Day At The Track
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A personal milestone for Michelle Phillips has affirmed the effervescent Victorian horsewoman's decision to pursue harness racing ahead of her other sporting interests. The 22-year-old recently drove her 50th winner, and with her family background was probably always going to end up in harness racing, but she admits competitive basketball captured her love for several years. "I'd played basketball when I was growing up at Warragul in Gippsland and was lucky enough to get a position at Seda College while I was completing Year 11 and 12," she said. "The main emphasis of the college is basketball with the Melbourne United Club and Basketball Victoria working together to further develop the sport." Phillips represented Victoria a few times, mainly as a point guard, and also competed in school carnivals against other States. But as a graduate of the Gippsland Harness Training Centre at Warragul (where she was selected as the inaugural Harness Racing Victoria-Community College Gippsland trots intern), harness racing was never far away. And ironically, her basketball interest was probably what eventually brought her back to the trots. "Then when I finished Year 12, Deb and Gary Quinlan, from Drouin West, offered me a part-time job at their stables, I jumped at it - probably because I had renewed enthusiasm after the two-year break," she said. Phillips grew up around harness racing, with both her father Ken and grandfather Max being Clerks of the Course for many years at local trots meetings. "While I was at the Harness Racing Training Centre I had 12 months of learning everything about the industry and spent time in a number of leading stables here including Alison and Chris Alford, Anton Golino, Andy and Kate Gath, and with Mark Purdon in New Zealand," Phillips said. "A highlight was helping Mark with the preparation and care of Smolda, leading up to him winning the Inter Dominion," she said. Phillips drove her first winner in April last year at Ballarat when successful at her eighth race drive on Our Sir Oliver, trained by Norm McVitty. She then followed the April with with two further victories in May with the same horse at the same track! In her first season she finished with 10 wins and 26 placings. Last season she improved with 23 wins and 62 placings and now looks set for her best-ever with 18 wins and 30 placings to date. She landed her 50th winner at Maryborough last week on Lets Went for Bendigo trainer Laurie Wills. "I was absolutely stoked, and it was great to have the luck continue for a bit at Mildura the next night when I got home on Rocknroll Legend. But it was soured a little bit later in the night cos I got a suspension," Phillips said. Now attached to the successful Chris Svanosio barn, Phillips is busy helping with the stable's shift from their Bendigo base to a Romsey property where Svanosio's partner Elizabeth MacLean is established. "We are all looking forward to it because it's a magnificent complex," she said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Young Bendigo harness racing reinswoman Michelle Phillips landed her maiden double at the Mildura Pacing Cup Carnival last week -but had to wait two nights to celebrate.   Phillips and her partner, talented horseman Shaun McNaulty, got home from Mildura to their stables at Marong at 3am after the second night of the carnival on Thursday, and, not surprisingly, weren’t in the mood to put their party pants on!   “It sounds crazy, but I suggested to Michelle that we could head back to Mildura for the Cup final on the Saturday night and do some celebrating then!” McNaulty said.   “Michelle decided it was a perfect idea so that’s what we did – and it was a huge night, combined with a few drinks, of course, and the karaoke at the track after the last,” he said.   “We have already booked our accommodation and stabling for the three-night carnival next year!”   The stable double was also momentous for McNaulty, as it was the first time he’d brought his own team to race at Mildura.   “I’d been to the trots there years ago with my brother, and I’d always had an ambition to race during the carnival,” he said.   The McNaulty-Phillips combination landed their winning double in consecutive races, with Gobsmacked (Auckland Reactor-Respected (Art Major) and It’s All Business (Sportswriter USA-In The White House NZ (Presidential Ball USA).   They also ran third in the Mildura Trotters Cup with their consistent square gaiter Fratellino (Monarchy USA-Solar Fire NZ (Yankee Reb USA), the winner being Endsin A Party, driven by Phillips’ boss Chris Svanosio for trainer Brad Stevens.   McNaulty said three-year-old gelding Gobsmacked always had ability, but just wasn’t putting it together.   “He may have just turned the corner now because that’s two wins in his past three starts,” he said.   “I thought the drive was brilliant by Michelle - I’m very proud.”   Phillips comes from a family background with horses, with her grandfather, Max, a Clerk of the Course in Gippsland for many years.   She is a graduate of the Gippsland Harness Training Centre at Warragul and was awarded the inaugural HRV-Community College Gippsland Trots Internship in 2016. The internship gave Phillips 12 months of experience across the industry and in leading stables, which she is now putting into practice.   The runaway win by Its All Business in the 3YO Pace was reward for patience for McNaulty.   “We’ve had our share of problems with him lately, but I have to admit that I’ve got a lot of time for the colt,” he said.   “He showed exceptional ability from day one when he got beaten last season at Bendigo in a 2YO race running a tick over 1.54.   “I would have loved to have contested the Sydney derby with the horse, simply to gain some experience. In hindsight he probably would have been lucky to qualify, but it would have done him the world of good.   “Anyway the timing wasn’t right as he had a bit of a bunged-up knee and I’ve really only just got the swelling down.”   McNaulty has his pair of in-form runners competing at Kilmore on Thursday, while trotter Fratellino will contest the $14,500 Eddie Edison Memorial Trotters Cup at Warragul on Sunday.   “Fratellino is the leader by eight points on the Country Cup Trotters Championship so that’s a big bonus if he could hang and grab that,” McNaulty said.   “We’ll be out there trying our best, that’s for sure!” he said.   But if Fratellino does get the job done, hopefully the pair can find somewhere a little closer to home to celebrate!     Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Young harness racing couple Shaun McNaulty and Michelle Phillips are hoping bigger things are in store after making a hit-and-run mission to Ouyen to snap up a maiden win with their handy three-year-old. The pair, based at Bendigo, made the three-hour road trip north on Sunday with the lightly-raced Gobsmacked (Auckland Reactor NZ-Respected (Art Major USA) to land the money impressively in the Les Patching Family Pace. As well as the first win for Gobsmacked, it was also the first winner to come from his dam. “It was also a special win because we had never raced at the track before, and our family is great friends of the Patchings, who come from the area,” McNaulty said. “My father Noel was great mates with the late Ron Patching, of St Arnaud. As soon as I told dad that we were in the Patching Family event, he decided there and then he’d make the trip up with us to Ouyen,” he said. “Most people in trotting in the area knew (the late) Les Patching, who had Down’s Syndrome and was a great fan of the sport but Les especially loved his trotting at Ouyen.” Gobsmacked, handled by McNaultys partner in Michelle Phillips, galloped soon after the start and was a conspicuous last, being 40 metres off the leading division. Phillips made a three wide move approaching the bell and was later forced four wide on the home corner, but Gobsmacked had all the answers and proved too good. To watch the video replay click here. McNaulty said the pacer was purchased at the Australian Pacing Gold sale in Sydney two years ago. “Both Michelle and I own shares in him along with my dad Noel, brother Jason, our uncle Geoff Sharp and Michelle’s mum Fay,” he said. “I’ve got to put my hand up and say it was my idea to buy the horse because when I worked in New Zealand for (star horseman) Mark Purdon, I was amazed by the performances put up by Auckland Reactor. “Some of his victories were simply out of this world.  He was a freak.” While McNaulty conceded Gobsmacked would never get to the dizzy heights of the pacing machine Auckland Reactor, he said his youngster had shown glimpses of ability. “I nearly offered him for sale a few times, but he’s getting better with time,” he said. “His effort at Boort leading up to the Ouyen race was very good. He was forced to sit parked but showed a ton of courage. “Last season he had a terrible habit of pulling extremely hard in his races and this caused us a few headaches. He hasn’t been quite that bad this time in, although he did give Michelle a torrid time at Ararat last month.” McNaulty said he’d been around horses most of his life because his dad always raced a few and enjoyed the breaking-in side of the sport. “I worked at a feedlot after leaving school and later for Landmark in merchandise, as well as running the Wycheproof lamb sales,” he said. “I wasn’t really into the horses, but when dad raced a horse called Dustndiesel (Safely Kept-Agincourt (Pure Steel) driven by David Evans, I got well and truly hooked. “He was a trotter and had 10 wins and 11 placings from about 50 starts for over $51,000. “I then started looking at horses to buy fairly regularly and one day noticed Mark Purdon was advertising for staff.  I loved St Arnaud, but a lot of my friends had moved away so things were a bit quiet.” McNaulty said he arranged to meet Purdon a few days later at a Melton meeting to discuss the job prospects. “I really didn’t know a lot about harness racing, but I thought if I was wanting to learn I may as well be taught by those at the top,” he said. “And in the three years I was there, I got taught heaps.  It was a great experience and one I’ll never forget. Mark is a great fellow. He’s so approachable he will stop and chat with anyone who pulls him aside.” McNaulty said during his three-year NZ stint, he usually spent three months annually in Australia, acting as caretaker for the Purdon All Stars Stable, often with four to six horses. “There was a bit of pressure on occasions, but mostly I managed okay,” he said. “And as luck has it, while over at Purdons I got to meet my partner Michelle, who was an HRV intern from the the Gippsland Harness Training Centre.” McNaulty said he also spent 12 months at Pat Driscoll’s Yabby Dam Farms, near Ballarat, gaining a further wealth of experience. “I have a great love for square gaiters and my time there was awesome.” However, McNaulty said one regret he did have was not venturing to America or Europe. “It’s probably too late now, but to work over there somewhere would be unreal I reckon.” The stable, with a team of 10, is pinning its hopes at present with consistent trotter Fratellino NZ who is shooting for a $10,000 bonus in a country cups series; along with 3yo Its All Business and five times winner Dixirosalie. “With six races to go in the series we are sitting on top, but the competition is about to hot up,” McNaulty said. “Hopefully the Ouyen win will see the start of a bit of a roll for us because it’s been a bit of a struggle lately. But we’ll just keep plugging away doing our best and I’m sure the results will come.” Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Gippsland born horsewoman Michelle Phillips is making an impact in Victorian harness racing after only a handful of race drives. 20-year-old Michelle drove her first race winner, Our Sir Oliver, at Ballarat on Sunday night. And she didn't have to wait long to add to her tally, winning with Fratellino at Maryborough on Monday afternoon before further victories at Cobram and Ballarat (again with Our Sir Oliver) yesterday. From Neerim in Gippsland, Michelle has grown up around horses (her grandfather Max was a Clerk of the Course at local trots meetings for many years). Upon finishing Year 12 Michelle enrolled at the Gippsland Harness Training Centre at Warragul, and her dedicated study and natural flair with horses led her to being selected as the inaugural Harness Racing Victoria/Community College Gippsland trots intern in 2016. The internship's 12 month exposure to all aspects of the trotting industry, and leading stables in Australia and New Zealand, gave Michelle the perfect grounding to establish herself in the racing industry. Now a licenced reinswoman in her own right, on Sunday night Michelle took Our Sir Oliver to the front at the start of the 2200 metre event at Ballarat, and was able to control the tempo of the race to suit. Shooting clear of his rivals upon straightening. Our Sir Oliver raced away to win by almost nine metres for trainer Norm McVitty. Two drives later at Maryborough, however, it was a different story, with Fratellino coming from 20 metres behind at the start under the handicap conditions. Michelle sat behind the other favourite, Armchair Drive, racing up alongside her rival approaching the home turn as the two trotters dashed away from the rest of the field. In a slogging finish, Fratellino scored by a short half head, with the race time very close to the track record. Fratellino is a six-year-old gelding owned and trained by Michelle's partner, talented horseman Shaun McNaulty. The pair are presently establishing a stable of horses near Bendigo. Michelle in fact at her first race drive on March 23 almost claimed a debut driving win, when Fratellino finished second. A natural with horses, Michelle looks sets for a very successful career in race driving and continues a proud tradition of females from the Gippsland region having enjoyed success in the trotting sport. Kyle Galley

Opportunity has further fuelled Michelle Phillips’ passion for harness racing, with a traineeship promising to fast-track the teenager’s career as a driver and trainer. The 18-year-old’s 12-month internship started on Monday, the beginning of a new collaboration between Harness Racing Victoria and Community College Gippsland. Phillips, the program’s inaugural student, will benefit from the paid position, which includes training in a Certificate IV in Racing, mentorship and professional development. “I have been around horses my whole life, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished year 12,” Phillips said. “This was just a great opportunity and inspired me to pursue a career as a harness racing driver and trainer.” A pony club member of almost 10 years, Phillips completed Certificate II in Racing at Community College Gippsland in 2013, which required her to take on work helping Gary Quinlan’s stable at trials. So impressed were the Quinlan camp that 12 months on they pursued Phillips through the school and offered her a stable hand position, which she started in October, and then encouraged the Neerim teenager to pursue the harness racing internship. “I had finished year 12 and got really interested in harness racing (at the Quinlans) and this opportunity come up,” Phillips said. “The internship is a good opportunity for young people interested in harness racing to get more opportunities and to broaden their horizons. I will work with other people in the industry and gain the knowledge that I can put into training and driving.” Phillips will spend next week at Harness Racing Victoria’s Flemington headquarters to experience its inner workings, including meeting with stewards and staff. She will then spend time with Chris and Alison Alford, which Phillips said she was “really looking forward to”. Exposure to the leading drivers in the world will continue in March when Phillips tours with competitors contesting the International All Star Series, which will include US drivers Yannick Gingras, Brett Miller and Corey Callaghan. “Getting out and learning from these drivers, in particular hearing their stories about how they got to where they are and what they have done to this point, will be a great opportunity.” Harness Racing Victoria General Manager – Operations Vaughn Lynch said “Michelle is a delightful young talent who is someone we want to invest in”. “The 12 months internship will give her an opportunity to learn all aspects of the business, including the machinations of Harness Racing Victoria but also media training, business skills and secondment to a number of trainers in the industry,” Lynch said. “It’s important we really look after the young people in our industry and hopefully start them on the course to bigger and better things.” by Michael Howard Harness Racing Victoria

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