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When jovial Daylesford harness racing horseman Glenn Conroy and his daughter Lyndal had to decide on a name for their new mare, it was a very simple task. "Lyndal is heavy handed when it comes to feeding animals-it doesn't matter if it's a dog, cat or horse, she is a great feeder," Conroy laughed. "So our trotter Hattie was named after the actress Hattie Jacques. She played the matron in the old 'Carry On' films and she was a big, buxom woman - or perhaps we should say a full-figured girl! "That was our Hattie too. It took me at least four months to get her trimmed down to go to the races!" But Hattie (Skyvalley-Im Sonialeelee (Malabar Maple) showed at Geelong on Tuesday night that she's now in tip-top racing condition with a nice victory in the Yabby Dam Racing Maiden Trot. "I thought we had her thinned down and looking good. But I laughed at Geelong when the clerk of the course chipped me and said I wouldn't do any good because she was too fat!" Conroy said despite the unflattering assessment, he thought the mare was a good chance because her recent form had been consistent. "She was placed twice at Bendigo and before that and there were a few hard luck stories. She's only had seven starts and even in her race debut she should have been a lot closer. I got held up and only got clear when it was too late," he said. Conroy said he did have luck on his side at Geelong after being buried three back on the fence for most of the trip. To watch the video replay click on this link. "I got off heading into the home corner. Lucks a fortune because the horse on my outside broke and I was able to get clear and come down the outside and win," he said. "After I lost my wife Tracey in 2004 to breast cancer, I'd go to the races and then come home by myself. Now Lyndal has to hear my excuses or, in the case of Geelong, listen to what I believed was the drive of the night! "Tracey was a very good driver-much better than me. The first time she drove at Moonee Valley she was successful. I was in the same race at the rear in the dust somewhere. I didn't know that she'd won virtually until we were coming off the track and she told me." Conroy said he would be "lost" without Lyndal's involvement. "We go to the sales together and enjoy our time at the race meetings," he said. "Lyndal does all the work at home. Apart from the feeds, she does the waters and puts in a lot of hours of her time. We do our three horses at 6.30am and then Lyndal is off into town where she runs her own hairdressing business. "Hattie is raced by the both of us along with my partner Josie and we didn't pay a lot of money for her so we're enjoying the ride. She's by Skyvalley and reasonably bred, and is paid up for the Sires and Breeders Crown." Conroy said Lyndal was keen to take up driving, but he'd convinced her to stick with the training side. "Lyndal can drive okay, but harness racing is a tough career. You won't get rich unless you are very lucky and it's so time consuming. After Lyndal and I finish ours, I'm off to help my sister Anne-Maree with another 14 horses. "So each day I'm at my old stables, Ann-Maree's place, then I head home to Gordon where I live, so I've always got plenty of choices for having a cuppa with all my daily stops!" The name Conroy is iconic in trotting in Australia through the outstanding deeds of long serving and highly regarded horseman Bob Conroy, who died three years ago doing what he loved-training horses. Conroy, a gentleman of the industry, was the leading trotting trainer in Victoria for 14 years. "Dad was very good with horses that others couldn't get going. 'Just give it to the Conroys' they used to say-but we're happy with our little niche in harness racing." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Dedicated New South Wales harness racing trainer-driver Dean Cernovskis says he still smiles about his good fortune when he recalls the day he purchased a Kiwi-bred pacer in 2010. "You have to get a bit of luck now and again-and the $20,000 I spent on that occasion was the best twenty grand I've ever handed over!" Cernovskis said. The hard-working horseman, his wife Rikki and their young family hail from the NSW Southern Highlands region and had always wanted a Christian Cullen-bred horse. "I was telling a friend to look out for one. He just straight up told me he'd heard that there could be one, and from a good family, that may be available," Cernovskis said. And a short time later, Cernovskis and a big group of owners, took up ownership of Daniela Hantuchova (Christian Cullen NZ-Blistering Belle (Butler B G USA), named after the Slovak tennis star of the early 2000s. "I was part of a syndicate of about 20 who owned and raced her-and we all had a very good time along the way. The same group had about six horses going around at one stage," he said. Daniela Hantuchova posted 13 wins and 11 placings from 74 starts for stakemoney of $87,000. She retired with a best winning mile rate of 1.53-6. But the icing on the cake is that the mare is now starring in the breeding barn, much to the delight of Dean and Rikki, and Rikki's parents John and Lesley O'Sullivan. "We bought out the other owners when she retired from racing," Cernovskis said. "Her first foal was a colt by Bettors Delight. He sold as a yearling for $105,000 at the Sydney APG sales and now races as Drop The Hammer," he said. "He's won 20 races and over $210,000 in stakes as a trotter. The funny thing is that he could go along okay as a pacer, but he did have a bit of action, so they tried him trotting first." The next foal out of Daniela Hantuchova was Game Set Major, sired by Art Major, and raced by the Cernovskis and O'Sullivan families. Game Set Major, a four-year-old gelding, has now raced and won in three different States following a victory last weekend at TABcorp Park Melton. To watch the video replay click here The lightly-raced pacer won at his very first race start at Brisbane's Albion Park in July last year-and followed up in August/September this year with a hat-trick of wins at that same venue. Game Set Major has also been successful at NSW venues in Menangle and Wagga. Cernovskis said he watched the Melton victory from the driver's room at Menangle. "I had a runner in the opening race at Menangle half an hour after the Melton event-so I did go out with my heart pumping that's for sure," he laughed. Cernovskis drove Scoob Operator, which finished 8th to Motu Gatecrasher (Jack Callaghan) in the $16k Schweppes Pace. "We didn't get beaten by much. I was happy because he ran very well." He then competed in the following race with Stormy Raider who was runner-up in the $30k G3 Christmas Gift. Cernovskis said he decided to leave Game Set Major with a friend, Craig Turnbull, who is based near Shepparton. "Craig is a great horseman and would have looked after our bloke like he was an InterDominion runner. It was great to get the Melton win because he was eligible for his VicBred bonus," he said. Game Set Major is on his way home to the Cernovskis property at Gunning, between Goulburn and Yass, and will have a short let-up. "I really believe the horse has a bright future. He's quite green at the moment and doesn't really know what to do. He's so much like a big kid, but when the penny drops we're going to have some fun," he said. The husband-and-wife team is training a team of eight horses, while they also have seven broodmares. "Rikki is busy being on foal watch at the moment, so I've been the one going to the races - it's an exciting time of the year, with the little ones arriving," he said. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura  

