Day At The Track

Trainer 'humbled' by Pearl Kelly honour

06:31 AM 25 Oct 2017 NZDT
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Emma Stewart, harness racing
Emma Stewart chats with MC Adam Hamilton at Gordon Rothacker Medal awards night.

The rise and rise of harness racing trainer Emma Stewart continued unabated at Gordon Rothacker Medal 2017 on Sunday night.

Stewart’s powerhouse operation, top-three on the national top 20 chart three years running, was honoured with numerous Victorian season accolades at Crown Palladium.

And while Stewart’s third successive metro and state trainers’ Victorian premiership double had the champion trainer both thrilled and full of praise for her dedicated team – including husband Clayton Tonkin, who she said was “the backbone of the operation” – it was the announcement that Stewart was the 2017 Angelique Club Pearl Kelly Award recipient that had her most taken aback.

“I’m accepting this award, but everyone who works for me is involved, family, owners, it’s their award as well. I’m so humbled to get this. It’s something I never thought would happen,” Stewart said.

“Our parents – both our mums – look after Willow, and our dads are really important as well.

“Our staff are terrific … we’ve got so many good people who work for us. And with our big numbers you need people you can trust and we’re so lucky they love our horses as much as we do.”

Stewart spoke of her career beginning with legendary Great Western horseman Peter Manning and declared one of her stable’s biggest opponents on the track, Natalie Rasmussen, as the woman in harness racing she “especially looks up to”.

“I started out with Peter and he was terrific to me. Kerryn (Manning) and Natalie at the time were dominant drivers. We’ve always had great female role models,” Stewart said.

“In fact it’s a female dominated sport you could probably say, which is just terrific.”

Stewart’s role in the sport today transcends the winners she produces on the track. She has charisma in spades and has embraced the media and promotion of the industry wholeheartedly in recent years. Both are traits that also embodied the late, great Vin Knight in an era many describe as the halcyon days.

Stewart-trained horses won four Horse of the Year titles on Sunday night, Poster Boy (2yo pacing colts & geldings), Nostra Villa (two-year-old fillies), Our Little General (three-year-old colts & geldings) and Heavens Trend (four-year-old mares).

And season 2017-18 looks set to be another Stewart success as she is already leading the way on the national premiership with a phenomenal 42.5 per cent strike rate.

Jim O'Sullivan was awarded the Gordon Rothacker Medal on Sunday night, while HRV honoured Doug Gretgrix for his years of service by awarding the long-time starter the HRV Disitinguished Service Medal.

For a full recap of awards, click here.

Cody Winnell (HRV Media/Communications Manager)

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