A genuine horsey grounding and love of the sport, rather than a one dimensional sick-for-the-game punting mentality probably makes for the best balanced Tellytrack presenters.
And when they are presentable, credible, educated and eloquent too, then we have the complete package.
Cape racing boasts one such rising TV star in the shape of Fiona Ramsden.
The South African horseracing television landscape is littered with the memories of those that didn’t quite make the grade. Maybe they thought that standing in front of a camera and winging it was a walk in the park and the fast-track to a cushy job entailing limited working hours and decent cash. That’s definitely not the case.
It’s really an occupation where the depths of the soul, even a stain on the shirt, and every conceivable personality flaw and irritating nervous twitch, is exposed to the world.
Fiona ‘Fee’ Ramsden turns 49 on Saturday 19 January.
Better known as the one-time better half of former Cape champion trainer Joey Ramsden, the graceful lady with poise and a face made for movies has reinvented herself in recent years and is all of the popular stereotype of the modern working Mom to two beautiful daughters.
“Circumstances change. We don’t always choose to go down certain roads in our lives. But I have enjoyed the challenges I have faced and in fact am loving the pressure of the additional television work.”
While it is difficult to believe that Fiona has been on our small screens since 2006, when she first got involved doing Under Starters Orders and various inserts for Tellytrack along with sponsor interviews for the big races, she has raised her profile in recent months.
“I moved on to do fashion and celebrity interviews on the big days and also interviewing the Jockeys, sometimes on horseback on the course. More recently in the past three years Grant Knowles very kindly asked me to work for his show ‘Breeding To Win’ and got me involved as a full-time Tellytrack presenter. The Breeding To Win Team are great to work with and it has been a wonderful opportunity for me.”
The England-born Fiona Alexandra Haynes was brought up on a farm in Wiltshire.
“My father Edward was a small trainer, so I was lucky enough to be surrounded by animals and horses from early on. I went to school at Warneford High and later went to Regent Circus College.”
The Haynes family were all involved in the equestrian pursuits.
“We had ponies and I rode from a very early age starting in the Pony Club. I always wanted to get into racing and I rode as an amateur rider, which was great fun. I won the Newmarket Town Plate on my parent’s horse, which was a highlight. I was also lucky enough to work for Barry Hills for four years when he was at Manton for Robert Sangster. When I think back, I remember what an amazing set up it was and truly a privilege to work in such great facilities,” she recalls fondly.
She was working for Jack and Lynda Ramsden in North Yorkshire when she met their good son Joey, who had returned from his world travels and decided to come home from South Africa.
JR, as he is affectionately known as a top Milnerton trainer these days, ran a satellite yard in Southwell for his family.
“A year later we went to SA together and in 1995 Goodhope Racing, still going strong today,was launched.”
Fiona, a people person by her very nature, was a key factor in the establishment of the fledgeling business.
She did the marketing , mailed the accounts, rode the work. We asked if she ever missed those days.
“Oh yes I miss that time. Having been with Goodhope Racing from the outset, it was naturally a sad chapter of my life to wave goodbye to. But still being involved in the industry, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by horses, interesting people and friendly faces – all of whom have all been incredibly supportive of my role which I enjoy very much.”
What does an average working week in the life of Fee, entail?
“The Breeding To Win show is broadcast weekly on a Sunday. So at the beginning of the week I plan where we are going in terms of farms, trainers etc. We usually have about three bookings a week. Then there is the racing, which is usually twice a week – and my dear Holly (12) and Zara (9) have their schooling and sporting commitments. So it’s quite a juggling act – but I get so much joy out of them and watching them grow up so quickly. I like the fact that my job allows me to spend as much time with them as possible. I try my best not to miss school runs and special events. It’s so much more stimulating to be busy than to be bored, I’d say!” she laughs.
She then concedes that Holly and Zara are not her greatest critics or most ardent supporters.
“It would be nice to get some feedback like – ‘Mum you were great – or you looked terrible’. Instead they would rather watch Disney, than channel 239!”
Fiona has had no formal broadcasting training, but has come on leaps and bounds in terms of confidence and on-screen professionalism.
“In the early days I was pretty much self-taught. But since my recent full time employment with Tellytrack, Grant Knowles and Stan Elley have been a great help. They are really good people to work with,”she adds.
We tried to understand whether it is simply a case of being oneself in front of the camera.
“As my confidence has grown I have become far more natural and relaxed. As for the make-up, that always goes on!” she laughs.
Who dresses Fee for the big days?
“I dress myself. I did have a sponsor a couple of years ago for a season. But sponsors are hard to find and understandably, there is not much in it for them.”
We asked her if she had modelled herself on any big name TV personality.
“Not really. I would like to personally continue improving and encourage new ideas. I have always liked the concepts of ITV racing in the UK where the presenters get involved out on the course and in the parade ring. I guess Clare Balding would be a good role model. She is extremely knowledgeable in all sports and speaks so well!”
Surely there is no stress in a job where one just has to look good and ask questions?
“One grows in confidence but preparation is very important, believe me! For Breeding To Win I used to get a bit stressed and write scripts – but as my confidence has grown I’ve lost the notes. I usually know who I am interviewing and have a grasp of the subject matter. I like to prepare for the trainers on race days though and spend time going through each race.”
She says that she studies a lot more form than she used to.
“But my main focus is lining up the trainers to chat and looking at the horses in the parade ring. I’m not a betting person and I leave the hard core stuff to Grant (Knowles) and Stan (Elley).”
We taxed her about the feedback from Joe Public.
“I have been very lucky. I have had a lot of positive and kind feedback – that’s what I have heard anyway! It’s unfortunately a job where you are up for criticism. I have a long way to go, I’m hopefully improving and I always listen to any criticism constructively.”
Fee says that while she is excited and looking forward to Sun Met day, the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate festival was a major highlight. “It is so tastefully done and the dress code is very classy and elegant. There are some great sponsors on board and it’s the time of year when my fellow Englishmen are in town! So a lot of fun too!”
On the Met, she feels that all eyes will be on Do It Again.
“He looks the one but what an exciting season we have had so far. The Green Point was a phenomenal finish and what a great field we had for the Queen’s Plate. I think Rainbow Bridge will run a cracker if things go his way. If only he had a more relaxed temperament,” she muses.
She then points out that next week is a busy one.
“The Cape Premier Yearling Sale is a pre Met highlight. I will be there doing interviews for Breeding To Win. International buyers are expected and hopefully it will be a good sale. It’s certainly a good catalogue and CTS always put on a grand show. We have been out and about filming some of the drafts and we have seen some very nice yearlings,”she adds.
So it’s hectic days for our busy TV star. As we get up to leave, we ask her whether she will ever consider packing up and going back to the UK?
“It’s always at the back of my mind as all my family are there. The racing and sport is also top-class. I’ve been in Cape Town for 23 years already and it’s become home. It’s a lovely place to live, so I am really very torn deep down. But I try and go home – my original home – once a year, which is nice.”