Day At The Track

Enigmatic pacer now cracking the cups

08:00 AM 07 Jan 2021 NZDT
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Rusty Crackers, harness racing
Rusty Crackers was a popular winner of the Leeton Cup for (L-R) trainer Brooke McPherson, her brother and reinsman James McPherson, Lilly Painting (the daughter of owners Matt and Melissa) and Tom Gilligan

As his name suggests, connections of Riverina harness racing star Rusty Crackers have had to endure more than a few moments of frustration with their enigmatic pacer.

But the talent of Rusty Crackers (Dawn ofa New Day - Dilingers Comment (DM Dilinger) was on dominant display in the Yenda Producers Leeton Cup on Friday when, parked in the death seat, he sizzled through the marathon 2582 metres scoring a 14 metre win and rating 1:59.6.

The win got the new year off to the best-possible start for his loyal connections, but it wasn't without a few anxious moments behind the $1.35 favorite for claiming junior reinsman James McPherson.

"He put in a couple of roughies before the start, and he had my heart pumping for the first little while!" James laughed.

"But for all his antics, you can't get away from the fact of how he goes, and as soon as we made our way up outside the leader, I knew we could control the race and that he had a bit of class on his side," he said.

The win was testament to the composure of the young driver, now starting only his third season in the race sulky - and equal proof of the grit and ability of Rusty Crackers, who added a third country cup to his name with the win.

To watch the video replay of Rusty Crackers click here.

Rusty Crackers is owned by Matty and Melissa Painting from Coleambally, in NSW, and raced on lease by Jindera reinsman Tom Gilligan and his fiancée Brooke McPherson.

Tom works as a farrier and Brooke does shift work at Hertz car rentals, so they share the training duties, with Tom doing the majority of the driving.

But Gilligan said Brooke's brother James was able to take the reins when circumstances suited, as they did in taking a full five-point claim for the Leeton Cup.

"We all train together at the same place and James has been driving really well," Gilligan said

"When we need a concession, we're more than happy to put him on. He had close to 40 wins last season, and he does a great job for us."

Gilligan said Rusty Crackers arrived at the stables after his owner Matty Painting experienced health problems in 2018.

"Matty asked me to train a few for him for a while, including Rusty Crackers. He'd already won a race, and Matty said the horse had a few dramas and was a bit naughty, but he did like him," Tom said.

"When we first got him, he just used to do stupid things, which is a little bit in the breed, I think, but once you get on top of them they go okay. That probably took about 12 months, but he's matured into a really nice horse," he said.

Rusty Crackers won at his first start for Gilligan and McPherson at Cobram in June 2018. Since then, he's had another 14 wins for the couple, including the Wagga Wagga Cup and the Temora Cup as well as his latest in the Leeton Cup. He also gave the couple the thrill of their first Menangle win.

"I think the little bubble at the start at Leeton might have been a trainers' error perhaps! I think we might have had him a bit fresh," Gilligan said.

"Between Brooke and I, we're good cop, bad cop - she spoils him, and I try to keep on top of him!

"When we first got him we could hardly get him around a half mile track, he'd hop and skip and have a bit of a canter, but both the Temora and Leeton cup wins were on half-mile tracks and he's matured into a lot better gaited horse."

Rusty Crackers got 2021 off on the right foot in what will be a big year for the young couple. They are expecting their first child in February, and also finalising plans to buy their own property.

First things first, though, and Gilligan said Rusty Crackers would be next set for the Goulburn Cup on Sunday week.

"We are just going to chase him around in a few of the cups this year and see how he goes - I know Goulburn will be very strong, but we have to race the same horses if we go to Menangle anyway, so we'll give him a try and see how he goes," he said.

"Probably his weakness is not having really good gate speed, and when you get against horses of that class it's pretty hard to round them up from behind. But if he could just take the next step, we'd be over the moon.

"If I had ten like him, I wouldn't have to work! He's tested our patience, but we'd put up with any horse any day of the week if they were talented like him."

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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