Ballarat hobby trainer Lindsay Rogers is thoroughly enjoying a change of luck in harness racing after a wretched series of accidents and misfortune. "It has been pretty tough going for quite a while. But Jack (aka trotter Little Yankee) has been doing his bit to lift our spirits," Rogers said. Rogers, who trains at Snake Valley, 25kms south-west of Ballarat, got onto a winning roll less than a month ago when "Jack", one of two horses he presently trains, scored narrowly at his home track. Handled by regular reinsman James "Herbie" Herbertson, Little Yankee (Yankee Spider-Admirals Image (Admiral Holliday) won by a half-head at Ballarat on November 19. The four-year-old has since posted victories at Maryborough, Bendigo and, most recently a career highlight for Rogers with a win at "headquarters", Tabcorp Park Melton, in the $10,000 Reward Hospitality Trot. Little Yankee now has a career record of six wins and seven placings from 20 starts for over $34,000. For the video replay of Little Yankee winning at Tabcorp Park Melton click on this link It's been a welcome change of fortune for Rogers who recently spent four days in hospital with injuries sustained in a fall from a riding horse at home. "I was just about to swing my leg over the saddle-I trusted it too much and it started bucking and upended me," he said. "Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet and vest, but my landing didn't do me any favors. I got bruising to the brain and copped a torn cartilage in my knee. "But the upside was that it did show me that Little Yankee does appreciate not getting too much work because he had a few days off and a few light days and he's really stepped up since." Rogers also had multiple surgeries and still struggles with injuries from 10 years spent driving trucks on interstate runs. It prompted victorious reinsman James Herbertson to observe at the Melton trophy presentation, that while Rogers was doing a great job, "he wasn't real sound"! "I suppose I'm getting around pretty good for what I am," Rogers said. "But if I didn't have my wife Di helping out with everything, and my daughter Nikki as stablehand as well as James doing the driving, and other help, it wouldn't be happening." If "Jack's" dream run continues, it will certainly go a long way towards the Rogers family putting 2020 behind them. "We're going to Shepparton on the 23rd for the VicBred Super Series heats and that's to qualify for the Group One final on New Year's Eve," he said. "I think we'll all have earnt a holiday afterwards if we make it to the big final. And if Jack could do something there it would definitely be my best year ever!" Rogers was born in Birchip and later shifted to Ballarat. "I got my first horse, named Tarleton Lad, from my uncle Hayden Hogan who is well known in the Birchip area. Admirals Image, the dam of Little Yankee, was given to me by the Simpson family," Rogers said. "She was a nice little chestnut, but she got sick as a youngster and never raced. She was a fair age when I got her in foal. I took her to Yankee Spider on the recommendation of (local horseman) Greg Burns, who's a friend of mine, because he told me the horse had been siring some good ones. "Little Yankee was a handful when he was young, although he did go very well. I was trying to get him to the Redwood Day at the end of his 3yo days, but my back started playing up and I had to turn him out. "We won with him at his fourth start in September last year. A few starts later and a few placings, he was turned out for over six months." The square gaiter has returned in terrific form this campaign with five wins and five placings. Rogers said last Saturday night was the first time he'd ever raced at Melton. "It was great just to be there. But to get another win and having dad's old colors going around again was very special," he said. "A lot of people have noticed and commented that I'm using dad's colors, which is nice. When we raced at Bendigo earlier this month, I actually took a rug with us that was won by a horse dad and I raced in Callamar Kid in 1995. It was too hot to put it on Jack at the meeting, but he had it on the way home!" The late Ray Rogers, who passed away about 25 years ago, was regarded as a fine conditioner of standardbreds and formed a formidable partnership with Lindsay's younger brother Bryan, a former talented reinsman. "I've been trying to get Bryan back into driving, but he's still got a few injury worries from a racefall he had a long time ago. He's off doing other things, but still follows the horses a bit," Lindsay said. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Motherhood obviously agrees with popular Victorian harness racing identity Monique Burnett, who's wasted no time in getting back to the winner's circle after the birth of her son Hudson. Monique and her partner Josh Duggan, of Kilmore, welcomed their son to the world seven weeks ago, and Monique returned to race driving last week, landing a winner at just her fourth drive back. "I've been very lucky. I had a great pregnancy and the doctor's been amazed at how well I've bounced back after Hudson was born," Monique said. "I had planned to be back driving fairly quickly so it was great to be able to get on the track again, and to get a win. But I've actually loved just getting back out to the races and seeing everyone again, too," she said. "Getting back to the race driving was just like riding a bike! Once it's in you and you love doing it, there are no worries, it just kicks back in." Monique was successful at Yarra Valley on Friday on bay gelding Im Joe Louis (Art Major - Snap Wilson (Falcon Seelster) for her aunty Julie Mifsud. To watch the video replay click here "We were three wide and three back in the last lap, and thought I was going to struggle to get around them all. But once we straightened up he just grew wings and flew home up the straight," she said. While she's thrilled to be back at the races, Monique says there's been an enormous change of focus for the couple in the past seven weeks. "We're always busy because Josh is driving most days, and we've got a lot happening with the team at home. But we're lucky that Hudson's a pretty settled baby. He's just slotted into our routine," she said. "It used to be all about the horses for both of us, but Huddy comes first, and we work around him. It was my birthday on Friday, it didn't even really feel like it mattered much because it's all about Hudson now!" Monique's win at Yarra Valley wasn't the only cause for family celebrations, either. Mon's partner Josh notched up career win number 500, behind the in-form three-year-old Van Gogh (Modern Art - Hot Gossip (Safely Kept) for Leigh Graham, while Mon's cousin, concession reinswoman Olivia Weidenbach, brought up the first driving double of her career. To watch the video replay click on this link Olivia drove Feisty Phoebe (Modern Art - Apple Sorbet (Fake Left) to victory for Rita Burnett; and Prince Bronski (Major Bronski - Odette Bromac (Live Or Die) for Sam Karamalikis. To watch the Feisty Phoebe replay click here To watch the Prince Bronski replay click here "Olivia got four winners in four days last week and both of her winners on Friday were at long odds. They're calling her 'Longshot Livvie'! She's really doing great and that's so good to see because our sport needs more young people coming through," Monique said. Monique and Josh are fortunate to be surrounded by a unique family support network. The family is based around the Kilmore property Grand Lodge established by her grandparents Leli and Mary Mifsud. Annetto Mifsud lives at Grand Lodge, while Mon's mum Rita and her partner Jim Maragos and Rita's brother Aussie and his wife Julie all live nearby. In addition to training and driving, Monique is a respected preparer of yearlings, and is now putting the polish on one of the biggest teams in her career. She's preparing 36 youngsters for the APG and Nutrien Sales in April. "It's a busy time of year and a massive team effort but we make it all work. Without mum and Annetto we couldn't do it all - especially now!" she said. "Huddy doesn't mind being in his pram at this stage, and Aunty Julie and Uncle Aussie are always happy to have him for an hour or so if I need to be on the track - we're juggling it all okay at the moment! "We're also really lucky to have some fantastic loyal staff, in Tommy Parnell and Kevin Barry, too - they are a massive help." