Day At The Track

Trots "bug" keeps biting Gary

01:00 PM 22 Aug 2019 NZST
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Victorious reinsman Chris Svanosio is with (L-R) trainer Gary Merkel, his wife Kathy and long-time friend Rod Booker,Harness racing
Victorious reinsman Chris Svanosio is with (L-R) trainer Gary Merkel, his wife Kathy and long-time friend Rod Booker

Victorian harness racing trainer Gary Merkel has tried taking extended breaks from the sport over the years, but each time finds himself back at it again.

Merkel is in his early 70s and trains in the Goulburn Valley at Tongala, 50 kms north-west of Shepparton and said he couldn't put a number on the times he has thought the time had come to pull the pin.

"I did give it up on two or three occasions and honestly believed that was the end," he said.

"We were breeding up to a few years ago and we quit on that - but we kept three racehorses to try and sell, so after around 50 years, here I am, still at it!

"But we've made some great friends and the industry has so many lovely people, you get so much enjoyment out of it, so I guess that's what keeps us coming back."

But, with a touch of irony, Merkel and his wife Kathy are highly enjoying their involvement at the moment.

Bay mare Roslyn Gaye (Artistic Fella-Madam Narryna (Fake Left) has posted impressive wins at Shepparton on August 7 and 18 and this afternoon competes in the $7000 Betta Home Living Pace Final at Cobram.

"We've drawn nicely in barrier two and she has led-up in her last five starts so I would think Chris Svanosio, our driver, will adopt the same tactics. If we don't get early pressure, we should be right in the fight," Merkel said.

"Last season she had four placings from 14 outings and looked a long way from a win. I decided to try to do what suited her the best in the way of training, so between races she gets interval training - some sprints up the straight, but with not a lot of work.

"It seems to be working with her. This season she's had 22 runs for four wins, five seconds and two third placings."

The Merkels named the pacer after their daughter Roslyn Gaye, who lives in Brisbane.

"Roslyn has been on the sick list in recent times, so her namesake pacer has been giving her a bit of a lift. The other kids up there have also got right behind the horse which is great," Merkel said.

Madam Narryna, the dam of Roslyn Gaye, was an outstanding performer winning 12 races (Merkel drove her to eight of these) with 21 placings for nearly $50,000.

"She had a whirlwind sprint. Many times, she would come from the back and just overhaul them," Merkel said.

As well as Roslyn Gaye, Madam Narryna has left two other winners from four foals - Superband (three wins) and Narryna Jetstar (two). Madam Narryna was the best-performed of nine foals produced by the Merkels' Hilarious Way-sired mare Narryna Way with other winners including Narryna Guy (seven), Narryna Scotch (two) and Narryna Fella (one).

"We've had our ups and downs on the farm with breeding horses. We've bred many over the years and you take the good with the bad, but most of the ones we sold ended up winning races," he said.

"Back in the day we would also buy some older horses and fiddle around with them and try to improve them, and we had a lot of fun in the 2000s with a Village Jasper mare in Global Village.

"She won 10 at tracks like Shepparton, Cobram, and Echuca and had 36 placings. And it's most satisfying when you get a win and people come up and congratulate you. That's one of the best parts."

Merkel said his interest in harness racing went back to many years ago when he attended Technical School.

"The school was not far from the old Shepparton showgrounds and I used to watch the pacers being trained. Then later my brother left me a horse because he had nowhere to put it," he said.

"I was a builder by trade and owned two acres at Kialla where I made a little jog track. I got a copy of 'the green book' on how to train standardbreds, asked friends and listened to others.

"We later moved to Tongala on 40 acres, where we are now, and have our own 650m track. I still get up at daylight and if I need to do some fast work, sometimes I will head into the Kyabram track."

And as for a retirement date?

Merkel said he really hadn't given it much thought lately.

"We are equal first with Roslyn Gaye in a Horse of the Year award up here so to clinch that would be nice and I also want to race at Albury again because we have fond memories from years ago when we competed there with a horse named Bill Hickock."

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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