Jacob McKay was rocked to learn his daughter Isabelle had a rare disorder.

A budding horse trainer has opened up about what motivates him off the track, ahead of New Zealand's richest race meeting.

Matamata trainer Jacob McKay is working for Lotto winner Lou Te Keeti who has invested huge sums of money in thoroughbred horse racing after winning over $10 million in 2017.

The pair are entering Aalaalune, a 2-year-old grey filly in the Karaka Million at Ellersie today.

The race has come at a time when McKay, 25, was in need of a lift.


Just a few months ago his 1-year-old daughter Isabelle was diagnosed with a rare disorder called hemimegalencephaly, which affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.

The diagnosis threw McKay's life, and that of his former partner's, into disarray.

"It's been an awful few months really," McKay told the Weekend Herald.

The disorder meant one part of Isabelle's brain was slightly bigger than the remainder. She developed normally until she was around 10 months old but then the seizures began.

"When she started having the seizures they went from being about one a day," McKay said.

"But then it got to the point where she was having 15, 20 seizures a day."

Doctors tried different types of medication, but when nothing appeared to work the family opted for a hemispherectomy- which disconnected the side of her brain driving the seizures.

Isabelle is currently at home for a couple of weeks rest before going into rehab at the end of the month. Photo / Supplied
Isabelle is currently at home for a couple of weeks rest before going into rehab at the end of the month. Photo / Supplied

McKay said his little girl might have some physical disability as a result of the surgery, but it would also enable her to lead a more normal, independent life.


"She's progressing as well or better than expected since the operation and has been back to her happy self," he said.

With training Aalaalune while coping with issues in his personal life was a balancing act, McKay believed working towards a goal helped him through.

"Getting up each morning was just made that little bit easier, having a target coming up rather than just feeling like I was battling away for nothing."

"Obviously the race doesn't change what's happened or what she has to go through, but it's given me a boost at a hard time."

McKay has been surrounded by horses since he was a tot - his dad is the first-ever winner of the Karaka Million, a feature race for 2 year olds.

His parents tried to keep him and his brother away from the world of racing, but by their mid-teens they were well involved through their own accord.


"At some point we both fell in love with it and decided that's what we wanted to do with our lives," McKay said.

His brother was a jockey, while McKay was into his third year as an independent horse trainer.

A turning point came for the 25-year-old around a year ago when he met Lotto winner and avid horse racer Lou Te Keeti.

Te Keeti, a Tauranga local, struck it lucky when he picked up a winning Lotto ticket and scooped $10.3m in the Powerball jackpot. In the year following his big win, the racing enthusiast dropped $2 million on 19 racehorses.

He came across McKay a year ago at the Ready to Run horse sale - Te Keeti was looking for horses to buy while the young trainer was helping sell.

"I didn't know he'd won the Lotto or anything when I first met him - i just kept chatting to him, figuring you never know where business is going to come from," McKay said.


Initially McKay had no idea he was talking multi-millionaire, but said the discovery didn't change anything.

"The fact that he's got money or whatever doesn't worry me," McKay said.

"I really appreciate that he's given me a chance.

"The horses I'm working with, he's spent good money on. They're not just cheap horses, they're well-bred horses."

McKay said today's race would be a family affair. His brother was Aalaalune's jockey and his parents would be there, too.

While he was excited at the prospect of a victory, the journey getting there was half the win, he said.


"To be fair, I'm pretty proud just to have a horse that's made the race."