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Central Victorian horsewoman Trish McVeigh has finally found her perfect base for her harness racing operations. Over the years, McVeigh has bobbed up - and decided to stay - at a number of centres with a small team of horses. "I've landed winners in four states as a driver and three as a trainer. It's been good travelling because we've met a lot of people and have made so many lasting friendships," she said. But Trish is adamant her days of being on the move have come to a halt at a little town called Milloo, near Elmore. "We are setting up a property there that was previously used for cattle and we're so happy. I reckon this is it," McVeigh said. "There's a house, plenty of paddocks and an old shed that can be converted to a barn. It's on nearly 50 acres so there's plenty of room to put in a 960m track," she said. "It's obviously going to take a few years to get it exactly as we want it, because we're planning to set up yards with shelters and do some other things. But we'll get there." McVeigh said that both her and partner Dan love the region and community. "The town only has a population of about 34 people, but it's central to quite a number of harness racing tracks. My dad Bob also reckons it's great," she said. Back in the winner’s circle, the star of the McVeigh stable, Clem McArdle. Victorious driver James Herbertson is with trainer Trish, partner Dan and Trish’s dad Bob. Photo courtesy Ian Woolridge McVeigh grew up in North Queensland and can remember being at trotting meetings with her parents at Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay. "Dad always had an interest in the sport. If he wasn't training some, he'd have an ownership interest. Over the years he's been a trainer, driver, breeder and owner-and now he's my stablehand," she said. McVeigh started her career competing in amateur events. "We moved down to the Sunshine Coast and I used to drive in the amateurs at Albion Park," she said. After the family shifted to Victoria, McVeigh said her first actual race drive was at Maryborough in 2004. "I got in behind the leader in a three-year-old standing start race. We did everything right and ended up running fifth. My first winner was 12 months later on an eight-year-old maiden trained by dad," she recalled. "It was so exciting with a lot of people congratulating us. We took all the harness off, washed the horse and we were heading to the bar to celebrate when an announcement was broadcast to say stewards had watched the replay and decided to call it a no race. "I was devastated, but I won at the same track a few months later with a trotter Buntys Invasion so that was officially my first win." McVeigh said she read a story about a gallops trainer recently winning a race at huge odds, only to have stewards declare a no race. "I really felt his pain," she said. After five years at Eddington, near Maryborough, a plan to campaign for a few months in South Australia with four horses ended up in a five-year stay. "We had a fair bit of fun over those years. We won quite a few races with nice horses like Riverboat Rosie, who had at least 10 wins, and then there was Sky King and others. "I also had a job with Campbells Wholesale, who have been fantastic over the years in giving me time off to do the horses and go to the races." McVeigh also spent time in Tasmania, and had a five-year stint in Queensland based at a Deception Bay stable. "I really thought I would call the sunny north home, but there was never any change in the weather," she said. "I just enjoyed Victoria the most. We were in Dingee for two years and then Marong the last 12 months. But if I was to nominate a favorite track, I would have to say Maryborough, because we've always spoken about it as our local track. "We've had a few wins there and besides I'll never forget where I got my first winner!" McVeigh said all the family loved the sport. "We lost mum in 2001 to cancer, but she was always involved and was a big part. We probably don't win out of turn, but celebrate when we do." And there would have been plenty of cheering after the Kilmore meeting on Tuesday with the McVeigh colors carried to victory by James "Herbie" Herbertson. Stable star Clem McArdle (McArdle-Sheezalittlebeauty (Fake Left) took out the TAB Long May We Play Pace in a time of 1.57. It was the gelding's fifth win of his career. The dam, six-times winner Sheezalittlebeauty, was also bred and raced by the McVeigh family. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

You can't keep a good man down, as the saying goes, and that surely fits the bill as far as popular Kilmore harness racing identity Austin "Aussie" Mifsud goes. The veteran trainer-driver was seriously injured in a racefall at a Charlton meeting seven weeks ago last Monday. But despite still recuperating from his injuries, the trainer-driver is in good spirits and determined to get back to what he loves best. "I ditched the wheelchair a week ago and this morning I walked into hospital to see my surgeon," Mifsud said. "I'm doing my best and I'm pretty happy at where I'm at with my rehab - I'll be back at it as soon as I can," he said. "I might need a seat belt maybe! But when it comes to race driving, I just love it." Mifsud was taken to Bendigo hospital with broken ribs, a collapsed lung and other injuries after he was flipped from the sulky and landed heavily on the track in the racing incident. At that same meeting on October 19, talented youngster Ryan Sanderson was also injured when he was thrown out in the race following Mifsud's mishap. The teenager escaped serious injury and is now back driving. Mifsud said while his ribs had all healed, the focus was now on his shoulder. "They had to put in a plate when they were reconstructing it. They'll be taking x-rays to see where we are at," he said. "I honestly didn't think the fall I had was as bad as it's turned out. My main concern was that I couldn't breathe because of a collapsed lung. Apart from that I thought I was okay. "I was sitting in the ambulance when they were attending to young Ryan after he was injured. They thought he had a broken pelvis and I was telling them to leave me alone and attend to him. "They flew him to Melbourne and thankfully he came out of it well in the end. He's only young and probably bounced a bit more than I did!" Mifsud said he was confident he'd bounce back because he had been able to recover from a worse fall at home a while ago. "I was badly smashed up and suffered a cracked spine, 16 bruised ribs and some other injuries. It was nasty," he said. Aussie, pictured with son Willie, said he was lucky to have great family support during his recovery and rehab Mifsud said during his fortnight in hospital at Bendigo he and his wife Julie were lucky to have his daughter Mary-Jane and her family who live on a property just outside Bendigo. "Mary-Jane called in to check often and there were heaps of well-wishers. The Charlton president Joey Thompson and the head steward who was at the Charlton meeting Kylie Harrison regularly kept in contact asking about me. That was really nice," he said. Mifsud, who has been involved in harness racing virtually all of his life, has not given the slightest thought of giving away driving. "I've been licensed since I was 16, and before that I was probably sitting on my father's lap while he was jogging horses. There's eight of us in the family and we're all involved in the sport one way or another," he said. "I'm hoping to return in the early new year. But I'll just have to wait and see. All I do now is the horses and everyone knows how much I enjoy driving my trotters. I'm really missing it. When you love doing something and suddenly it's taken away, it's very hard." