February 22, 2024

In conversation with Karen Tselentis

As Sharon Ralls Lemon, author of the “Ultimate Horse Book” once said, the essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and fire.” Horse racing has played a significant role in Karen Tselentis’ life story, a story that is punctuated by love and loyalty, strength and courage, this being a projection of her childhood dream. 

True to the adage which says, “In order for one to achieve the impossible, one must think the absurd, look where everyone else has looked, but see what no one else has seen,” Karen’s decision to work with horses has proven fruitful to her career.

Karen Tselentis, is a television presenter for Tellytrack, a part time presenter at Borrowdale Park and an ex horse trainer. In an interview with Harare Magazine, Tselentis says, “Racing has been such a huge part of my life and indeed is a huge part of many of our lives. The industry has courageously survived so much turmoil and I think the people involved, the trainers, owners, jockeys and grooms of Borrowdale Park, deserve great commendation for their absolute determination in keeping this wonderful industry alive.”

It all began on one remarkable day, as she wandered down to Borrowdale Park to watch some horse races working, when a friend who later became her Boss, Paul Matchett, the champion trainer, offered her an opportunity to ride on a horse called Thundercloud. That became a defining moment for Tselentis and the beginning of a journey into horse racing, a journey punctuated by a strong love for thoroughbred racing. 

“Life was never the same for me after that and racing became an undeniable passion that coursed through my veins.” she recalls.

As a junior rider, I show jumped for Zimbabwe and do have fond memories of show jumping tours. Our favourite place to compete was always Mauritius.” This saw her scoop the MCB Grand Prix in Curepipe at the age of 16.

In the year 1997, she started work as a Stable employee at Borrowdale Park, working for Paul Matchet. She then rose in rank to become a qualified Assistant Trainer, a position she held for a while, before joining Neil Bruss and Murray Smith. She also worked for Winning Form, doing form analysis and tipping for the race card in Zimbabwe and for the Winning Form and Top Turf form sheets for South Africa.

“During this time, I rode with a few Amateur races which I loved. I then took out my own Trainers’ license and ran my own small stable yard for a period of time.”

Talking of her success stories, she cited a date on the 10th of April in the year 2011, a day when her small stable, RyDA Racing (named after her two sons, Ryan & Damien), sent out only 3 horses to the races to compete and all 3 came home victorious making is a 100% strike rate for her stable. 

“One of the major highlights in my career was seeing my winner’s percentage topping the log in the Borrowdale race card several times, which made me very proud to see my name at the top of the percentage log when I had such a small stable.” says Tselentis.

“Another career highlight, was winning the Borrowdale Stud Sprint with a race called Showroom. Ridden to victory by Quinton Riddle, this horse was so carefully prepared and looked after by myself and my loyal, and very hard working jockey, Ralton Peters,” Tselentis recalls.

“Ralton and I struck up a formidable partnership and everything he touched turned to gold in my stable. He rode more winners for me than I remember and I am forever in debt for the dedication he showed. In particular he partnered up with a horse named Balance of Payment, who would later turn out to be the best sprinter I trained, winning numerous races for myself, Ralton and his owners; The Chocolate Block Syndicate,” she adds. 

Tselentis was then offered an opportunity to work as a Television Presenter at Borrowdale for Tellytrack by a friend and colleague, Tom Mason.

“I am now a part time presenter at Borrowdale Park and unfortunately, other commitments do not allow me to spend as much time at the track as I would like. On race days, we have a ZBC Broadcast for feature meetings and the South African racing channel, Tellytrack, broadcasts every meeting to approximately 40 countries worldwide,” she says, adding that, “Although I am only able to be in Harare for a few race meetings a year now, I absolutely love being able to be on course and do what I love best!”

Tselentis was also part of the team involved in the process of reintegration of ex-race horses into the role of anti-poaching. She says, “I was involved in the process of reintegration of ex-race horses into the role of anti-poaching. Lisa Harris, Zimbabwe’s previous 7 time champion trainer took these horses down to Hoedspruit, where we filmed a conservation documentary on the role of ex-race horses in anti-poaching, with a conservation team, called Boots on the Ground.

“Horses have stood by mankind through all life time, through the great wars, and now once again, they step forward to be the guardians of our wildlife.

Her advice for those that would like to join the horsing career and rise in the field, is for them to remain humble, gentle and kind, a recipe that has proven fruitful in her own career.

“I have to say that, If I have learnt anything in racing, it’s that, the game is ALWAYS bigger than us…be humble, be gentle, be kind!

“I was blessed with so many people in my career who educated, inspired, and supported me through so much!!! In fact, there are too many wonderful people to even begin naming,” she says.

Commenting on her views for this year’s OK Grand Challenge she says, “This year, the OK Grand Challenge is yet again the feature event in our annual racing calendar for ardent race goers and just as importantly ardent OK shoppers. The race day attracts possibly the largest attending crowd in Africa, second only to the Durban July.”

“OK Zimbabwe has been synonymous with horse racing and we are ever thankful for this long and fruitful partnership with them,” she concludes. 

Pic Cred: Hilary O’leary Photography 

Featured Image: Denzel Alpha Photography 

Story Edited by: Michael Tambo 

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