Day At The Track

Xavier quick to get back in the groove

11:00 AM 18 May 2020 NZST
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Xavier O’Connor and Rebecca East with Auckland Reactor-sired youngster Juddy Douglas,Harness racing
Xavier O’Connor and Rebecca East with Auckland Reactor-sired youngster Juddy Douglas after their recent Terang victory
Terang HRC

A well-earned break has been just the tonic for young Western Victorian harness racing reinsman Xavier O'Connor.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the 21-year-old and his father, Anthony, decided it was an opportune time to turn out their team for a short spell, and the let-up hasn't done anyone any harm.

After the six-week break, Xavier hasn't wasted any time finding his touch under the regional racing model, with two wins from five drives back, and a career-best season now within reach.

"We were looking for a break anyway, because living where we do, it's prime horse and cattle country, but the only disadvantage is all the travel that's involved to race," O'Connor said.

"So, when COVID-19 happened, no one knew how things were going to pan out, so we just thought it was a good time to step back and take the chance," he said.

"It would have been nice to be able to get away somewhere as well, but that couldn't really happen. It's done us all good, though."

Xavier scored at his second drive back at Stawell last Sunday on Presidential Art (Art Major-Presidential Drive (Presidential Ball), for the Jim Barker stable, then followed up four days later at Terang for Rebecca East on former South Australian pacer Juddy Douglas (Auckland Reactor-Markeaton Navi (Falcon Seelster).

The combination of Xavier O’Connor and trainer Jim Barker scored at Stawell with Presidential Art (Photo Stawell HRC)

Juddy Douglas was formerly trained by Jayson Finnis whose stable is located just over the South Australian border. The Finnis team does most of its racing in Victoria, and is five hours from Globe Derby, the only South Australian locality still racing under COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, Finnis transferred a number of horses to Rebecca East to allow them to continue racing in Western Victoria.

"Both of the horses went well, but I did have a bit of luck. I drive a bit for the Barker stable, and they were looking for a claim with Presidential Art, so it was a great way to come back," O'Connor said.

"Juddy Douglas is a handy horse and it was good to pick up the drive on him and get the win for Rebecca and Jayson," he said.

The O'Connor family is based at Scotts Creek, prime dairyfarming country in south west Victoria, between Terang and Port Campbell. They milk around 350 cows a day and train a team of eight or nine horses, as well as breeding around five horses a year.

Xavier's father Anthony is the son of the late Vincent O'Connor, and has "been around horses all his life". The combined load of horses and dairyfarming duties is also shared with Xavier's mother Jillian and younger brother Nicholas.

"Horses have always been our hobby on the farm, and I while I always watched the trots, I only got really involved when I was about 16," O'Connor said.

"I love my footy and basketball and like most dairyfarm kids, motorbikes and cars also got my attention, so I came into it a bit late," he said.

"Now Nicholas is keen to get his trials licence and his trainer's licence as well and my uncle Jonathon O'Connor is also a driver, so there's a lot of family involvement."

O'Connor is in his fifth season of driving, and comes off a 20-win tally in 2018-19. He's now picked up 15 wins for the 2019-20 season, including his first Group One in December on three-year-old filly Rum Junction (Bacardi Lindy-Virginiaconnection (Framework).

"That was in the Vicbred Home Grown Trotters Final. Rum Junction was one we bred and dad trains her, so it was an absolute thrill," he said.

"I'm just enjoying the racing at the moment, but with the season extended to the end of December and the region opening up to include Ballarat and Melton from Sunday, hopefully there'll be some more opportunities still to come."


Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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