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura  

There are no doubts that dedicated Victorian harness racing horseman Jason Ainsworth is going to remember his first training double for many years to come. Ainsworth, who is based at Armstrong, halfway between Ararat and Stawell, was successful with brown mare Underplay, who paid a whopping $29.20, and then Flaming Lucky, an equally impressive winner at $19.90. "Yes, I'd love to think that it's onwards and upwards from here," Ainsworth said. "We've been doing really well in recent months. I've previously had a few driving doubles, but to get my very first training double was a bit special," he said. Underplay (Shadow Play-Subversive (Armbro Operative) won the Carbine Chemicals Pace at Ararat, while Flaming Lucky (Courage Under Fire-Bay Torrent (Sports Town) took out the Ararat Farm Supplies Pace. To watch the video replay of Underplay click here. To watch the video replay of Flaming Lucky click here While Ainsworth was also the successful driver, his partner Natasha Raven had a most enjoyable evening being the victorious owner. "Both Natasha and I work for (Great Western trainer) Peter Manning and then after that we are doing a team of eight ourselves. It does get pretty busy, but getting winners helps a lot," he said. "We need to keep the momentum going now and perhaps the success may lead to attracting some new owners, which would be great." Ainsworth obtained his trainers licence back in March, but it didn't take him long to taste success with Underplay and then Flaming Lucky, in the space of nine days, at two Stawell meetings. "I was always going to be in horses because dad and mum (Barry and Katrina) have been involved for a long time. My older brothers Ashley and Toby are both right into it as well," he said. "Most of us start off with a dream of just wanting to train horses each day-but once you get going, you realize that you need a job as well! "I've been with Peter for about four years, while Natasha is coming up to three and a half years. We both love our jobs and do all our own fastwork at his sand hill track." The hardworking couple prepared three winners and nine placings up until the end of the normal season, but during the extended period due to COVID, they've been on fire with six wins and eight placings from just 28 starters. "We have 17 acres with a track, but recently also purchased a nearby 75-acre property that we aim to develop," Ainsworth said. "I'm really hoping that Natasha one day decides to have a crack at race driving because the horses absolutely run for her. "I rarely beat her because the ones she drives always find that extra little bit - but my excuse is that I'm just under 80 kilos and she would be lucky to weigh 50!" Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Queensland harness racing young gun Angus Garrard has his feet firmly on the ground, despite completing a whirlwind first full season. The gifted 17-year-old driver landed a sensational 125 wins and 200 placings up until the end of August, when the calendar racing season normally ends. In the nine weeks since, Garrard has won 35 races with 87 placings. "My parents (Daren and Gayle) are really good, but they make sure I don't get too far ahead of myself," Garrard laughed. "They obviously keep me pretty humble, which is okay. But I do have to stop and pinch myself sometimes at how fast it has all happened." The teenager won the 2019/20 Queensland Junior Driver's premiership and remarkably found himself in the top six or seven on the senior driving table. "I've been really lucky because some of the big trainers and owners have got behind me. They've been unreal and I've been lucky that a lot of small stables have given me a chance too," he said. "They're giving me opportunities on some of their best horses and a lot of the time it's without using my three-point claim." The Garrard family is steeped in harness racing tradition with Angus' grandfather Chris Garrard OAM, a former trainer-reinsman, who still continues with owning and breeding interests. The successful businessman, the founder of Garrards Horse and Hound shops and vet practices, is renowned for his generosity to the sport and is still a major sponsor. "My dad (Daren) hasn't driven in a race for quite a while now, but he enjoys the training side. Dad also manages the family businesses," Angus said. "I suppose I was always going to follow in their footsteps and get into harness racing. I finished Year 12 three weeks ago and while I was at school, I didn't have any other career paths in mind. "Since school finished, I've been helping dad at the stables and really loving it." The youngster cut his teeth from an early age competing in the pony trots. "I started off when I was six and was part of the minis for 10 years. It was awesome. I was very lucky to have some nice ponies along the way and won three mini-Miracle Miles at Menangle," he said. "I then did nearly 100 trials in 12 months when I had a trials licence. I didn't have to do anywhere near that many, but it was great to get as much experience as I could." Garrard competed in his first official race drive two days after celebrating his 16th birthday. "I don't remember being all that nervous, probably due to all the trials I did," he said. But it didn't take him long-just a few weeks-to land his first winner in Kylie Bromac, prepared by his dad. He lists one of his biggest highlights as a treble at his first metropolitan meeting at Albion Park last June. Garrard won with Sir Fahrenheit (for Donny Smith), Wattlebank Flyer (Brett Cargill) and Speech Is Silver (Darren Weeks). "The win by Sir Fahrenheit was in a $20,000 trotters cup feature race for Scott Whitton, of Tumby Park, so that was special. I've been pretty lucky with Speech Is Silver because I've won four on him," he said. "I don't try and model myself on anyone in particular, but I've always looked up to the likes of (the late) Gavin Lang, Luke McCarthy and Darrel Graham. But all the other drivers up here in Queensland are great. They are always ready to help me out with some helpful feedback and advice." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

