Day At The Track

Trainer tastes first win in 18 years

09:32 AM 16 Mar 2019 NZDT
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Birchip racing action,Harness racing
Trots Media

For Jeff Connelly, training standardbreds is an escape from the battles of life on the farm.

It's something to look forward to when the times are tough and a distraction from the day-to-day grind.

And given that the sport is only a hobby, it's no surprise the 70-year-old has long periods without success.

But Connelly was the toast of home club Birchip on Sunday when his gelding Clontarf Guy bolted up in the McLennan Bulk Fuel Pace (2150m).

Driver James Herbertson had the son of Union Guy tucked away three-back-the-pegs for much of the race, but found clear air down the back straight the final time and the horse zipped around the field for a dominant victory.

The result ended a long time between drinks for the Birchip Harness Racing Club committee member, who last prepared a winner all the way back in November 2000.

On that occasion, it was Pop A Top Again that broke through for his one and only career triumph.

Since then, Connelly has had more than 140 starters without a win.

"I gave it (training) away for five years. I'm a farmer and I just lost a little bit of interest for a while," he said.

After that break from the sport, it was essentially Clontarf Guy that encouraged Connelly to go and regain his trainer's licence.

"I would have broken Clontarf Guy in and it would have taken me two years to get him running. And I wouldn't have got my licence back until he was ready to go ... so it's been five or six years (I've been back training)," Connelly said. "It's taken until now to win a race with him ... it's been a battle."

Clontarf Guy's breakthrough came at his 41st trip to the races and at the age of eight.

But given the way he attacked the line to win by more than 12m, there looks to be a few more in store.

"I went there not expecting to win the race," Connelly, the breeder and owner, said.

"I've changed his training and I changed his blinkers ... he raced at Swan Hill three weeks ago and he was showing a lot there, but they locked wheels and he got flattened. He was put out of the race more or less.

"But on Sunday, he was just a different horse. I had a damn good day. I was rapt and I wasn't expecting it - not the way it happened."

Connelly, a former president of the Birchip club and past winner of the Mallee Bull Pacing Cup, said he became involved in horse racing around the time he moved to his farm about 40 years ago.

"Horses take my mind off the farm. We have some tough times on the farm and if I've got a horse to jog around of a morning, you think of something else instead of the farm," he said.

A bumper crowd turned out for Sunday's meeting and watched Dunrobbin take home the 2019 Mallee Bull Pacing Cup.

Trained by Mark Thompson and driven by Rodney Petroff, the four-year-old gelding beat Top The Ace (Peter Fitzpatrick/James Herbertson) and John Richard (Rod Carberry/Michael Bellman).

Clontarf Guy has drawn barrier four for the Patrick Dwyer Memorial Pace (2250m) at Boort on Sunday.

Tim O'Connor

for Trots Media

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