Day At The Track

A day to remember for rookie trainer

10:00 AM 25 Mar 2020 NZDT
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Strapper Peter O'Brien with his niece Cassandra, Graceful Art and Tell Us We Dream, after the team's winning double at Ouyen,Harness racing
Strapper Peter O'Brien with his niece Cassandra, Graceful Art and Tell Us We Dream, after the team's winning double at Ouyen

Young Mildura harness racing trainer Cassandra O'Brien has got her career off to a flying start after having a licence for only a short time.

O'Brien took two pacers to the Ouyen Cup meeting last Sunday. She landed her very first winner when Tell Us We Dream was victorious-and then made it a memorable double an hour later with Graceful Art getting the money.

The 24-year-old has been registered as a trainer since October, taking the reins for her veteran horseman uncle Peter O'Brien, when he suffered a stroke - just months after the passing of both Peter's father Jim and brother Gary.

Cassandra had been Peter's strapper for about five years. But when Peter was sidelined, she was never going to let the horses slip out of her uncle's life.

"He'd been at me and at me to get my trainer's licence, then when he had his stroke, I just had to jump in the deep end - there wasn't anyone else to do it, and the horses are Pete's life," Cassandra said.

"I was so lucky that we had a terrific owner in Alan Cordy who just said to me he wasn't going to take his horse somewhere else...he knew I could do it. He had faith in me when others didn't and I appreciated that and it gave me confidence."

But nonetheless, Cassandra said it was a steep learning curve, moving "from the passenger seat to behind the wheel".

"I always thought I could do it, and Pete had taught me so much that I was confident, but it was still a bit of a whack in the face to be suddenly in charge!" Cassandra said.

"I'd never even towed a float before and I'd just learnt to drive a manual car, so I was pretty nervous taking the horses to the track the first time - I think I was driving about 40 kmh!" she laughed.

"Then I had to get another trainer to back the float out after we raced that night, but we got there and home safely and that was the main thing."

Since then, Cassandra has had 35 starters, and eight placegetters, before Tell Us We Dream (Real Desire - Lils Dream (Badlands Hanover) broke through to record her maiden win as a trainer in the Brow and Body Maryborough Pace at the Ouyen Pacing Cup meeting on Sunday.

Two races later, the first success became a winning double, with veteran 10-year-old Graceful Art (Artesian - Denver Grace (Armbro Operative) scoring comfortably in the Nutrien Ag Solutions Pace.

"I was so nervous the night before the race, just thinking 'what if I get my first winner?', because I thought Graceful Art was a good chance," she said.

"But never in a million years did I think about a double! Tell Us We Dream is a capable enough horse, but you just never know which Tell Us We Dream is going to turn up!

"It was an absolutely awesome day. I couldn't stop crying after the first winner and I couldn't stop smiling after the second. It was unbelievable."

The O'Briens are now stabled at Merbein South with well-known trainer Ian Watson, and Cassandra said the change had done the horses a world of good.

"They've blossomed out there -- we have to put them in the cart every day to work them, and we've changed the way we feed them, and they're a lot happier. The environment out there is terrific as well. It's quiet, and Ian is fantastic. He's happy to answer any questions or give me a bit of advice when I need a hand," she said.

Cassandra, who is in the final stages of training as a registered nurse, said Peter was lucky to survive the stroke and, as anticipated, the lure of getting back to the horses was a big motivator in his recovery.

Peter O'Brien has spent his entire life around horses, first as a youngster on the show circuit, including at the Royal Melbourne, then in later years as a jumps jockey, before injury forced him to change direction into harness racing.

"When we got the horses to the races the first few times he really didn't know much about it, but as he got better, all he wanted to do was get back to the horses. He wouldn't have got anywhere near where he is now if it hadn't been for them."

Cassandra said, as well as being a tonic for Peter, the horses had provided a welcome distraction for both herself and her mum Kerri.

"We had a shocking year last year with losing Pop and Uncle Gary, then Pete having his stroke - hopefully this is a sign of better things ahead," she said.

"We're all still here, we've just changed roles a bit. I used to get angry at Pete for being a grumpy trainer, now it's me that's the grumpy one - but I couldn't do it without either Pete or mum. And the horses kept us all sane through all of it, I think."

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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