Day At The Track

Keen veteran making a new life in Victoria

11:59 AM 06 May 2019 NZST
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Ray and Janelle Cross
Ray and Janelle Cross
Charlton Harness Racing Club Photo

A Queensland couple with a true love for the traditional harness racing square-gaiters has decided on a sea change.

After spending time in Victoria with a team of horses during the past two years on “working holidays”, Ray and Janelle Cross are now in the process of making a permanent shift down south.

“It basically come down to a lot more opportunities for trotters and we are really excited at what’s on offer,” said Ray Cross, who is about to celebrate his 80th birthday.

“We can race our horses every week and try and place them a bit,” he said.

“Back home it was becoming difficult to select suitable events because there was virtually nothing for young, up-and-coming trotters. Most of the time you would find yourself against seasoned, open campaigners.”

The Cross stable these days comprises virtually all square-gaiters.

“Maryborough is our base at the moment, while we search around and find a suitable property,” Cross said.

“There’s five down in Victoria with us and we left another two racehorses behind as well as four well-bred broodmares until we get settled in a new place.

“We are both really looking forward to a new challenge and it will be a slightly different lifestyle. But we were both ready to move on. It’s been on our minds for 12 months.”

And they are not daunted by the cooler winter temperatures that Victoria will serve up.

“I think the second year we come down to campaign, the locals were saying it was one of the worst winters ever.  We handled it okay, so we’ll be right,” Cross said.

The veteran trainer, who is somewhat of an icon in the Sunshine State, has always been around horses.

As a four-year-old he would ride a horse from the family home in Ellesmere to a school near Kingaroy each day – a distance of over 10 kilometres.

“That was the only way I could get there. Then as I got older, I competed in the show rings and any other pony competitions that were going around,” he said.

Cross said horse riding was in his family’s blood because his grandfather once rode from Victoria to Queensland.

“I’ve been told by others that he was just 17 years old at the time,” he said.

In was inevitable that Cross would find his way into the ranks of professional trainers, and apart from stints in his younger years as a roustabout and in the sugar cane fields, it’s been his life’s work.

The Cross stable raced at Dalby and then later, when based at Toowoomba, raced on the home track as well as trips to Brisbane’s Albion Park.

“We were then at Mount Marrow for a bit before re-locating to Calvert, a small town located near the city of Ipswich. We’d been there for the past 18 years,” he said.

Over the years, Cross has been associated with some star performers. Horses that come to mind include ex Kiwi The Emcee and Daphnia as well as the brilliant son of Able Bye Bye, Keen Edge.

Prepared predominantly through his career by Cross, Keen Edge won 27 races from 91 starts for more than $135,000 in the late 1980s. Some of his biggest wins were in the 1988 3YO Challenge Final and the 4YO Invitation Pace. The horse, who is believed to have held two world records at some stage, was involved in some memorable battles with Speed King and Butch’s Mate.

The Emcee, winner of 58 races and 55 placings, was claimed by Cross for $5000 for stable clients. Cross resurrected his form and in the next 12 months he won $100,000.

Square-gaiting historians still talk about the time Cross campaigned speedy Queensland-bred trotter Scottish Larry to win three races at Harold Park many years ago – at a time when Sunshine State wins at Glebe were far and few between.

But while Cross says Keen Edge was probably his fastest horse, the title of his best goes to Kate Au Penny (Ringleader-Southern Banner (Mark Lobell), a trotting mare who finished with 24 wins and 43 placings for $80,000 from 2004 onwards.

“We bred her, and she won her way to an Adelaide Inter-Dominion Final in 2007,” Cross said.

While the couple will be pinning their hopes on Honey Please (Yankee Spider USA-Kumbya NZ (Sundon USA), there are a few others ready to step up going by their early Victorian form.

Maiden trotter Ima Calvert Rose caught the eye when third at Ballarat last week and likewise 2yo Countess Chiron, fourth at the same meeting.  Lady Haha ran an improved fourth at Kilmore yesterday.

“Honey Please has the form on the board down here, winning at Ballarat (2017) and then at Maryborough and Bendigo last year, during our visits,” Cross said.

“Her most recent wins have been at Albion Park, Redcliffe and Marburg, so she’s been pretty handy for us.”

And there’s nothing more certain than Ray Cross, who is still as keen as mustard, making his mark in Victoria.

“You’ve got to keep working while you can, and we’ll be doing our best!” said the veteran.

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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