Day At The Track

"Bernie" is back, chasing number 15

10:00 AM 18 Dec 2020 NZDT
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Eric with the inimitable Bernie Winkle
Eric with the inimitable Bernie Winkle

Harness racing cult hero Bernie Winkle is looking down the barrel tonight of an extraordinary 15 wins for the season at Mildura.

Described by owner Eric Anderson as a "bread and butter" pony, "Bernie's" lightning sprint made him a COVID-19 sensation during the pandemic lockdown, and has given his owners plenty to cheer about, netting more than $100,000 in stakes.

Bernie Winkle (Rock N Roll Heaven - Dolly Mcd (Mach Three) was moved north by Anderson at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown - and proceeded to rewrite Mildura harness racing record books in an exhilarating run of success.

Bernie arrived at the stables of Anderson's friend, Mildura hobby trainer Geoff Lucas in mid-April with solid form - but nothing that gave a hint of what was ahead.

The seven-year-old strung together 10 wins on end - and in super-impressive fashion, with his sit-sprint style of racing making the fast class event on the Friday night Mildura card compulsory viewing during lockdown.

Altogether he's won 14 races from 21 starts since April, and finished out of a place only once.

"It's been fantastic - Bernie's always just been a really honest earner and a few things probably suited him better when we sent him up there long-term," Anderson said.

"The smaller field sizes and racing mostly against the same horses and drivers every week during that time were the main thing, and also not having to travel - trips to Mildura knock me about these days, too!" he said.

"Whatever it was, it was a fun time. We actually found the regional racing model pretty good for us, overall, with the younger horses we had racing down here doing okay as well, but Bernie was certainly the standout.

"We were possibly a bit lucky too in that there were some interested parties in America looking at him early in the year and we found he had a bit of soreness in one knee. The buyers decided not to go ahead, but we got his knee treated properly and that probably was a factor too."

Eric Anderson

The pacer's Mildura trainer Geoff Lucas, who himself ran into career-best form courtesy of "Bernie" agrees.

"I think it was a lot to do with the fact that our stables are only 10 minutes away from the track - he'd get home fresh after the race, he'd lick out his feeder and be rearing to go the next week," Lucas said.

Bernie Winkle is now prepared back home at Bendigo by Anderson's daughter, Julie, who is the wife of trainer-reinsman Glenn Douglas.

With the assistance of experienced horsewoman Roma Pocock, full time staffer Clayton Wishart, Douglas and Anderson himself, the stable has a team of 27 in work.

"We've got a great team around us but I'm pretty lucky with my son-in-law...I rate Glenn pretty hard to beat as a horseman."

The former Robinvale transport operator and his wife Heather have enjoyed solid success in nearly 40 years in the sport, most notably through the deeds of 1992 Miracle Mile winner Franco Tiger.

A regular buyer of New Zealand horses as well as a consistent breeder (his horses race under the "Ozzie" moniker), Anderson estimates he's had "hundreds" through his barn over the years.

"I first got involved when I was in Robinvale, and a friend the late Ron Atkinson kept at me to buy a horse. Eventually we did, then we bought another by the name of Sultana Yankee, who won six in a row for us, trained by (the late) Brian Cummings," he said.

"That was the beginning and I've loved it ever since. I started buying horses from New Zealand in the 1980s and obviously Franco Tiger (Bo Scots Blue Chip - Tempest Tiger (Tiger Wave) (43 wins) was the best of them, but Bold Cruiser (Live or Die - Holmes Dream (Holmes Hanover) was another favorite.

"I'm starting to think againg that buying New Zealanders might be the way to go, because you can race them virtually straight away, but I have bred three mares this year and I have more than enough young ones around here to keep me going for a lot of years yet!"

And what's ahead for Bernie?

"He's coming up to 200 starts and he's still very sound, so at this stage it will just be Mildura - and more Mildura!" Anderson said.

"But I'm coming up 75 and I don't manage the travelling as well as Bernie does! I still like to bring the horses for most of the trips, but I'm thinking I might need to work out a way not to go up and back in the one day - it's too hard to get up and work them the next morning."

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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