I regularly work a harness horse on a 1600 metre training track adjacent to Rickaby St Clarendon, a stone’s throw from Hawkesbury racecourse. I harness my horse directly opposite a training complex called “Angst Lodge”, home base to trainer Noel Mayfield-Smith.

I’m often given to memories of the powerful grey filly Angst, and other top liners trained by Noel over the years. I hadn’t spoken to him in ages, so I made it my business to give him a call last week, and our long conversation inspired this story.

“Had it not been for an elderly lady who didn’t like my handwriting,I might still be working for the ANZ Bank”, reflected Hawkesbury trainer Noel Mayfield-Smith.

Noel was a young teller at the Cairns branch of the ANZ, in the era when tellers would call customers to the counter, and fill out their passbooks by hand.

“This particular lady thought my handwriting spoiled her book, and would avoid my counter at all costs. I think it gave me a complex, and eventually drove me to another job with the Queensland Transport Dept. My job there was to process Police reports for solicitors ,following motor accidents”, explained the sixty year old trainer.

Neither of those early jobs gave a hint of the career that was awaiting the young Queenslander. His older brothers Brian and Lawrence were already training racehorses, and Noel helped both in his spare time, picking up the basics of horse management as he went along.

A very talented horse called Tiger Town brought Brian to Sydney in 1976. He went within a whisker of winning the Epsom Hcp with the horse, being grabbed on the line by La Neige.

He decided to stay in Sydney with Tiger Town and a few other horses, and secured accomodation at the stables of the great trainer Fil Allotta. He was working with his horses one morning when a phone call came from Ken Ennever on behalf of Mrs. Millie Fox. This grand lady of Australian racing had been struggling to keep a large stable of horses in work following the passing of her husband Stan in 1974.

Jack Denham had tendered his resignation after ten years at Nebo Lodge, and it was Millie Fox who personally selected Brian Mayfield-Smith as his replacement. It was a massive opportunity for the former stockman from Queensland, and he was going to give it every ounce of his energy and commitment.

Fast forward one year, and Noel, twelve years Brian’s junior, accepted an offer to join his brother in Sydney, as one of the stable foremen. He was a key figure at Nebo Lodge right through the golden era in which Brian unseated Tommy Smith from the throne he had occupied as champion trainer for thirty three years. Fired up by the scent of the “kill”, Brian repeated the dose over the following two seasons.

In 1991 at age 27, Noel took out his own trainer’s licence and set up shop at Newcastle,fully aware that tough times lay ahead. He had no idea how tough.

He started with just one horse, an Argentinian import which Brian had previously trained. Despite multiple issues, Dismasted was able to give young Noel his first training success by winning a Taree Maiden on Nov. 2nd 1991.

“For the next eighteen months I battled around places like Scone, Kempsey and Port Macquarie.I didn’t even have a horse good enough to run at Newcastle for at least twelve months”, the trainer recalled.

The tide turned for Mayfield-Smith when a man called Gary Murphy rang, asking him to inspect some yearlings at a Hunter Valley property, and to take his pick of the herd.

“I walked into a paddock, and knew in an instant which one i would be taking home”, recalled Noel. “She was by Kala Dancer from Shark{two wins}, and had the biggest bum I had ever seen on a yearling filly”.

The filly was named Angst and leased by friends and existing stable clients. She ran fourth first up in a Maiden 2 year old at Newcastle, and pulled up very shin sore, necessitating an immediate spell.

Seventeen weeks later she won first up at Newcastle with Mark Peters on board, and followed that with a demolition job on the opposition in a Set Weights Maiden at Wyong. She and Craig Carmody forged a partnership that day, which would soon lead to an amazing winning sequence.

She went “bush” next start for an unlucky second to Acapulco Queen, in the quaintly named Wellington Boot, after which she was put away again by a pretty excited trainer.

Angst ran fourth first up in a 900 metre “scamper” at Newcastle, but that was the last time she was beaten. With the rich Princess Series coming up, Noel opted for one more lead up run, and that was at Rosehill on August 8th,1993. She was convincing without being spectacular, but Angst was just about ready to prove she was the best three year old filly in Australia.

She won the Gr 2 Silver Shadow Stakes and the Listed Furious Stakes with authority, but then came the win that still gives Noel “tingles” when he watches the replay. She won the Gr 2 Tea Rose Stakes at Rosehill by a widening 5 lengths, with a closing quarter of 22.1 seconds.

“Honestly coming to the line she looked like she was cantering around to the barrier”, recalled Noel.

Two weeks later she got that richly deserved Gr 1 in the Flight Stakes at Randwick, to complete a memorable Grand Slam, and then it was off to the spelling paddock, leaving her trainer with some exciting plans to contemplate for the following Autumn.

She was well into her Autumn campaign when she suddenly developed a worrying breathing abnormality, sending Noel into a tailspin.The veterinarians quickly diagnosed polyps on the larynx, requiring immediate surgery. Angst seemed fine in the post operative stages, but got into difficulty during the night and actually suffocated.

