Day At The Track

Club stalwart set to take back seat

07:00 PM 23 May 2019 NZST
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Peter Svanosio,Harness racing
Peter Svanosio hard at work on stablehand duties for his trainer-son Chris

Long-time Bendigo Harness Racing identity Peter Svanosio can deservedly look back on the past four decades with a great deal of pride and achievement.

Peter, 74, recently stepped down after 42 years' service as a valued and dedicated committee member.

"I certainly have fond memories because the club has made huge in-roads over the years through being progressive and forward thinking," he said.

"The members continued to put their faith in me, as I've faced re-election over the years, and I feel privileged. I'm going to miss it, but felt my time was up."

Peter vividly recalls the meeting he attended when he decided to stand for a committee position.

"It was in 1977 and I'd been approached by the then Club President, Vic Rothacker to consider standing. I didn't know at the time, but Vic told me later he thought I'd be okay on the committee because of my passion for the sport," he said.

"I decided I'd like to be elected because I didn't believe the trainers and drivers were getting a fair go in a number of areas, including the track training hours.

"There was 15 on the committee and eight had come up for re-election that year for what were two-year terms back then.

"About 400 members turned up and there weren't enough chairs, so we had to borrow some from a nearby school. I wasn't a shoo-in and I didn't end up with the most support, but I got enough and then actually wore two hats for between 20 and 25 years. As well as a committee member I was also president of the trainers and drivers' association.

"The reason I stayed on the club committee so long was the quality of the people involved, especially the presidents over the years."

Peter said one of the exciting improvements at Bendigo was the transformation of the track.

"We had a flat track and constantly you would see horses breaking up and causing interference after getting out of rhythm," he said.

"After floating an idea on a new concept involving building the track up with banking, we spoke with Graeme Mahar who was renowned for his revolutionary thinking regarding Victorian tracks."

(Mahar, who died nearly two years ago, was a key player behind highly successful track maintenance seminars and manufactured a track conditioner. He was also largely responsible for the successful placement of canola oil on tracks.)

American track guru Dan Coon, who was a friend of Mahar, was flown out by the Bendigo Club to discuss the new track design.

"I still remember Dan telling me to stand on a 44-gallon drum on the outside of the track. That was roughly the height he envisaged building the outside banking up to," Peter said.

"After tenders closed, Dan came back to oversee it--some weren't in favor of it, but it went ahead.

"The difference was astounding as I found out while driving the mobile barrier. On the flat, you really had to gun the mobile vehicle to speed away from field, but with the track banking, you could nearly let the mobile go around itself. It's like a velodrome."

Peter said two of the most successful industry-wide changes in his time were the introduction of sulky wheel discs and the removal of the running rails from tracks around the country.

"Taking the rail away was considered a radical step because some people thought the horses wouldn't go around without the rail! And safety-wise, the wheel discs were fantastic for horse and driver safety, because in those days nearly every race someone would hit a spoke in a wheel."

Peter, who had a stint running the Bulls Head Pub (now a medical centre) which his father bought in 1954, held a trainers-drivers licence for a while and started driving in the mid-1960s.

"I didn't have many horses, mostly two at a time, and they were stabled at the rear of the hotel. It was only really a hobby," he said.

"There were actually four stables there, but I would keep two vacant for South Australian people and other visitors when they come and raced.

"I was very light and back then had to carry a 32-pound lead weight to get to the minimum 10 stone. I'd borrow the lead off a plumber, and a friend would bring it in a hessian bag and put it on my seat!

"Our pub was a popular watering hole for harness racing people and a fair bit of talk and drinking would take place."

Peter competed against the greats of past years in Gordon Rothacker, Neville Welsh, Tom Mahar, Ted Demmler and evergreen Brian Gath, who is still driving today.

"I drove my first winner in 1966. The horse was Cascade Mac, trained at Strathfieldsaye by Ian Mackay, and we got the money at Kilmore on a wet and sloppy track," Peter said.

"Probably the best horse I ever sat behind was Grand Pretender who was trained locally by Frank Power. He had a touch of class.

"I haven't driven for about 20 years. I prefer to leave it to the young blokes."

Peter is kept busy these days assisting his son Chris, a highly respected trainer-driver, who prepares a big team opposite the Bendigo Lord's Raceway.

"I just love the sport-I could be involved seven days a week without a worry," he said.

Peter, a life member at Bendigo, hasn't been lost to the club.

"I'm still around - it's been a big part of my life and if anything needs doing, I'll help out when I can."

Picture: Peter Svanosio hard at work on stablehand duties for his trainer-son Chris


Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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