Day At The Track

Tom ticks off two milestones at Melton

10:00 AM 31 Mar 2021 NZDT
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A beaming Tom Downey with Our Thunder Buddy who gave the young reinsman some milestone moments, Harness racing
A beaming Tom Downey with Our Thunder Buddy who gave the young reinsman some milestone moments

Concession reinsman Tom Downey registered a number of memorable "firsts" when he tasted success at Melbourne's harness racing headquarters, TABcorp Park Melton.

Downey had his first-ever drive at the city track recently and had never previously handled a square-gaiter.

But it was ticks all round when he partnered bay trotting gelding Our Thunder Buddy (Gotta Go Collect-Letsdanceupastorm (Western Terror).

"I guess I could say that Melton is definitely my favorite track at the moment," a jubilant Downey said.

"My mum and dad (Lisa and Mark) were joking that now would be the perfect time for me to retire, with a 100 percent record of one drive at the track for one victory," he said.

But getting the job done on Our Thunder Buddy was probably no laughing matter for a junior driver. The gelding previously won last July and had been causing a fair share of headaches for his trainer Brent Lilley, based at Bolinda, 50km north of Melbourne.

In three races in December-January, the trotter was sent back to the trials by stewards for breaking up in running and galloping. But Downey showed the coolness of a more experienced driver by allowing Our Thunder Buddy plenty of time to warm to the task in the early stages and when the leaders eased up, he trotted up to occupy the position outside the leader.

With 400 metres to go, the pair raced to the lead and with Downey sitting as quiet as a church mouse, the seven-year-old didn't miss a beat to open up for a big 17m win over his stablemate Fields Of Kyvalley (Ross Payne).

Watch the race replay click here!

"I thoroughly enjoyed driving at Melton-it's a lovely track with nice turns and very well cambered. I've driven at Menangle but competed a lot of the time at Penrith and Canberra which are both half mile circuits," Downey said.

"In the six weeks I've been in Victoria, I've also driven at Kilmore (a second placing) and Maryborough. They are both terrific tracks."

Downey, who grew up at West Wyalong, in the NSW Central West, was a panel beater for six years during which time he also got "bitten by the harness racing bug".

"I got to know a local trainer in Michael Souden. He was pretty good at it and would let me give him a hand. I ended up getting a driver's licence, but didn't go on with it," he said.

But a few years down the track, Downey, itching to do something different, found himself working at the Menangle stables of astute horseman Rickie Alchin, who also grew up in the Riverina being from nearby Temora.

"I enjoyed my time with Rickie and we still keep in touch, talking at least once a week," he said.

"The Lilley camp have been awesome and really welcoming. I live on the property which is ideal and hopefully with my five-point claim I can pick up some race drives on a regular basis."

But Downey is unlikely to fully qualify for Victorian citizenship just yet.

"I know AFL is all the go down here, but I doubt that I'll be a convert. I'm a rugby league fan and staunch supporter of the Sydney Roosters!"


Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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