Day At The Track

Industry pioneer still has 'fire in the belly'

12:59 PM 15 Jan 2020 NZDT
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Gaita and Frank Pullicino,Harness racing
Gaita and Frank Pullicino after their Globe Derby success on Saturday
Harness Racing SA photo

One of the most colorful and talented of Australia's female harness racing pioneers is back in the winner's circle.

The highly-skilled and prolific former Victorian horsewoman Gaita Pullicino is rekindling her relationship with the sport she loves as a driver in South Australia - and success was never going to be far away.

"I'm just so excited-I love the industry and horses have always been a big part of my life. I've still got the fire in the belly," an obvious delighted Pullicino said after her first winner at Globe Derby Park on Saturday night.

The lightweight reinswoman was at her best to land six-year-old gelding Farbio (Aldebaran Yankee-Call Me Nancey (Straphanger) in the Air Diffusion Agencies Trotters Handicap.

An elated Gaita Pullicino crosses the line on square-gaiter Farbio  (Harness Racing SA photo)

"We decided to make a fresh start in South Australia with my husband Frank being the trainer of our team and me getting back to driving, which I love. We were very lucky to find a lovely property at Mallala," Pullicino said.

The Pullicinos' property is on 45 acres and includes a 650-metre banked track, stables, paddocks, a horse walker and bungy pool.

With a chequered career behind her in Victoria, the ever-enthusiastic Gaita is keen to move on and continue building on her impressive strike-rate as a driver.

Pullicino was a pioneer of female drivers in her home State along with Debbie Quinlan (née Turner), Pam Wilson, Leonie Collins, Ruby Tyack and others.

"Back in the 1970s I remember we weren't allowed to drive in Victoria, but new ground had been broken in NSW and females got the green light through the efforts of Margaret Frost," she said.

"I was just champing at the bit. I ended up convincing my late father Leli Mifsud to nominate a horse in Albury, NSW where I could drive.

"That was in 1979 and it was stinking hot. It had to be close to 50 degrees. The bitumen was melting and our old Chevy boiled so many times on the way I thought we were never going to get there.

"We drew barrier three with Ben Rowland. We jumped to the front, led all the way and I got a winner at my first attempt!"

Pullicino has gone onto drive hundreds of winners, but Saturday night's comeback victory, on the eve of the 37th anniversary of her dad's death, was extra special.

Pullicino is a member of one of Victoria's most prominent harness racing families.

"There are five girls and three boys in our family, and we're all involved in the sport in one way or another," she said.

Before getting back in the sulky this month, Pullicino's last drive was in April 2015 (when she finished second at a Geelong meeting) but she is thrilled to be resuming her career in South Australia.

"We have always liked competing in SA. I'm at the stage of life where I enjoy racing just a couple of times each week-I'm too old to race too often!" she laughed.

"There's some nice horses in the team and we hope Farbio, owned by the Cormack family, can keep improving because we like him a lot. Its Elvis is another that we think can do a job for us."

She's hard-pressed to name favorites among the many handy performers she's been associated with over the years - but a Ballarat cup win in the early '90s with speedster You Wish is a cherished memory.

"You Wish was owned by Mario Zammit and he was a very fast horse. When I got him to train, he was a lowly C3, but he ended up in open class," she said.

"Another was Revonez, who I trained and drove when he ran second to the mighty Courage Under Fire in the Australia Derby at Moonee Valley, with Shakamaker in third spot."

And for a favorite driver?

"That's an easy one," says Pullicino. "Bendigo's Brian Gath is a legend of the sport. He's my idol and he's always been very good to us."


Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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