Last weekend Wangaratta-based trainer Andrew Dale loaded up his float with nine horses and headed 210 kilometres to Tumbarumba in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, where he scored a winning treble.
On Saturday, he will head in the other direction to Sandown, which is a trip of almost 300 kilometres, with one horse, two-year-old gelding Hells Son, to contest the $200,000 Group 3 Chairman’s Stakes (1000m).
It will be Dale’s first Group runner and he’s also attempting to get his first city winner in 10 years of training.
He also knows he’s up against some of the biggest stables in the land and the juveniles representing them are being aimed at the Blue Diamond Stakes.
Dale feels it’s worth a throw at the stumps as Hells Son, who is an $81 chance with Sportsbet, has shown him a lot of potential in his jumpouts.
“The owners are good owners. They said to have a crack and just be confident and positive. We can always give him a good break and come back locally if we’re not at the required level we hope we are,” Dale said.
Dale said Hells Son’s last 900-metre jumpout at Wangaratta on January 20 convinced him of the gelding’s potential.
“We wanted to get a read on how he was going, so we were able to facilitate a jumpout same heat with Ben Brisbourne’s two-year-old filly Hell Queen, who has been Stakes-placed at Group 3 level. We were really competitive and the jumpout time of the heat was as good as the open horses,” Dale said.
The 60-year-old has taken a circuitous route to becoming a horse trainer, having only taken out his licence 10 years ago after most of his working career had been involved in Australian Rules football.
Dale played two games for Melbourne in 1986 under coach John Northey, before he returned to coach his old club Eltham in the Diamond Valley League.
He then coached Myrtleford in the Ovens and Murray League before taking charge of New Norfolk in Tasmania.
He stayed in Tasmania and coached the state’s under 16 team and then became involved in football administration there for five years.
His brother Adam also has been a successful sportsman, playing two tests and 30 one day matches for Australia as a fast bowler in the late 1990s.
There was always an itch Dale needed to scratch though and that was to become a horse trainer.
He had done a TAFE diploma in horse management when he was 40 and when he returned to Victoria, he knew the time was ripe to give it a go.
“I’d always had a love of horse racing. I was a mug punter and I owned a few. It was one of those unfulfilled things I needed to do,” he said.
“As I had a teaching background, a coaching background, a physical education background, I always thought those principles would cross over quite nicely to preparing racehorses.
“I was 49 to 50 and I thought ‘This is the right time to do it’. I ended up in Albury leasing a few boxes off Robbie Wellington.
“After five years there, the opportunity came to move to Wangaratta, which was something bigger and something which was ours, so we moved there four years ago and we have 25 horses in work.”
Dale said he likes to travel across the border to southern NSW and he is happy with his strike-rate.
“We go under the radar a little bit. We train a lot of winners on the non-TAB circuit and most of them in southern New South Wales. We make sure we can pay the bills,” Dale said.
He is assisted in his training business by his sons Frazer and Lachlan and they are also a key reason why he took up training later on in his life.
“I’m thrilled Frazer and Lachlan are in the business and they take a fair amount of the workload off me and we run the show together,” he said.
Frazer, like his father, played two games at the highest level of football, representing Carlton in 2012 before he pursued a career in horse racing.
“He made his way to Sydney and worked as racing manager for the Snowdens and before that he did a cadetship as a steward with Racing NSW,” Dale said.
Lachlan meanwhile had always had an interest in horse racing and when he went to Tasmania to play football for North Hobart, he also worked for Scott Brunton for 12 months.
It was Frazer who purchased Hells Son as a yearling when he paid $60,000 at the Inglis Classic Sale.
“Frazer was in Sydney and he and his friend, bloodstock agent James Mitchell, both liked Hells Son as a yearling,” he said.
Once they secured the son of Hellbent, they also landed for themselves a giant headache as they wanted to syndicate him locally but there weren’t any takers.
“You’ve got to remember even a 10 per cent share is $6000, which is a big impost around here and for a small country stable,” Dale said.
They promoted the yearling on their website and also on Facebook and connections from his Eltham football days rescued the situation.
“We had some restless nights worrying about how we were going to sell him. A good old friend of mine, Stephen Hines, saw us promoting him and he rang up and said he really liked the horse and he was happy to take him,” he said.
Hinds then brought another Eltham player, Tom Royal, and a business partner, Tennyson Byrnes, into the horse.
“It’s part of our strategy to buy yearlings as you’ve got to invest in young horses so that you can get a better horse. We’ve been buying yearlings for the last three or four years and turning them over and here we are with what we think is the best two-year-old we’ve ever had,” he said.
Words: Michael Manley – Racing.com