Pre dawn action behind the scenes at Sunshine Coast Racetrack, Corbould Park. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily
Pre dawn action behind the scenes at Sunshine Coast Racetrack, Corbould Park. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily john mccutcheon

Making champions before dawn: life at Corbould Park

THERE'S a certain kind of magic about the clop of hooves, whinnying and the fog-smothered floodlights at Corbould Park at 5am.

And once you see it, you'll never feel the same way about horse racing again.

There's ruffled bed hair, mucky boots and squinted sleepy eyes.

The dark starts to lift and a constant spray of rain periodically turns into a downpour, but there's still work to be done regardless of the conditions.

It's unrecognisable from those sun-soaked race days, where high heels sink into grass and the park is alive with brightly coloured jockey silks, champagne bubbles and feathered fascinators.

But it's here and now, out of the limelight, from the darkness until the dawn, men and women, pitchforks, hoses or reins in hand, where the real magic happens.

In the wee small hours, while we sleep, champions are made.

Trainer turned stablehand

TRACEY Barnes, 52, doesn't stop cleaning the horse box as we talk to her.

The 37-year racing industry veteran has hearing difficulties and somehow manages to lip-read while shuffling hay and sharing her experiences.

She's been a stablehand for Jason McLachlan for eight months now - a step down from her training business at Sydney's Warwick Farm.

"I came back here because my father was dying of cancer and I don't want to leave my mum since he passed," she says. "I'm going to hand in my licence; Sydney's got too hard to train.

"I've taken a big step backwards but I'm quite happy because I've had a few winners, so I've proved to myself I can do it."

A qualified accountant at 18 years old, Tracey gave up life behind a desk to work in the racing industry - a career that peaked one Saturday when her gelding Viking Legend won at Randwick.

"To me that felt like the Melbourne Cup," she says.

"He hadn't won for three years. We got him off Gai Waterhouse and broke him down. It took a lot of work."

She still keeps the now-retired Viking Legend in a paddock in Sydney.

"I wouldn't let anyone else have him."

Her job is hard yakka. Tracey even lost a tooth when a horse threw its head back in the wash bay a few years ago, but she says you have to love what you do to keep at it and has no intentions of doing anything else.

"It takes its toll on you. I don't think the public understands the background.

"It's all 'the jockeys are wonderful', but the trainer and all the staff are in the background behind the horse. It all starts with the breaker."

The breaker

OCCUPATIONAL hazards can have pretty big impacts for people like Dave Cullinane.

The Irish national has just returned to work after breaking his leg breaking-in horses.

"It's the job we do. We love it and that's why we do it," he says.

Dave, a former jumps jockey in the UK and Ireland, now does freelance trackwork at Corbould Park for about half a dozen Sunshine Coast trainers in the morning and spends the afternoon breaking-in horses.

"We get them from the sales," he says.

"Some of them are handled, others are not, and we teach them to be racehorses.

"They're like people; they're very hard to predict.

"If you have a sharp eye - that's where the trainers come in - if they get them young enough and cheap enough they can come out good."

For those who know little to nothing about the sport of kings, Dave would like them to know "what a great game it is".

"You have to realise how well these horses are looked after. They're looked after better than me.

"It's a great game and it's been bloody good to me."

At the pool

YES, you read that subheading right.

Corbould Park has a swimming pool for horses.

And sweeping the ramp that leads the horses to the water, despite the torrential downpour, is 70-year-old Fred Honnery.

"It's good for them to swim," he says. "It saves their legs swimming rather than working them.

"Some days are busier than others but we can have 30 or so horses down here swimming.

"I've worked here for two years. I was a jockey in Brisbane and the Gold Coast a few years ago.

"I get up early, so it suits me."

Fred is poolside every morning from 5am to 8am supervising and lending a hand.

In his time in the industry he's seen the Sunshine Coast Turf Club go from strength to strength.

"The prize money means a lot more trainers come here and so we have really good facilities."

Bright future

NOT many 22-year-olds reckon 8pm is a late night.

But Regan Jackson is up most mornings at 2.45am to start work as a stablehand/strapper for local trainer Stuart Kendrick.

Originally from suburbia in Townsville, Regan, as well as working full-time, studies veterinary nursing. She spent a year begging for her first pony Trudy.

"I felt a bit sorry for my parents as we'd never had horses but they finally gave in," she says. "I spent a lot of time with my pony and she kept me out of trouble in those teenage years."

Regan moved to the Coast seven months ago and says work at the stables is hard but rewarding.

"When I first started I thought it was just feeding and going round the track," she says. "But there is so much fine-tuning.

"We spend a lot of time checking on the horses' health and before every race we check temperatures. If they're not feeling well we won't start them."

Regan hopes to become an equine vet nurse but to do trackwork in the morning.

"I want to continue to work with horses."

The Caloundra Chamber of Commerce Sunshine Coast Cup Raceday will be held on Monday. It's the final day of the $1.295 million Sunshine Coast Summer Carnival. Read about trainer Jason McLachlan's hopes for Phelan Ready on Page 56 of today's Daily

Fast facts

  • The Sunshine Coast Turf Club is 25 years old.
  • Its first race meeting was July 25, 1985.
  • The grass racetrack is regarded as one of the best in Australia. The club now also has a synthetic racetrack (cushion track) that was installed in 2007-08.
  • The cushion track provides an all-weather racing surface.
  • Late 2008-early 2009 lights were installed.
  • There are 960 lights, 40 towers - with the tallest being 42 metres - and about two million watts of brightness.

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