How It Started

18 Jul

It started like any other day , i was 14 and walking to school through Moonee Valley horse float car park .

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until i heard a voice yell ” stop that horse ” , i turned to see a horse running straight at me , i could still hear someone yelling ” wave your arms ” so i did . The horse slowed and then stopped. He let me walk up to him and i grabbed the lead that was hanging from his headstall / halter. The trainer came over and thanked me for stopping the horse escaping.

Moonee Valley Racetrack

Can you guess what happens next ? No ! Well it’s a blog so i may as well tell you ! I went back the next day at the same time to see if that horse had escaped again , he hadn’t but the trainer was all too happy for me to help him. By the end of the week i was washing that horse and by the end of the month i was driving him in a sulky at Melbourne’s Metropolitan Harness Racing Track.

In fact within a short time i was driving a couple of horses in the morning , before i would arrive at school. I started arriving late for my first class every day , which was Maths , i was reading the form guide and not doing Maths, so the teacher came up with a deal , if i didn’t disturb the rest of the class he would let me do the form , he figured some math was better than none. I passed Math with a borderline pass.

My school work was really suffering and as we resumed the new year i really wanted nothing but to be working in a stable , so at 15 i left school and started working for Jim Doolan an elderly trainer who was very successful at the old Showgrounds track. I would work mornings for $60 a week and then i hooked up with another trainer John Wade who also operated a stud farm. John had suffered from polio as a child and walked with a severe limp , he would often joke about needing a new farrier/blacksmith because of the way he swung his leg when walking . John needed help handling his stallion so for a few extra dollars a week plus lunch , i became a stallion handler . The stallion , named Waratah Valley was a lovely looking horse but was a complete dud at stud , there was no way he could have been successful as the mares he served , like him , were very ordinarily bred and had performed poorly on the racetrack .

To earn some extra money i would also sell form guides at the weekly night trotting meet at Moonee Valley . If i sold out of guides i would earn $10 , i never sold out and the most i earned was $8. After finishing selling one night , a regular strapper Darryl ‘ birdy’ Crapper asked if i could look after a particular horse on an overnight raid from interstate. I said yes and he put $20 into my hand and i watched the horse while the connections had dinner. On their return i was asked how the horse had behaved , i said he was quiet , the trainer said thank you , gave me another $20 and told me to back him. I did so but i put only $10 on him. The horse was driven out of the mobile barrier aggressively , he cut some other horses legs off , causing them to gallop , when crossing to the lead. He led all the way and paid $2.40 for $1 on the on course tote. On arriving back at his race night stall the trainer / driver was called into the stewards/ judges room and dealt a 6 week suspension for causing that interference at the start. While the trainer was in the stewards room , i tended to un-gearing and washing the horse . On his return the trainer gave me another $20 , wow i had earned $74 with the horse work and $8 selling form guides . Now i was really hooked on this sport and i never sold another form guide .

Every race night i was there walking sulkies and horse’s into the course . I strapped and un-geared and washed some real champions of the time including the best in Popular Alm for the Knight family and their foreman at the time Paul Mallia. I also would assist Graeme Lang and his staff in tending to their large race night team. Eddie Mahar was also a leading trainer of the time and a friend of mine Michael Doltoff was also starting to get get interested in this horse business. So interested were we that Eddie invited Michael and myself up to his stables in Miner’s Rest , just outside of Ballarat , near the thoroughbred race course and he would drive us home to Melbourne the next day. Over the next few months we had a ball strapping horses and driving them in the mornings at Moonee Valley . My highlight was strapping in the 1986 inter-dominion a horse from New Zealand called Zebec , he ran unplaced but it was a huge thrill to be involved in a race of that stature. Michael was offered a job with Vin + Bob Knight during his school holidays while i wanted to be a farrier , so i started working with a farrier who was also a trainer , i was learning a lot about horses feet but not getting any money for it . I then accepted a full time job in Kilmore about a 45 minute drive from Melbourne , i was placed in a caravan , my first time living away from home , the job only lasted 2 weeks as the trainer must of failed Math , he went broke and couldn’t pay his staff or for his stables.

Michael went on to work full time with Ted Demmler , a world champion driver title winner , and a legend within this sport. He got his driver’s licence and was successful aboard Big General in his first race drive at Yarra Glen.

I on the other hand was working in a small country pub , pulling beers and building a nightclub with my father , The Tooleen Hotel and its infamous Tin-Shed , but there was an itch i couldn’t scratch and it was cured in an instant when a local Greyhound trainer asked if i wanted to help him with his Greyhounds.

So there it is ! How i got started in the Australian racing scene.

I am intending to try and Blog weekly and i would enjoy your feedback , questions , and ideas for future articles , i am armed with a camera which i intend to use to capture a horses Day at The Races or any special milestone in your horses life. Connection’s that are interested can contact me through this blog.

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