The one thing that saved Noel’s sanity in the aftermath of the tragedy, was a compact brown horse called Mistador who provided the stable with some pleasant surprises. He won the Listed Gosford Classic, but looked, at best a place chance next start in the Spring Stakes at Newcastle, where he ran into the classy Mahogany at level weights. 

With regular jockey Paul Falvey in the saddle, Mistador absolutely “towelled” Mahogany by a decisive two and a half lengths. He failed to get 2000 metres in the Spring Champion Stakes, but continued to race genuinely for quite some time, and finished his career with statistics of 6 wins and 7 placings for $207,000. Mistador was nowhere the best horse Noel has prepared, but he was around at the right time in the wake of the premature demise of Angst.

Noel had to wait three years before another Group performer came into his life. This time it was dual Group 1 winner Landsighting who ended his career in 2001, with a very tidy record of 24 starts for 8 wins and 6 placings for $1.3 million in prizemoney. He won a Stradbroke for Chris Munce, a George Ryder Stakes with Corey Brown up, and was an unlucky second to Shogun Lodge in the 2000 Epsom.

Always the horse lovers, Noel and wife Emma have given Landsighting a home for life,and the 23 year old has the run of Angst Lodge.

It was around Landsighting’s time that Bill Fisher contacted the Mayfield-Smiths.Bill had been a very active owner years before, when his horses were trained by Bede Horan at Rosehill. He disappeared for many years, but caught the “bug” again, at the start of the new millenium.

He linked up with Noel, and at one stage had 25 horses in Angst Lodge.

“There has never been an owner quite like him”, Noel recalled.”If you were late with his monthly bill, he was on the phone like a flash, and his cheque would come back by return mail. He was intensely loyal, and an absolute pleasure to deal with”.

It was gratifying to the trainer that he was able to provide Bill Fisher with a dual Group 1 winner, in the Spring of 2003. The horse was In Top Swing, a chestnut son of Beautiful Crown who finished his career, with a bankroll of $1.5 million.

He was placed in two stakes races in Brisbane as a two year old, but really hit his straps at three. He won the Golden Rose with Hugh Bowman, and a Caulfield Guineas with Noel Callow.

Bill Fisher died at 91 a few years ago, and rarely does a day go by that Noel doesn’t  spare a thought for a true racing gentleman.

The trainer’s most recent topliner is Famous Seamus, who couldn’t go one stride on a rain affected track, but managed to win 12 races for $1.3 million.

“He struck many wet tracks during his career, which hindered him considerably. He was a very good horse, and we never saw the best of him” said Noel.

With almost 40 stakes winners to his credit including 5 at Group 1 level, it seems ludicrous that he has only 8 horses in his beautifully appointed complex at Hawkesbury, a problem facing many smaller trainers.

“If I went to a yearling sale, I couldn’t get an owner to buy me a meat pie”, said Noel with his trademark sense of humour. “It’s the age of syndication, but the syndicators are placing horses with the more fashionable stables, because it makes their job easier. They have to sell the yearlings as quickly as possible, and it’s easier to move them if they’re going to one of the leading stables. Trainers can no longer syndicate yearlings themselves, because they need a Dealer’s Licence to do so. If you’re caught trying to syndicate a horse, you’ll be in big trouble”.

Noel is an avid horse lover, and derives great enjoyment in trying to bring the best out of horses that appear to have a limited future.His supreme inspiration is Emma, his wife of seventeen years who rides all of their horses trackwork, and has contributed significantly to the deeds of the good horses we’ve highlighted. The pair have a daughter,Lara who is approaching 15 and is a source of great joy to her parents.

Is it any wonder Emma is such a proficient horsewoman. Her father is Willie Robinson, a highly respected jockey on the flat, and over the jumps in England and Ireland. On the flat he was placed in both the English and Irish Derbies, but his greatest achievements have been on jumpers.

He’s the only jockey to have won the famous Hennessy Gold Cup three times. One of his Hennessy wins was on the legendary ‘chaser Mill House, and he rode the same horse to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup of 1963. One year later Mill House had a memorable duel with the incomparable Arkle in the Cheltenham. Arkle was superior, but Mill House gave him one hell of a race.

Willie left his mark on the famous Grand National at Aintree with a win on the 12 year old Team Spirit in 1964.Emma was actually born at Swindon in the UK, but as Noel will testify “she is fiercely Irish”.

And so Noel and Emma are riding out a very difficult period in racing. Not so many years ago their training operation housed 45 horses, and the winners were flowing freely. Now the system favours four or five major stables, and the second tier trainers are struggling to stay afloat.

With regulations making it impossible for a smaller trainer to syndicate a horse or two, and the syndicators understandably patronising high profile stables people like the Mayfield-Smiths are, as Noel puts it “on life support”.

Down through the ages racing people have survived on little more than an inherent love of the horse. Emma and Noel Mayfield-Smith love 'em more than most.