness racing moment isn’t so much one day, it’s a whole lot of days and it’s the overall experience. It’s watching my dad and my sisters when a winner goes across the line and seeing their tears. It’s the fact a horse can do that to a person. “Do you know how hard it can be to get a real good trotter or pacer? You can run a lot of races before you get anything, so you make the most of any success you get. “Rebecca had a winner on Christmas Eve (trotter Canadian Dream, in the final race on the card at Kilmore) and it was just fantastic. “There’s always that chance and when you do get a win, the feeling is unbelievable.” Strong family connections are not all that Vanessa brings to the BHRC committee room. She has a wealth of business experience from her 24 years at Bendigo Bank, where she now works in “change management”, minimising the impact of changes on staff and customers.Though she was “surprised and honoured” when chairman Dennis Bice approached her about coming on the board, Vanessa took some time to mull it over before she agreed.“I was keen to do it, but I needed to think about it because it is a three-year commitment and I wanted to get some background on what was involved. Luckily my brother-in-law Paul Morrissey was on the committee for quite a few years so I could ask him what it would be like. “This is something I can really challenge myself with - I have always sat in the background so this is getting out of my comfort zone, which is good. “Plus there’s the fact that I am always here (at the track) all the time anyway and I enjoy it!” She was elected on November 26, along with Bendigo Owners, Trainers and Drivers Association treasurer Ashley Spear and returning committeeman Peter Svanosio. Vanessa says Bendigo is an innovative club that provides a fabulous atmosphere for families, particularly at themed nights like the recent New Year’s Eve race meeting, which often include live music and children’s entertainment. It has embraced social media, setting up successful Facebook and Twitter accounts to broaden its reach, and joined forces with the Bendigo Advertiser to establish the Race for Fun Club and give the public the chance to share the experience of racing a horse for charity. And it is also branching out into other events like the Bavarian-style Oktoberfest, which was run jointly with Bendigo Beer and attracted almost 2000 patrons. “We need to cement what we have already done, as well as look to the future,” says Vanessa. “We’ve got great sponsors so we need to recognise that, but also move forward and attract new sponsors. Our ladies’ committee does a lot for us and at our recent AGM one of the ladies, Mavis Collison, was honoured for her length of service. “But we also need to bring other things to the track and expand what we use this venue for, not forgetting harness racing is our business and we have to bring people here for the races. “The Oktoberfest showed there are other ways of getting people here. If we do that well, they might come back again. “From working at the Bendigo Bank, I understand that diversity component because we are not just a bank, we also do a lot with the community.” Vanessa grew up in Strathdale, attending Bendigo East Primary School and White Hills Secondary College before starting a TAFE secretarial course and then joining the bank. She recalls many trips to harness tracks around the state, following her dad’s horses and forging wonderful family moments. “If we went to the trots, it was always dad and the girls,” she says. “Mum would come to some of the bigger meetings, but it was always us and dad. “He worked a lot and the time we got to spend with him was on weekends - and part of that was always harness racing. “My memories are all about the enjoyment and family - when Rebecca or Chelsea get a winner, we’re all cheering and you can often hear us on the race video. “Rebecca has trotters, and they gallop a lot (that’s trotters in general, not just hers). So any win you get is exciting. Chelsea has pacers, so we’ve got both covered.” The Morrissey stable has produced trotters including Barney’s Invasion, which won several country cups and made an Inter Dominion consolation, while Templar’s Seal and Red Impala are among the successful pacers from the Wills property. Vanessa says her sisters’ involvement is very much a sign of the times in the harness industry, where women are growing in numbers - and success. “You only need to look at some of the leading drivers and trainers, who are women. “Both my sisters train horses and that wouldn’t have been as widely done 20 years ago, but it happens regularly now. And a lot of the women are right up there with the men.” Women are also becoming more involved in administration, though Vanessa stresses it is definitely not through tokenism. “Being female isn’t the reason I am on the board - it’s because of my experience within business and having that connection to harness racing. Being female is just a bonus.” Away from harness racing, Vanessa enjoys music, reading, playing with her three young nephews and walking to keep fit. In March, she and several Bendigo Bank colleagues will take part in a 60km two-day charity walk in Melbourne as part of the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers, raising money for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Her immediate goal in her new harness racing role is to focus on the Bendigo club’s strategic plan and understand the goals and outcomes it is working towards. “I can’t come in with ideas that are not in the direction the club needs to go in,” she says. “But if I see an opportunity, I will put my suggestions forward. “Besides, I have now got my family in my ear asking, ‘when are you going to do this and when are you going to do that’... They’re definitely not short in putting their opinions forward! “Dad doesn’t say a lot, but he came with me to the AGM and was here when I was elected and both my sisters and brothers-in-law were as well. “The whole family is proud, though they are probably a little surprised I agreed to do it. “I am looking forward to it and really excited about the opportunities.” Her message to the Bendigo community? “I want people to come out here and experience harness racing. “On a beautiful day, the track is a lovely place to be and it’s a great night for families and others to come and have fun.”
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