Day At The Track

Peter Medhurst transforms harness racing

08:53 PM 14 Dec 2015 NZDT
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The future. Yearlings and two-year-olds line up for their opportunity.
The future. Yearlings and two-year-olds line up for their opportunity.

“The future belongs to those who plan for it,” is a quote from the late great thoroughbred trainer Colin Hayes who made a move from suburban Semaphore in Adelaide to the world famous Lindsay Park Stud at Angaston in the Barossa Valley.

It can also apply to former dairy and sheep farmer Peter Medhurst from Glencoe in the South-East of South Australia.

Medhurst, 73, has transformed an enjoyable hobby into a successful business.

When he sold his farming interests about eight years ago, Medhurst set up a breeding and training property for son-in-law Barry Finnis and his wife Katherine and their son Jayson.

It is all encompassing with the training stables and work track alongside the paddocks containing the mares, foals and up and coming young horses.

At present Medhurst retains a strong interest in the breeding side of the operation leaving the training to Barry and driving to Jayson.

“When I was in the cattle and sheep industry I believed breeding to be a very important aspect and it forms the foundation of the business,” Medhurst said.

“I ran a good business for more than 40 years so I guess the principles on which I operated must have been good.

“When I got involved in harness racing I brought the same breeding ideas across, and it looks like they are still working.”

Medhurst, capably backed by his wife Lesley, has built up an amazing broodmare band, the majority tracing back to his first standardbred purchase.

Progeny from the Medhurst property have won races in most states of Australia and even in the United States.

The Medhurst name has been synonymous in South Australian racing circles for nearly a century.

It began with Roy ‘Mick’ Medhurst who was one of the state’s leading jockeys in the 30s and 40s who was inducted into the South Australian Hall of Fame in 2010 and who was an uncle of Peter.

Peter’s involvement in harness racing began in 1989 when he purchased a yearling filly by Kentucky from the Garry Rowan mare Scarlet Sunrise.

Named Roses In Paris she won nine races, including at Moonee Valley and Globe Derby and little could he have hoped what was about to begin.

At stud, Roses In Paris produced 12 foals of which 11 were winners and from the family more than 100 wins have come.

Roses In Paris, now 27, is still alive on Medhurst’s Glencoe property and despite her age still has a mothering influence over the horses on the farm, and as the matriarch, and since most are her descendants, that is only right and proper.

She was twice South Australian broodmare of the year, and one of her foals, Surfing Queen has also replicated that feat.

“When I started breeding I spoke with noted breeding expert Bob McArdle and he was extremely helpful and I tried to pedigree match, always going to the best stallions,” Medhurst said.

“I also breed every second year from most of the mares, both to try and keep numbers manageable, and not to overtax the mare.”

The Roses In Paris’ progeny include prolific winners Catch A Bouquet, Thorninmyside, King Grin, Mister Seelster, Paris to Berlin and Pete’s Elect which Medhurst sent to the United States where he was successful with a career-best mile rate of 1:51:6.

She also produced Surfing Queen who has really carried the family success with prolific winners Surface To Air, Forty Seven Flash, Flaming Hero and Three Queens.

“While I love the breeding side of the operation, really the setup is to hopefully be a bonus for Barry and Jayson in the future because I won’t be around forever,” Medhurst said.

“I have to thank Tony Herlihy (champion New Zealand reinsman) for his help in building the team and also for taking Jayson for three months’ work experience.”

Medhurst loves every winner because he knows just how tough it is to win a race but the stable’s success over more than a quarter of a century sees two cabinets full of trophies and a wall of photos longer than a cricket pitch.

Such is his pride in Roses In Paris he has had a special photo made up with a list of all her winners.

He is also rightfully proud of having five winners on a night at Mount Gambier on January 17, 2014 – Flaming Hero, Top Share, Paris To Berlin, White Eyed Girl and Jet Boat.

All were bred and owned by Peter and Lesley Medhurst, trained by Barry Finnis and driven by Jayson Finnis.

That was an ultimate family affair.

In the 2014/15 South Australian premierships, the Finnis father and son made the top 10 with Barry training 38 winners and Jayson driving 37. Expect similar numbers again this season, perhaps more.

Considering that Mount Gambier only has a short racing season, the Medhurst-Finnis team has to travel incredible distances to pursue their hobby/business.

It is a 10-hour return trip to Adelaide and the stable is fortunate the western district tracks in Victoria are closer but they are forever on the road when the team is in full training.

“I’ve lived here for 73 years and never seen a reason to move,” Medhurst said. 

There can be no doubt that Peter Medhurst has done an amazing job planning for the future.

by Graham Fischer

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