When Great Western harness racing trainer Michelle Wight retired her durable pacer Wheatsheaf Avaball nearly three years ago, she wanted to have something unique to remember her old mate. She picked up the welder to make something to keep from the last set of shoes "Charlie" had raced in - and a passion for rustic horseshoe art was born. Michelle's been welding and creating ever since - with orders coming in from "friends of friends of friends" and her work now being sold at Central Highlands regional markets and a local winery. "I just wanted to make something special for Charlie, because he is special," Michelle said. "We retired him after start 200 and we knew he was going to retire then. So I got some photos taken that night, I took his shoes off and I made a picture frame from the shoes," she said. Michelle’s most enjoyable projects are photo frames requested by owners for their “special horses” "Now I make all sorts of things, but still the ones I really enjoy most are where people ask me to make something from the shoes of their special horse or horses." Wheatsheaf Avaball (Presidential Ball - Dontsayawordbut (Safely Kept) retired with 17 wins, 26 seconds and 35 thirds to his name - the 35th third was at his final start at Melton, driven by Michelle. To watch the video replay click here. "I didn't do much more with the artwork at that time, although I did make a frame for Frances Annie (Safely Kept - Sunelle (Sundon) when she retired about a year later (15w-8-13 for $100,779 in stakes) because she was pretty special too," Michelle said. "Dad (legendary Great Western horseman Peter Manning) showed me the basics of how to weld, and I've never had any lessons - just trial and error. "But I really got going with the art when I came across a guy in Stawell about a year ago who was using horseshoes to make spheres. It just twigged something in me, and he was good enough to explain how to do them and I just started - and I've never really stopped!" Michelle said the horseshoe spheres are made using a plough disc as a mould. "The shape of the plough disc basically means that if you keep following the mould, the horseshoes will join up and form a perfect ball," she said. "But that first one was probably the hardest job I ever did because I unfortunately chose a big plough disc - which meant a big ball, and a lot of welding! I can do small, medium and large balls now, but I think I've only ever done one more of the large ones! Garden Art by Michelle "I love making the flowers, and people seem to like them because they're really popular. But I like to make one-off sculptures, as well. I have quite a few on display and for sale at Best's Winery, which is just down the road." Michelle said finding the resources for her art creations was sometimes a challenge. "With the garden art, I don't always know what I'll make, and often it's a matter of creating what you can. I find bits and pieces of scrap metal, often from dad's junk pile, and form them into something. It's a bit like making a cake from the ingredients you have, rather than the other way round! "But I'm always happy to receive steel shoes from anyone who wants to get rid of some. As well as what I had here, I had a couple of big 44-gallon drums of shoes from dad to get me going and a couple of trainers have dropped me off some bags of shoes. "Any size, any shape, pony shoes, hack shoes, pacing shoes - any sort of steel shoe is great, because I need different sizes for different jobs," she said. "I use up the good ones first, but when you get down to the rustier ones, there's a lot more work in getting the rust off so that you get a good hold with the weld. Actually, a lot of the time is taken up in preparation, getting rust off, getting nails out and straightening out the shoes." Some of Michelle’s creations Michelle, who works as an estimator for Hotondo Homes, said busy times at work had caused her to reduce her team back to three. "I've only got one racing at the moment, Outback Shadow (Shadow Play - Charlotte Church (Christian Cullen) who's a half-sister to Wrappers Delight. She's a very honest bread and butter horse who's doing a good job for us," she said. "I still like to find time for the artwork though. There's nothing better than heading out to the shed and being a bit creative. And I am getting better as I go - I originally had an arc welder, but last Christmas I asked for a MIG welder, and that's meant my work's better, and there's a lot less swearing!" Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Harness racing journeyman Rick Holmes knew that it had been a long time between drinks for his recent stable addition Laser Major - but he was more than happy to team up with the old-timer to try to break the drought. "I was aware that he'd been racing in the Bathurst region and that's pretty strong, but he was struggling a bit to find any form. I wasn't overly concerned by that because I did like the horse," Holmes said. "But the length of time away from the winner's circle did catch me by surprise." However, after some promising placings, 10-year-old Laser Major (Art Major-Virgin Goddess (Albert Albert) landed the money at his Victorian home track with an impressive 1.58-3 over the 1709m trip. To watch the video replay click here. Laser Major and Michael Stanley combined to win at Mildura His prior victory was 1727 days previous (or four years, eight months, three weeks and one day) at Newcastle in February, 2016. And he needed another 51 starts to again taste victory-this time at Mildura. Holmes, who is now based at Red Cliffs, near Mildura, said a friend from Adelaide had told him Laser Major was on the market. "He's a pretty good judge and besides the horse was a real cheapie. So Mick Andreadis, who has horses racing in most States, thought he could be okay for the Mildura region and bought him," he said. "Laser Major was unlucky at his first start. He was going to run a place before copping severe interference on the home corner. He then ran third and second." Holmes said the pacer finished down the track at his next few, but a foot abscess was found to be the problem. "When I saw that Mick Stanley was coming up from Ballarat to drive, I didn't hesitate to put him on and he got the job done for us," he said. Laser Major downed Selaphobia, who has since posted a victory, and consistent Bendigo trained horse Goodjet. "We used to joke that we'd never bought a 10-year-old before. And then when we realized he hadn't won for nearly five years, we probably did start to question ourselves," Holmes laughed. Laser Major has had 85 starts for four wins and 11 placings for $25,900. Holmes grew up in the Millewa farming region, between Mildura and the South Australian border. "We were in the Werrimull area and I used to watch Paleface Adios and other horses of that era. They would show the trots on TV back then and we'd also go to the Mildura meetings as much as we could," he said. "I remember when the grandstand would be packed and there'd be about 25 bookies operating. I used to walk around the grandstand picking up empty coke bottles and getting 10 cents for each one. "My sister started going out with a young trotting trainer and eventually I decided to have a go. I still remember thinking 'how good is this?' at my few first goes! "Later on, another local well-known horseman in Frank Cavallaro was a big influence. It was 32 years ago and Frank wrote a reference to help me get my B Grade trainer's licence." Two years on and Holmes moved to Melbourne and got a job with John "Bulldog" Nicholson. "I've probably had seven or eight stints with him. One of the biggest things I learnt there was that every horse is an individual and the importance of feeding them correctly," he said. "I also worked for the Lance Justice and Tonkin stables. As well I spent eight years in Queensland and was an A Grade trainer and driver. I also had a short stint as a stablehand in SA." Holmes said he took a break from harness racing for a seven-year period during which time he "saw a fair bit of the country". "There were all sorts of jobs - I worked on a cotton farm and ran a pub for a bit," he said. "My harness racing driver's licence ran out, but I'm back at the trials so I can be re-licenced. I've got to do 30 trial drives. "I only ever drove in about 20 races back in 1993 and got a couple of placings-I'd just love to get a winner." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura  

