Harness racing fans around Australia are becoming increasingly familiar with the name Hryhorec. Many wonder about the origin of the name, as Ryan Hryhorec continues to win races at a rapid rate on South Australian tracks.
Ryan is the son of a Polish immigrant who arrived in Australia in 1947, with his parents and siblings following a torrid sea voyage. At one stage their ship was buffeted by mountainous seas, and everything the family owned was lost, when a container was washed overboard.
Many years later, Jon Hryhorec married his Australian sweetheart, settled in Adelaide and somehow discovered harness horses.He trained and drove with notable success, unaware that one day his son would take that Polish name to distinguished heights in South Australian harness racing.
With just two months of the season remaining Ryan Hryhorec will have to be content with second place on the SA driver’s premiership, but with 79 wins he has his fifth trainer’s premiership all wrapped up.
He has an impressive career tally of 1830 wins, and is totally focussed on reaching the 2000 milestone in the next couple of seasons.
In his teen years young Ryan was an aficionado of the harness sport, and had a profound knowledge of form, and the racing characteristics of most horses. He drove all of his Dad’s horses in those early years, and admits Hryhorec Snr was a tough taskmaster. “He gave me many a blast, but I just copped it on the chin and he soon calmed down”, recalled the trainer.
Ryan is the youngest of three boys, and the only one to make trotting his life. Middle brother Gavin dabbled in the sport, and actually drove a few winners but quickly lost interest. Older brother Darren has never shown a flicker of interest.
Ryan was Dad’s last hope, and he had the youngster driving fast work at age 12.
April 16th 1996 was the date of Ryan’s first drive in a race.He finished third on a horse called Scotch Mint at Kadina, behind Bailey’s Boy driven by Geoff Webster, who was already establishing himself as one of the sport’s best horsemen..
Only nine days later he realised his primary dream, by driving his first winner. The meeting was conducted at the tiny township of Kimba on the Eyre Highway, famous for the fact that it is located exactly halfway between the east and west coasts of Australia.
“The trotting track ran around the outskirts of a football field, and had a water pipe running rail”, recalled Ryan. “I remember every last detail of that special day”.
The horse was James Colin, owned by Frank Borg, who 22 years later is still a valued client of the Hryhorec stable.
Through the formative years, Ryan’s inspiration was champion Victorian driver Gavin Lang, who is now past the 6000 win milestone. “I watched him whenever I could, and to this day I marvel at his many skills”,says Ryan admiringly.
Like most trainers, he hasn’t forgotten the horses whose talents have helped shape his career.One of these was Blue Orient, a gelding by Classic Garry who won 15 races including the 2015 Southern Cross 3YO Final at Globe Derby. Surprisingly it was an unplaced effort on Blue Orient that Ryan remembers best. He was invited to start the horse in the 2001 Australian Derby at Moonee Valley, and couldn’t get there quickly enough.
“I’ll never forget doing my preliminary and looking across at the grandstand, the lights and the huge crowd”, reflected Hryhorec.”I was very excited to be there”.
Sleek And Sassy was another to do a sterling job for the stable. The daughter of Jeremes Jet didn’t win in her first 14 Victorian starts, but turned the form around in SA.She won 14 races for Hryhorec, including a dazzling sequence of 12 straight.
The Jon Hryhorec trained Repelem remains Ryan’s all time favourite. This bonny mare won a staggering 41 races, driven by Ryan in 31 of those wins. She had one short stint in Sydney, winning three races at Menangle for trainer Peter Walsh
.A remarkable old horse called Scruffy Murphy came into Ryan’s life late in his career. At the time of his retirement, the old gelding’s record stood at 174 starts for 49 wins and 55 placings($526,000). Scruffy raced extensively in Victoria and Western Australia, but landed in SA at 10 years of age. Ryan was able to coax another 7 wins out of the old warrior.
Star Brutus was a prolific winner for the stable, and so was trotting mare I’m Princess Sophie, purchased for just $1000, before winning 14 races. Flagbearer was a good money spinner for the stable, putting together 13 wins.
Two years ago Ryan Hryhorec made the most important decision of his life. He’d been boarding horses at Geoff Webster’s Angle Vale property for quite some time, but felt it was time to establish his own training operation.
Ryan and his partner Kerri Stauwer decided to bite the bullet, and invest in a 75 acre property at Two Wells, about 40km from Adelaide. They took on the daunting task of establishing their “dream” complex, while still training a team of horses from Webster’s property.
The couple threw themselves into the task, and worked a miracle to have the property ready for occupation within a year. In designing the training track, Ryan deliberately left a 5 metre rise in the home straight extending over 300 metres. “It just gives them a bit more to do, and can only improve their fitness levels”, explained the trainer.”It took time to work out the most effective training regime, but I think we’ve nailed it now”.
Those old time trainers who jogged horses up to an hour, would be stunned to see Ryan Hryhorec jogging for just 12 minutes. “Mind you they’re actually cantering, and often pull up “blowing” a little”, said Ryan. “They’re probably doing the equivalent of a one hour jogging session, but without the boredom factor”.
Kerri’s father Wayne is there every day, and is a great help to the couple. Ryan is glowing in his praise of people like Michael Winning who worked around the clock to construct all facilities on the property, while intensely loyal owners have continued to put horses Ryan’s way.
Frank Borg, already mentioned has been with the stable since 1996. Victorian Paul Brumby has been a tower of strength, and usually has 6 to 8 horses in work. Greg Baker has been another valued supporter.
The harness racing industry desperately needs people like Ryan Hryhorec. At 39 years of age, he’s totally devoted to the sport and chooses to spend the rest of his working life around standardbred horses.
As the 2017/18 season enters the final stages,Ryan is safely ensconced in second place behind Danielle Hill on the driver’s premiership ladder, but has the SA trainer’s premiership all wrapped up for the fifth time.
Don’t be surprised if he wins the next five too.