A stable living
By BRETT FRAWLEY
AS THE fruitless, sun-dried betting slips lay discarded on the ground, a filthy, trampled fascinator is delicately placed on a mound of empty beer cans. It is clear that the Spring Racing Carnival is over for another year.
It is a sight that local racing legend, Frank Cleary, sees every year. Not only has he seen it at Thoroughbred Park, but everywhere from Rockhampton to Flemington.
Cleary trains 14 horses from his stables at Queanbeyan Racecourse and has been doing so for nearly 40 years and he boasts a record most trainers dream of. He has trained winners in the Golden Slipper (1999), two Magic Millions (both 1992) and was the first local trainer to win the Black Opal Stakes. In 1992, his most coveted horse, Clan O’Sullivan, won ‘the Opal’ by a length.
Cleary’s record makes him one of the Canberra region’s most successful trainers but he is modest about his ability.
“You’re only as good as your best horse,” he says. “At the end of the day, we don’t do anything different to Gai [Waterhouse] or Bart [Cummings]. We feed ‘em, we work ‘em and on the day all they have to do is run fast.”
Being a trainer is more of a lifestyle than a career. Cleary wakes up at four o’clock every morning, seven days a week. He is in and out of the stables all day and then returns home at around six every evening, in time for tea.
Cleary says, like many of his fellow trainers, that he is motivated by ‘the dream’. Chasing the glory of owning a champion is the primary inspiration for Cleary’s work. Although he has already had his fair serving of success, Cleary sees it simply – he wants more.
The yearly cycle of racing carnivals sees Cleary tour Australia every year.
“We’ve had the Melbourne and Sydney Spring Carnivals, now we get ready for the Magic Millions (on the Gold Coast) and we’ll head over to WA for the Perth carnival in the summer, then back to Sydney and Melbourne for Autumn, then Brisbane in the Winter,” Cleary says.
But it’s not all hard work. On race day he dons the suit and tie and soaks up the festivities on the field.
“It’s mainly talking with owners and clients, keeping them happy for the day, having a couple of beers and poking my head into the stables every now and then.”
But away from the lashings of colour, champagne and canapés on the field, and behind all the boisterous betting and foolish (yet somehow contagious) bravado surrounding the TAB and bookmakers, farrier Gray Cocking waits patiently in the dirt.
Cocking is responsible for putting on the horses’ shoes. You will most likely find him around the stables rather than in the stands with the suits and ties.
He is the farrier for most of the trainers at Queanbeyan Racetrack and he is currently helping Cleary prepare some horses for the Snake Gully Cup in Gundagai on Friday.
Cocking’s outfit is a throwback to a medieval blacksmith and using tools from around the same era, he grips the hoof of Cleary’s mare Circuit between his knees and drives in nail after nail to secure the shoe. Circuit takes it quite well; she doesn’t even flinch.
Cocking grew up in Wagga Wagga and admits that he became a farrier because he failed at school. After a short stint with the young Liberals in the Riverina area, he decided to learn a trade, and due to a keen interest in racing, he chose this type of work and has done it ever since.
Much like Cleary, Cocking is motivated by the dream of working with a champion horse.
“It’s an unrealistic dream and you know it’s never going to happen, but you can still dream,” Cocking says.
With fairytale stories like the one about fellow Queanbeyan trainer, Joe Janiak, who has now totaled over $6 million dollars in winnings with Takeover Target (a horse he bought for $1,250), for Cleary and Cocking it’s hard not to dream.
“The stories like Joe Janiak or the owners of Rogan Josh [Melbourne Cup winner 1999], they are the one in a million stories, but they’re the only ones you hear about. That’s why people love about racing, those fairytales,” Cocking says.
So around October next year, it will all happen again, a fresh batch of fascinators will be delicately placed upon neatly placed hair, crisply pressed betting tickets will pour out of the TAB machines and the beer cans will once again be full, cold and ready to serve.
But no matter what the day, carnival or season, Cleary and Cocking will still be working the stables and chasing the dream.