A square gaiter that was destined for the retirement paddock is giving longtime harness racing trainer Brian Kiesey plenty to smile about. Kiesey, who is based at the outer Melbourne suburb of Rockbank, is hoping bay gelding Gentleman Sir NZ can keep improving and develop into a consistent competitor. "He's got a few niggling issues and we're having trouble getting him to settle in his races, but there's plenty of ability there," he said. Gentleman Sir (Love You-Tip Your Hat Loui (Continentalman USA) recently gave a first-hand display of his capabilities at Ararat with a runaway 38 metre victory in track record time. To watch the video replay click here. Gentlemen Sir well clear on his way to a well-deserved win at Ararat "I really believe there's a lot of improvement left in him. I've got a nice little team at the moment and Gentleman Sir could easily be the stable star," Kiesey said. "His last half dozen starts have been pleasing where he hasn't finished further back than fourth, but at Melton last weekend (eighth) he just got fired up too much in the mobile event and then choked down," he said. "John (driver John Justice) had a terrible time because the horse was just trying to fight him. He's not a good racehorse at the moment because he tends to get himself so wound up, so it may be best that we concentrate on standing start races," he said. Kiesey said while Gentleman Sir was a bit of a "duffer" in stands, they were more suitable for him. "He gallops out and always gives them a bit of a start, but at least he's controllable and has enough class to catch them up and be in it. He's been going terrific." Gentleman Sir has now had 79 starts for eight wins and 16 places for $109,000 in stakes. When it comes to trotters, Kiesey certainly has had his share of success over the years with the likes of Shepparton Cup winner and InterDominion contestant Georgian Flight. Others include Master Kiesey (winner of 24 races) and Meekatharra Minor (16 wins) who competed in all the top races. And he's needed to call on all of that experience with Gentleman Sir. "There's been a heap of problems. I take him down to the Altona Beach which is 20 minutes away and that helps a lot with his legs," Kiesey said. "Fred and Elizabeth Crews and all the other owners have been so patient. They had planned to retire the horse and I'm so glad Fred spoke with them and they decided to give me a go. "I've got a few other horses belonging to the Crews. They are just mad on the sport and have been very good to me, along with John Justice, who just jumps in the car with me and travels around the State with Gentleman Sir." Kiesey said he's been involved in harness racing for most of his life. "My dad Colin, 86, and I have been in it for over 45 years. We've probably had more trotters than pacers along the way-that hasn't been by design, just the way it's turned out," he said. "You have to spend time with them and have them balanced up. But it's rewarding when you get a nice one."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

What she lacks in size and experience, little Kenzie Rattray makes up for in determination - and if she's any example, the future of harness racing in Tasmania will be in good hands! At "five years and one day" Kenzie is the newest recruit to a rejuvenated mini-trots scene in Tasmania - and although she just had her first race drives at the weekend, Kenzie's already built something of a cult following. And not without reason. The pint-sized reinswoman and her much more experienced pony Kitty Whiteface missed out at Kenzie's first drive at Devonport on Friday night, but then put together a string of three wins - at her second appearance at Devonport, then a double at Carrick on Sunday. "She's a world beater!" laughed Tas Racing Coordinator and Mini Trots enthusiast Wayne Yole. "In her first drive she was just finding her way, but she came back and told me she'd 'beaten five home'," he said. Kenzie was all smiles making her racing debut at five years and one day "Three weeks ago, before she had her approval to drive, she brought Kitty to the races and showed me how she could harness her up, all by herself. She definitely doesn't want anyone helping!" Kenzie is third-generation harness racing, the daughter of trainer-driver Gareth Rattray and trainer Melissa Maine. She's been driving ponies at home since she was three and has now followed older siblings Jackson Burke (13) and Lauren Rattray (7) into the mini trots. The Rattray kids are following in their dad's footsteps, and among an emerging second-generation of harness racing mini-trots participants. Gareth (who's had up to 100 wins in a season as a driver) also began his career in the pony trots at age 6. "She was ready to go a while ago, but she had to wait until she was old enough to get her licence," her dad Gareth said. "Her birthday was on Thursday and she drove her first race on Friday - and I definitely think she was more excited about driving!" he said. "She just loves it. She goes to school three days a week, and on the days she's not at school she trains Kitty every day - even through the winter," he said. "Both the girls are horse mad - we bought them a cubby house a couple of years back, thinking we were doing a great thing. But they run straight past the cubby to get to the stables." Yole said the Mini Trots in Tasmania was undergoing a welcome resurgence. "We've got at least eight ponies at every meeting in the North, and a fantastic bunch of kids are coming through. Especially in the past 12 months, we've had a real surge in interest and we have another three or four kids who are all just about to turn five and get their licence," he said. "We do make sure there is a bit of a preparation and training process involved - and at the end, they get their official plastic card to drive at the races, just like the senior drivers, which they love," Yole said the mini trots had been a great training ground for emerging drivers in Tasmania. "Bronte Miller has just started driving in the past few months, and she went through mini trots. Adrian Duggan's son Jacob has just got his licence. The oldest of our current mini trots drivers, Brodie Davis is certainly going to be a driver, and Makenna Hillier won't be far behind. "The pathway for these kids is just so important to the future of our sport," he said. "But really more important than that is that the kids and their families just get so much out of it. The skills they learn, the life skills they develop, and the fun of doing something together that they all love - it's what makes our sport great and it just gives me a great buzz to watch that." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Former South Australian harness racing trainer-driver Scott Ewen has every reason for relishing the thought of a trip back home. Ewen, who moved over the border to be based at Cranbourne 15 months ago, has his stable star Bulletproof Boy (Art Official-My Riviera Girl (Red River Hanover) firing on all chambers at the moment. "We'll keep poking along for a bit and give him a few weeks off after Christmas," Ewen said. "Then our aim will be the South Australian Cup in March-I've had one crack at it with another horse before and finished midfield, but it will be exciting to go back there with 'Bullet'," he said. There's no doubt the horse is racing in his career-best form - but there might yet be some improvement left. "It might sound silly to say, because he's a five-year-old, but he can still be green in his races," Ewen said. "I've made a few small gear changes and he's certainly been putting his best foot forward. He was pulling in his races and doing things wrong, but I've got him in an open bridle with no head check and now he drops the bit and doesn't engage." In consecutive weeks at TABcorp Park Melton, Bulletproof Boy has blasted his opposition out of the water with long-priced wins in feature events. He took out the $30,000 Breeders Crown Graduate Cup (G3) at 60/1 last Friday week and followed up with a super win in the $24,000 TAB Blacks A Fake FFA as rank outsider at 45/1. To watch the video replay 20th November clck here To watch the video replay 28th November clck here Bulletproof Boy has now won 26 races with 18 placings from 84 starts for stakemoney of over $171,000. Ewen said he always had a high opinion of "Bullet" who showed plenty of potential with "such a good turn of foot." "But I guess there was always a tendency to be very wayward. Twelve months ago I told the boys who are in him that one day he could be a country cups horse and might even go to the next level," he said. "I sort of compared him to a talented footballer who would just keep jogging along in the lower grades, but once he got promoted to the A Grade team would step up and shine. "Bullet can pick up on things quickly when he wants to and racing at Melton consistently has done him the world of good." Ewen, who trains out of the Cranbourne Training Centre, says he "pulled the right rein" after talking to Cranbourne club officials at last year's Mildura Cup Carnival and then making the move in September. "It took a little getting used to like anything does because the rest of the family was back home in SA. But we had a bit of success early which helped, and then later my partner Kylie was able to move across," he said. "We both do the horses together. There's seven in work with two others out in the paddock. The Training Centre is a first-class facility with everything you need from three training tracks, a swimming pool, walking machine and treadmill." Ewen has been training for nearly 30 years, but says the last 15 have been in a more professional capacity. "I've always been working at something else while I've been doing the horses-the family has tagged me as a Jack of all trades," he laughed. "I guess they are spot on because over the years I've done concreting, worked for a shed construction company, changed tyres, drove a Tip Top bread delivery van and a few other things" The couple will be taking a well-earned short rest later this week as 21-year-old daughter Courtney, who is forging a successful dancing career, graduates this Friday after completing a scholarship in Sydney. "We are really looking forward to the little break. It will be great," he said. "Then we'll be back home chasing our next winner-you have to keep at it because you can go from hero to zero very quickly in this game!" Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Champion pacer Cruz Bromac, who amassed more than $1 million in stakes with some spine-tingling harness racing performances on both sides of the Tasman, has been retired. The nine-year-old gelding, one of many from Bromac Lodge, the barn of successful NZ breeder the late Bob McArdle, competed against the best in Australia and New Zealand. Cruz Bromac goes out with an amazing winning record at nearly 50 percent of his starts. Highly regarded trainer Dean Braun, of Lara, near Geelong, has had many class performers over the past two decades, but there's one that stands out in his opinion. "Cruz Bromac was the best horse without doubt that I've trained. He put up some phenomenal runs over his career and his victories speak for themselves," Braun said. Dean Braun "He was a lovely horse with a kind attitude. He was still working super on the track at home any day of the week, but his best was behind him," he said. "Deep down I knew for a while that he wasn't the horse he had been and (regular reinsman) Chris Alford was on the same page. Cruz Bromac hasn't got anything to prove so after a meeting with the owning group manager Danny Zavitsanos recently, it was decided to retire him." Cruz Bromac (Falcon Seelster-Crown Defender (Life Sign) posted 23 wins and 13 placings from just 56 race starts for $1,057,995 in earnings. Braun said among his favorite memories of Cruz Bromac were wins in the NZ Cup last year, a NZ FFA, the Len Smith Mile and Victorian Country Cup successes at Cobram, Hamilton and Warragul. Cruz Bromac winning the New Zealand Cup "He also won five InterDominion heats and there was a big metro feature race win at Melton. He actually held the track record there up until recently when Lochinvar Art broke it," he said. "When you went to the races with him, you always knew you would never be far away. He certainly did an outstanding job over the years." Braun paid a modest amount for the pacer who was being prepared by astute Kiwi horseman Mark Jones. "We bought him as an unraced three-year-old. Mark had a high opinion of the horse, so I organized for Blair Orange to drive him and the deal was later sealed," he said. "I was racing a few in Sydney at the time so Cruz Bromac was flown into there. I started him a few days after he landed, and he ran fourth, and then won his next two-in one of these he went a bit over 1.51." When Braun headed back to Victoria, Cruz Bromac won at his first two starts at Yarra Glen and Melton. Cruz Bromac goes to the line in one of his Tabcorp Park Melton victories "I took him over to the west then, but he didn't handle Perth's Gloucester Park at all," he said. On his return he quickly got back into the winner's circle with victories at Geelong, Melton, Maryborough and Ballarat. Champion Melbourne reinsman Chris Alford partnered Cruz Bromac to six wins. Others to enjoy success were Natalie Rasmussen (five), Greg Sugars (four), Luke McCarthy and Nathan Purdon (two each), while Chris Geary, Blair Orange, Mark Purdon and Nathan Jack each had one win. Braun said Cruz Bromac would enjoy his retirement at a property belonging to one of his owners. "We'll miss him. As well as being an awesome racehorse, he had a bit of character." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Swedish-born horsewoman Sofia Arvidsson has lost count of the hours she's spent working on her "special project", harness racing square gaiter Gus An Maori - but recently, there was no doubt it was worth every minute. The rejuvenated trotter had one hoof on the road to retirement when Arvidsson took him on at the Ecklin South stable of her partner Mattie Craven, and by Arvidsson's admission, they've "come a long way together". "I used to ride him - a lot! And all I used to think of when I was riding him was that 'one day he's gonna win a metro race, this horse, and it will all be worth it'," she said. Last Friday night the pair finally achieved Arvidsson's dream of metro success - and a first group victory for both in the Schweppes Breeders Crown Graduate Trotters Free For All (Gr 2). To watch the video replay of this race click here. "He is my number one, and has been for a long time. He is just a lovable horse. A bit of a show pony, but just a lovely boy and I'm just so proud of him," an elated Arvidsson said. "We always thought if we could just win one or two more with him - and now this!" she laughed. On the face of it, the pair made an unlikely combination. Arvidsson admits she knew nothing about harness racing before joining the Craven team and eight-year-old Gus An Maori (Angus Hall - Sumthingaboutmaori (Pine Chip) had been dogged by long periods on the sidelines, largely the result of bad feet. Sofia Arvidsson and Gus are planning a tilt at some country cups after their Group Two success Gus An Maori was more than three years without a win before his comeback victory at Horsham. Almost 12 months later to the day he recorded his first Group Two success - and, in between, another seven victories. Arvidsson said undoubtedly the key to turning him around was a dramatic change in training approach. "Mattie came back with me to Sweden and he spent some time there with trainers who use straight tracks. Also, the European style of training is not to work them so much, but when they do, they work them quite hard," she said. "It was something we wanted to try, and Gus was the guinea pig on the straight track. It doesn't work for every horse, of course, but for him it's really been the key to him." Arvidsson said Gus An Maori's training regime was based a lot on "feel". "Before, he used to jog every day and fast work every second day on the round track. Then I started with riding him and working him the more European way - fast work, a couple of days off, then fast work," she said. "So, before he won this time, he ran on the previous Saturday night. He had nothing the next day, I might have swum him once, then I gave him a fast work on the Wednesday, and he raced and won on the Friday. "Before, he would chicken out or have a gallop, but he has a lot of confidence this season. He isn't sore and he's stronger, and he knows he can do it. "I'm so excited for the owners, as well, who are massive supporters of Mattie and breed some lovely horses. Gus had been battling for a long time and now they're just so thrilled to enjoy watching him race again." Winning team: Sofia and partner Mattie Craven Teaming with Gus An Maori has also undoubtedly built the confidence of the novice driver, who became licenced only in October last year. Arvidsson recorded 20 wins from 110 drives in the 2019-20 season, and so far in the extended season she's been flying, with 14 wins from 49 starts. Although she was accomplished in dressage and jumping before she arrived at the Craven stable, Arvidsson had no experience at all in the harness racing game. "I was backpacking, travelling and living in New Zealand for a bit, then spent time in Melbourne. I had to do some farm work to get my visa extension in Australia, so I went to Alice Springs. Then to finish it off Kima Frenning (another expat Swede having success in the sport in Australia) suggested I come down here," Arvidsson said. "I'd always had riding horses but had never driven a horse before. But as soon as I started fast working I thought: why haven't I been doing this all my life? "I am very fortunate that Mattie gives me a good go, but I am absolutely loving it. It's such hard work, but the highs are just such highs and it's easy to keep going when you are having success." Arvidsson said Gus An Maori's success now has them looking to target more feature races in the months ahead. "I'm so happy to be able to put look at some country cups - we've climbed the ladder together and to take that step together would be very exciting." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Well-liked Kyneton horseman Tony Xiriha doesn’t care one bit that he’s widely known in harness racing circles as “The X Man”. And there’s a simple reason for it. “Most people have trouble working out how to say my surname. It’s pronounced using Sh – but most people find ‘The X Man’ a bit easier!” he said. For the affable horseman, who celebrated his 56th birthday yesterday, he’s just grateful he is up and about and doing what he loves after getting “pretty smashed up” in a bad race fall at Stawell five years ago. “It’s hard to believe that one minute I was sitting upright behind a horse in a race and then I was out like a sling shot. We still don’t really know what happened. Perhaps I ran over another horse’s hoof...I really don’t know,” Xiriha said. After being air-lifted to Melbourne, Xiriha spent over a week in hospital. He suffered a broken right wrist (which is still held together by plates), a dislocated right shoulder, serious facial lacerations and a split forehead.  His injuries required 10 months of rehabilitation. “I was lucky that my wife Dale is a nurse, and our kids were great.  A good mate in Tony Trimboli was also fantastic. He would drop in to see how I was going, or give me a call,” Xiriha said. “One of the hardest things was that I lost my memory about a month after the racefall. It’s gradually got better, but I have to write things down or I’ll forget,” he said. “I still struggle every now and again. The pain in my arms and hand can be agonizing and my wrist still hurts if I get a puller to drive, but I’m doing what I love and that’s being around horses. “Next season I’ll renew my driver’s licence, but my plan is to give race driving away. I mainly want it so that I can keep driving my own horses at the trials.” Xiriha was introduced into harness racing in the mid-1980s by his uncle John Woodham.  (Woodham was still involved in the sport up until this season when he decided it was time to relinquish his licence.) “I worked at Broadmeadows at the Ford Motor Company and on my way home to Kyneton I would drive through Gisborne, where John had his trotting property,” he said. “I knocked off half an hour before John, who was a supervisor at a different factory. So, I’d harness up the horses and if John was a bit late getting away, more times than not we’d be doing them in the dark. There were quite a few occasions that I was hoping the horses could see okay! But we never had any worries at all. “John’s daughter Jody Woodham-Murdoch is keeping the family tradition going and still trains horses at Monegeetta.” When he bought his first block of land, a 12-acre property, Xiriha was just 18 years old. “My wife and I set it up and we then moved to our current 75-acre property, which has an 840m track. There’s always a heap of feed growing for the broodmares,” he said. “Our youngest in Ben has his stable hand licence and is enjoying doing fast work. Joel drove for three years and when he lost his claim, he gave it away.” Prior to his race meeting accident, “The X Man” had up to 24 horses in work. “I would do really well with horses that I’d get out of the claimers. I had a lot of them.  Now that I’ve slowed down a little, I’m only doing eight which includes three babies,” he said. Xiriha has held a trainer/driver licence since 1990 but didn’t work more than one or two at a time for the next decade. “I was operating an electrical contracting business and after finding it difficult to take even a few days of holidays, I closed it down in 2001,” he said. “It got to the point where I was unable to take even a day off and I was on the job seven days a week. I was just totally burnt out and I enjoyed the horses. So I decided to give them a go and if it didn’t work, I could always go back to my electrical trade. “I’m happy with the decision I made. As you get older you realise it’s not all about the money.” Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

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