Images courtesy of  Trackside Photography   

Images courtesy of Trackside Photography

The free running and consistent Dark Dream looks certain to be a major player in Saturday’s Grand Prix, and the Queensland Derby on June 9th.

Had it not been for one of mother nature’s most unpredictable and dangerous phenomenons, Dark Dream wouldn’t be walking racing’s biggest stage.

His full sister, a stunning yearling filly was killed by a lightning strike on the property of her part owner and breeder Mary Jane Basson. The filly’s commanding appearance prompted Mary Jane to take up the option of a free return to the well credentialled stallion All American.

In the meantime Dark Dream’s dam Buchanan Girl produced an Arlington colt in October 2013, before returning to All American. Dark Dream wasn’t anywhere near as impressive a type as his ill fated sister.

His immaturity was manifest when he arrived at Kerry Parker’s Kembla Grange stables.

“Everything seemed to be in the wrong place early in his development, and he was nervous and touchy”, recalls Kerry. “In fact he’s still on the spooky side, and worries about anything that wasn’t there yesterday”.

Jockey Jon Grisedale informed Kerry that Dark Dream was very “raw” when he won his Maiden at Moruya last November. He then ran consecutive seconds at Kembla and Randwick before stepping up to 1900 metres, leading throughout to win a BM71 at Canterbury.

Kerry put him away immediately, and it was nine weeks before he returned at Kembla with a half head second to Ridicule in a 1400 metre Class 2 over 1400 metres on a heavy track.

Three weeks later he contested the Listed South Pacific Classic at Randwick, again going under by only a nose to California Turbo. Kerry was enthused enough to whisk him to Brisbane for the Group 3 Gunsynd Classic, with that reliable tradesman Larry Cassidy on board.Once again the trainer had to endure the frustration of going under by a nose to Villermont.

“When horses keep running second you begin to wonder if they are completely genuine”, says Kerry.

Two weeks later the gelding put any doubts to rest with a barnstorming four lengths victory in the Group 3 Rough Habit Plate over 2000 metres on a track rated a Soft 5. The “homebred” beat Higher Ground($210,000 yearling) and California Turbo($330,000 yearling).

I first got to know Kerry Parker when he agreed to join me on a Sky programme called Inside Racing around 2004. He drove from Wollongong and was right on time for our taping session.

He impressed me as a pleasant and humble man, who had great passion for his horses, and great commitment to his clients. Those attributes have served him well in subsequent years.

His love of horses was evident from an early age, when he became involved with a Kangaroo Valley trail riding business part owned by his father. Becoming a trackwork rider for racing stables seemed a natural progression, and over the next few years he worked for Errol Amos at Canterbury, Sid Barker at Nowra, and for David Balfour in Adelaide.

Then came the most rewarding five years of his early life in racing.He landed a job with the wily and astute trainer Les Bridge at Randwick. He had great affection for horses like Kensei, Row Of Waves and Just Blooming, but his supreme favourite was the scrawny and lightly framed Drawn.

“There was nothing of him, but he was all class and gave his best every time he went around”, reflected Kerry. “

Les Bridge gave young Parker the nod of approval when he sent him to Melbourne with Drawn for the 1985 Spring Carnival. The plain looking son of Star Shower charged home to win the Caulfield Guineas giving a youthful Jim Cassidy one of his early Group 1 wins in Australia.

“Because of my association with Drawn I’ve never been put off by small horses”, says Kerry.

Kerry made a life changing decision in the early nineties. He moved to Kembla Grange to become a regular trackwork rider for his close mate David Vandyke,and is still there almost three decades on.He took out his own trainer’s licence in 1991, and has survived in an unforgiving business with a mix of talent,hard work and unshakeable integrity.

He first came under notice as a trainer when he prepared Gold Sovereign to win the AJC St Leger in 1994.

Don Raphael was another to highlight his talents. Owner Don Storey asked Kerry to give the horse some light work in preparation for an upcoming dispersal sale.A few weeks later he rang Storey and strongly recommended that he should forget the sale and race the horse himself.

Don Raphael went on to win the Listed Tatt’s Plate, the Group 3 Colin Stephen Quality, and the Group 2 Saab Quality. Following on from Gold Sovereign he was Kerry’s second runner in the Melbourne Cup.

Kerry had great admiration for Brilliant Light with which he won the Group 2 Ajax Stakes and a Listed Royal Parma Stakes. The horse ran the race of his life to get third in Rangirangdoo’s Doncaster Mile, after doing a power of work.

“I was actually thinking this might be my Cox Plate horse. He had a nagging fore foot problem for most of his racing career, and we had to retire him”, reflected Parker.

Aliyana Tilde was a wonderful staying filly for the stable. She was beaten narrowly by Streama in the ATC Oaks, and later ran a strong third behind Mourayan in the Sydney Cup.

Kerry’s numbers fluctuate between between 15-20 horses, and that’s the way he likes to keep it.

He’s a “hands on” trainer who’s across everything that happens in the stable.

He has the talent, the dedication and the communicative skills, to run a very professional training operation.

And now Dark Dream has two opportunities in the weeks ahead to give the Parker stable a richly deserved shot at Group 3 and Group 1 level.

Should he salute in one or both of the Queensland classics, owners Mary Jane Basson, and Jessica Wilson will spare a thought for that beautiful yearling filly taken by the fury of a violent electrical storm six years ago.

Images courtesy of  Trackside Photography

Images courtesy of Trackside Photography