Day At The Track

No bells and whistles for "go-to" guy

12:00 PM 22 Nov 2019 NZDT
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Michael Bellman,Harness racing
Michael Bellman

He's regarded as the "Go-To Man" in Victorian harness racing circles, and Ararat's Michael Bellman wouldn't have it any other way!

The popular horseman's love for the equine and the sport of harness racing is never in doubt - and there aren't too many horse-related problems he hasn't tackled over the years.

"We're probably all in the sport because of a love of horses, but if someone needs a shoe tacked back on or help getting a head-strong one in or out of a float, I'll give a helping hand for sure," Bellman said.

"Yes, I would have done a fair few favors over the years. But what the hell, if you can't do these sort of things there's something wrong," he said.

And the same etiquette applies when he's contacted by owners or trainers to drive at meetings.

Since his junior driver days, it's been evident that Bellman doesn't care if they are favorites or long-shots, he's always been prepared to take the drives.

"They don't know they're 50/1," he laughed.

"I do think that being prepared to go all over the place for a drive or two is one of the main reasons I've been able to stay in the system for so long - what you lose on the swing, you pick up on the roundabout!

"Besides you never know when a little hobby trainer or owner might be lucky and find that good one.

"Years ago, I would carpool on the big trips with Daryl Douglas and Emma Hamblin but I don't tend to do those now, just because of the distance, and that's probably cost me a good few wins each season."

One of Bellman's early successes on the far-flung tracks circuit was with well-credentialled Northern Region pacer Uncle Wingnut.

"I used to drive for Joe Costa who lives near Swan Hill and we did very nicely for a while with Uncle Wingnut. We won both the Charlton and Ouyen cups, ran third in a Cranbourne Cup and competed in the A.G. Hunter Cup," he said.

"Even though I tend not to go to Mildura or Shepparton these days because of the distance, I'm still kept busy because I clock up about 120,000 kms each year."

With his parents Neville and D'arne, and grandfather Pat heavily involved in harness racing, it was obvious from a young age that Michael was going to follow in their footsteps.

"We always had a pony when I was growing up and I did the pony trot circuit so it's pretty much all I've known. I say I was doomed the day I was born" Michael laughed.

"But honestly I can't think of anything else I'd like to do."

And this is despite just being eight years old and still remembering when his dad's father Pat suffered a massive heart attack just 60 metres from the finish, while driving in a race at Ballarat.

Grandfather Pat was a successful trainer and driver and raced many good horses including New Noble.

"He was going to weigh in in that race, for sure. They called home when they realized what had happened, but we were never going to get there to do anything because he died on the track," Bellman said.

The family involvement in harness racing grew noticeably when changes to the male dominated sport came in the late 1970s - and D'arne Bellman was among the first to become involved as a driver.

"Mum would go to the trials to get as much experience as she could and played one club against the other to let her compete. It was quite funny," Bellman said.

"I think she was the first female to register a dividend on the tote. Another of her highlights was receiving the prestigious Pearl Kelly Award," he said.

"Mum has always been around them up until about eight years ago when she was badly injured in a training accident and now has on-going complications."

Bellman said while he was quite happy just being a driver in the early years of his career, he was persuaded to take up the role of training about 12 years ago.

"I really fell on my feet right from the word go as a trainer. I had an extremely good run with a great bunch of owners," he said.

"One of the first was Chelsea Hanover who won 10 races and Unicycle was probably around then as well. I won six of his 10 wins. Then I took on two from a friend in Hughie Smythe - Mister Rhys won over $100,000 and Corporate Power Broker was another very handy one."

Bellman said apart from his family background, he owed much to a solid grounding from stints with Peter and Kerryn Manning, Andy Gath, David Burns and Terry Croton, of nearby Stawell.

"Kez (Kerryn) was like my big sister. She would call in and pick me up on Wednesdays when the Manning stable was busy with fast work. Back then it was Saturday night racing," he said.

"All the experience I picked up now plays a massive part in the daily running of my own stable. I work all my own, with the help of dad and our longtime assistant Kerry McKinnis, as well as the shoeing and other chores."

In addition, he's also kept on the run, having four children in Harvey, 10, twins Ryder and Darcy, 8, and Bridie, 3.

Since the 2012-13 season, Bellman has topped the ton as a reinsman on five occasions.

He had a standout season in 2015-16 with 140 wins and 331 placings.

"I was driving for some guys who had big teams with a number of top-class horses. Apart from Joe Costa, there was Vince Vallelonga, Mark Thompson, Kevin Brough and some others," Bellman said.

The past two seasons he hasn't been far away from the magical 100 mark with 89 and 96.

And if the past two or three weeks are any indication, Bellman is well on his way to again giving it a shake this season.

"I've been getting a few over the line-the secret is to keep it going," he said.

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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