Day At The Track

Hector the collector

12:44 PM 24 Jan 2020 NZDT
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Matt Cooper,Harness racing

When trainer Matt Cooper received a phone call back in April last year, he never expected what would unfold over the next eight months.

In 2003 Cooper made the decision to buy a property in the middle of Tasmania at Oatlands as he always had the passion to one day become involved in harness racing.

At that time Cooper was employed by TOTE Tasmania working in the race day control offices, a job which he enjoyed because of the involvement in racing.

“It was a job I loved as it was about horse racing,” said Cooper.

“When the government made the decision to sell the Tote to Tatts about 10 years ago my job was made redundant, so I became a sub-contractor for Greg Worlsey transport as a courier driver, and it’s the job I still do today along with my life partner Chantal,” recalled Cooper looking back on what initially took him away from racing.

It was a good friend of Coopers in driver Justin Campbell that brought him back into the racing game and started down the path he is on today.

“A good mate of mine Justin Campbell asked me to go and give him a hand in the early days and without his guidance I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“That led to me purchasing my first horse which was Just Say. He was only a battler but that’s when the racing bug really kicked in,” Cooper said looking back on his first purchase that never recorded a career win from 26 starts.

Cooper’s next couple of purchases didn’t bring much more success, but his passion for the sport never waned.

“Then along came the well named Inthedoghouse who ran a few placings which was good to get a few cheques along with Mes Elsu. Those three pacers taught me so much about the harness racing game and I knew then it wouldn’t be easy, but I was passionate and that’s all that mattered.”

In 2016 persistence finally paid off for Cooper with his first winner delivered by Onemorelaugh.

“I saw Onemorelaugh for sale for $4,000 and I made the decision to purchase him and on the 8 January all my dreams came true as he became my first winner as a driver and a trainer which is something that I will never forget,” said Cooper with pride.

That win got the ball rolling as the prizemoney was used to fuel additional purchases as it so often does.

“With the prizemoney from that win I decided to buy a horse called Call her Julie from Ben Yole who had her for sale for $2,000”.

That purchase price would prove to be a bargain, with the mare going on to win 12 races with the crowning glory coming in 2018 when she was named Tasmanian Mare of the Year.

“She was able to win first-up which was a huge thrill and she continued to go through her classes, reaching open company, winning 12 races and close to $100,000,” Cooper said looking back on the first star of his stable.

Call Her Julie put the name Matt Cooper on the map which led to him receiving a phone call about Julie’s brother, Call Me Hector.

“I received a phone call in April last year from David Jack who formerly trained Julie, he had her full brother in Call Me Hector who had shown ability in his two and three-year-old days.

“David asked me if I was interested in leasing Hector as he was going in for some knee operations and he would be out of action for a while. Before he finished asking, I said yes, I’ll arrange the transport as soon as possible. I got off the phone and I couldn’t believe my luck,” recalled Cooper reflecting on a conversation he had with his partner Chantal at the time.

Call Her Julie’s career came to an end as she went off to foal to star stallion Betting Line but with her full brother to look after, Cooper couldn’t have been happier.

Call Me Hector had his first start for Cooper on 9 May over 1609 metres in Hobart.

“I was confident he would run a good race but when he sat parked and rated 1:57 and beat some handy types I thought how lucky I am to get another very nice horse,” said Cooper about the son of Art Major who was sent out $3.50 at his first Tasmanian start.

Call Me Hector went on to win four out of his next six starts with the Golden Mile his biggest win. He now has eight wins in Tasmania with numerous placings behind the state’s best pacer Ryley Major.

Cooper then looked interstate at options for his pacer and set Hector for the Mercury80 series at Melton over the short trip of 1200 metres due to his quickness.

“He is quick, and I thought it would suit him and it would give me the opportunity to not be racing Ryley.

“I rang Justin (Campbell) who had relocated to Victoria over 12 months prior to see if I could send Hector over to him, and of course he said send him over,” said Cooper on the Victorian campaign.

With Cooper being a concession driver, Campbell had to take over the driving duties for his first Victorian start where he was sent out a big price over 2678 metres at Cobram.

“He was a bit out of his depth first-up in the Cobram Cup but still ran a big race as he was wide the last lap.

“He then started in a heat of the Mercury80 where he was three wide the trip and only got run down late which qualified him for the final,” advised Cooper.

It was last week that Cooper found a more suitable race over the 1720 metre trip which was right up Call Me Hector’s alley. Hector drew barrier four which was ideal as he would bully his way to the lead and with his normal racing pattern run them a long at a solid clip. He was always in control and when Justin Campbell went for him at the top of the straight, he looked home but over the concluding stages he had to call on all his fighting qualities to hold off a couple that flashed home from back in the field.

That win in Victorian metropolitan company was a triumph for Cooper and Campbell that they rarely thought may have happened, particularly in the early days.

“It’s amazing to think that a hobby trainer from Oatlands who has been self-taught could win a metro race at Melton and give us both career highlights as it was both of our first metro winners,” said Cooper on a journey that doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.

Call Me Hector lines up on Saturday night in the final of the Group 2 $50,000 Mercury80 over the 1200m trip which is no doubt his toughest test to date. He has drawn wide (8) and has three Emma Stewart-trained runners drawn to his inside, so he will need plenty of luck to come his way, but one thing is for sure he will be there giving a 110%.

The wild man from Oatlands as Matty Cooper is affectionally known as will be there cheering on his star who he calls Hector the Cheque Collector. It could be the biggest cheque of all if he happens to salute the judge first.

Matty is greatly appreciative of everybody who sent him well wishes last week after Hector’s win. He loves the industry and will be involved for as long as he can put a bridle on a horse.

Let’s Go Hector!


Jamie Cockshutt for Tasracing

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