Day At The Track

Cream always rises to the top

01:21 PM 11 Jun 2015 NZST
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Sara and Gavin Smith with their young daughter Hayley The 25 box horse barn at Dancingonmoonlight Stables from which Gavin trains
Sara and Gavin Smith with their young daughter Hayley
The 25 box horse barn at Dancingonmoonlight Stables from which Gavin trains

The old saying in harness racing that the cream always rises to the top all things being equal is never more appropriate than in the case of young North Canterbury trainer Gavin Smith.

After  a promising start to his training career, Gavin had struck one problem after another from blood issues to soundness problems and it seemed to be never ending and as a result, Gavin was on the verge of giving the training game away as recently as earlier this year.

The harder he tried the worse it seemed to get and not surprisingly Gavin was having thoughts of getting a Monday to Friday job to pay the bills.

This from a horseman who looked just a few years earlier to have a huge future in the harness racing industry after a stellar junior driver career.

Gavin started out in the industry helping out Murray Hamilton during the school holidays.

" Murray was a friend of mum and dads and I would help out there during the school holidays."

" The first time I sat in a cart I was hooked and from that time on this is all that I have wanted to do," Gavin told Harnesslink this week.

While his parents raced the odd horse, there is no family history of involvement in the industry.

" I am pretty sure I am the only one from either side of the family who is involved in the racing industry as a career," Gavin said.

Hooked by harness racing, Gavin got his first job in the industry at age 16 when he went to work for Doug Gale.

" Doug was really good to work for and I was there for over two years before doing a three year stint with Mark Purdon."

" You never stopped learning off Mark and he was always good to watch and learn from."

" From there I did over four years with David and Catherine Butt and I can never thank them enough for all the opportuniities they gave me."

"It was while there that I got established as a driver and I don't think I would still be in the industry if it hadn't been for their help."

" After that I did 18 months working for Graham Rogerson when he was in partnership with firstly Peter Simpson and latterly with Steven Reid and like everyone you work for, you pick up little things from them that helps give their horses that edge," Gavin said.

Deciding it was time to go out training on his own, Gavin returned to Canterbury and purchased a 20 acre block at Leithfield beach and it wasn't long before he brought another adjacent 20 acre block.

While his driving for outside trainers such as Phil Burrows and Robert Dunn was going great, his own team was forever having issues.

" I got a bad virus that went right through the stable and the horses struggled to get over it."

" I could never get their blood right and I tested everything to try to get to the source of the problem with no luck."

" I just had one of those runs where nothing went right."

" It got to the point where I was thinking seriously about giving the training away."

" Then I got the opportunity to lease the complex at Dancingonmoonlight and I thought a change of scenery might change my luck so I moved here on April 2nd this year."

" The horses were coming right before I moved here and since the move they have continued to improve."

"I have put a lot of time into understanding the results of blood tests and I now like to think I can nip a lot of things in the bud before they become a major problem,"Gavin said.

Gavin is thankful to his owners who stuck by him even when things weren't going that well.

"Trish Dunell has been with me since I started out on my own and she has been great to train for."

"She has been so loyal to the stable and its good she is getting a bit of payback now," Gavin said.

Over the last few years Gavin has brought a handful of cheaper yearlings at the sales with the aim to turn them over quickly at a profit and been reasonably successful in doing so but now the plan has changed.

" I am not buying as many as I use to but the quality is a lot better and they are by better sires."

"I really like three that I bought at this years sales."

* Filly by The Pres from Howz Lucky for $16,000
* Colt by Muscle Mass from Whosinthenest for $19,000
* Colt by Artsplace from Sirius Flight for $38,000.

" They have all shown plenty to date so I am really looking forward to racing them next season," Gavin said.

Gavin is also breeding from three mares in Hanover Glory, Bute Falcon and All Settled Down and has covered them with high profile stallions with Hanover Glory going to Sportswriter, Bute Falcon to Mach Three and All Settled Down to Majestic Son.

As with all stables Gavin has one horse that he has really high hopes for next season.

" I think Scarlett Banner could be very competitive in the big fillies races next season."

" I gave her one start this season when she ran fifth to Dream About Me and Arden's Choice and then had to put her aside."

" She has just blossomed in the last couple of months and I am really looking forward to next season with her," Gavin said.

Since the move to his new stables Gavin has really got his mojo back, racking up 15 wins as a driver and more importantly 10 winners from his own barn.

The highlight though was undoubtedly his drive on the Fred Fletcher trained Sunny Ruby to win the 3 year old Ruby on Jewels day.

" Fred and Sam did such a great job just to get her there."

" She never started to come right until ten days before the race so to have her ready to run 1:54 was a great training achievement."

" She use to over race quite badly but they have got her to settle now so they deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround in her attitude."

"She has an all round game and I think she will measure up in the best company in time," Gavin said.

With the massive turnaround in stable fortunes since the move to his new stables, Gavin is looking to the future with a lot of confidence.

" The move has been positive on so many fronts."

Not only with the horses but I get to see a lot more of the family not having to travel so much up to Leithfield.

"Sara is running the breeding side with her father Robert and so we work in together a lot with the two operations."

It is working out really well, Gavin said.

Gavin knows how lucky he is to be in the position he now finds himself in.

"I know how hard it is for people who don't have family in the industry to get established."

"When I have a look now at all the drivers who were about in my junior driving days, only Nathan Williamson and Jay Abernathy have made it in the training ranks which shows you how hard it is for a young trainer to get established in harness racing," Gavin said.

With the way his team is performing at the moment and the confidence he is gaining from driving so well at present, Gavin looks poised to reach the high levels that many astute judges in the industry always thought he was destined for.

Harnesslink Media

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