“You can’t afford to be distracted by the power of a major stable”, says Victorian harness trainer Kari Males. “If you happen to be in a race where a major stable has three or four runners, you have to try even harder to have your horse at one hundred and ten per cent”.
The unstoppable domination of the Emma Stewart stable in Victoria, has had a deflating effect on many rival trainers. It’s fair to say that many “drop the bundle” whenever they see that they have one runner to Stewart’s three or four. Trainers who find themselves intimidated by the Stewart onslaught, should remind themselves of a Randwick thoroughbred result on August 4th 2018.
Chris Waller, who has the same effect on his Sydney contemporaries as Stewart does on her Victorian rivals, saddled eight of the nine runners in a Benchmark 88 event over 2400 metres.
The “lone wolf” was the Brent Stanley trained Red Alto, which went into the race every bit as healthy, and every bit as fit as any of the Waller runners. All he needed was the right run, and that’s exactly what he got.
Red Alto’s win provided an enormous boost to the morale of dozens of Sydney trainers, who are constantly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers they have to face.
Kari Males and husband Paul, rarely have more than 15-20 horses in work, and only an occasional horse good enough to take on metro opposition. When that horse materialises, they have the necessary skills to do it justice.
In the first half of this year, the Males partnership has prepared San Domino to win seven races, and trotting mare Red Hot Tooth to win five races, including a Group 1 double within the space of a week.
Kari’s fate was sealed from childhood days at Bathurst, when she helped her Dad work a small team of harness horses, before and after school. In her late teens she worked for leading trainer Steve Turnbull, before heading to Sydney and a job with the strong David Aiken stable.
During her time with Aiken, she met her future husband Paul, who was at a nearby stable looking after a small team of visiting Victorian horses. At age 21, Kari took herself off to New Zealand, with no job prospects in the pipeline. She turned up at Alexandra Park, and introduced herself to Mark Purdon, who referred her to Southland trainer Alan Scobie.
She gained a short term job at Scobie’s Winton stables, before transferring to Jeff Crouth’s Auckland establishment.
“Had I not made a promise to act as bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding in Bathurst, I might still be in New Zealand”, recalled Kari. Next chapter was a short stint with Peter Walsh at Bankstown, after which she was persuaded by Paul Males to join him in Victoria.
To say the relationship blossomed, is an understatement. The couple are firmly established among Victorian training ranks, and are the proud parents of Tana (14), a brilliant equestrienne, and absolutely fearless on horseback. Younger daughter Nysa (12) is an accomplished runner, who is just as much at home in the 800 and 1500 metres, as she is in the cross country. Just last week she represented Victoria in the Under 14 squad, at the National Championships in Queensland.
“Both girls enjoy going to the trots when we have runners, but neither have shown an inclination to drive the pacers”, said Kari.
There was a time when Kari was pretty focused on race driving, and proved herself more than capable. She drove a dozen winners including one at Moonee Valley, and she still dines out on the fact that she was a Cup winning driver. “I trained and drove The Woodpecker to win the Ararat Cup of 1996”, reflected Kari proudly. “He was a lovely, sit-sprint horse, and I had a lot of fun with him. I quit race driving as my daughters grew up, and the after school commitments increased”.
Kari didn’t set out to specialise in the training of fillies and mares, but it just so happens that she’s had continued success with the girls. Her all-time favourite is Bella’s Delight, who retired with the imposing record of 20 wins and 18 placings for $442,552. She won a Vic Bred 3YO Fillies Final, a Breeder’s crown 3YO Fillies Final and Vic Bred 4YO Mares Final, all Group 1 events, and driven in all three by Greg Sugars.
Bella’s Delight was raced by a syndicate headed by Rob Auber, a well-known identity in Victorian harness racing, and the man who conducts post-race interviews with winning drivers at Melton fixtures. The talented mare has been a slow starter in the breeding barn, and so far has only an Art Major weanling filly on her CV.
Another favourite in the Males camp was the brilliant Sportswriter filly Niki No No, winner of 14 races and $294,000. She won a Vic Bred 2YO Fillies Final, and a Victoria Oaks Final driven in both by the reliable Greg Sugars. Other notable winners for Kari and Paul were trotters Majestic Moves and Tsonga, along with pacers like Rockabella Star, Hall Of Famer, Swing Blade, Wave The Jacket and Modern Warrior.
Kari and Paul are based on a 120 acre property, owned by Paul’s parents at Bolinda near Sunbury. The training centre boasts a unique fast work track, which has proven to be of great benefit to young pacers and trotters. “If we’re working over 2400 metres, we kick off on a 1000 metre circular track in a clockwise direction”, explained Kari. “We go around two loops, eventually switching to an anticlockwise direction, and finishing with a dead straight run home of 600 metres, with the last bit up a pretty steep hill. It’s great for our fitness levels and for sorting out gaiting problems”
Zac Philips, who does the bulk of the stable race driving, makes himself available for fast work at least one day a week.
For the smaller stables, the commercial training of harness horses is a pretty tough assignment. Most rely on the support of family to run the day to day operation, and most have early starts with late finishes at night meetings. For those with average horses, even more travelling is required to find the right races for those horses.
There are no shortcuts. If every last detail isn’t taken care of, the horse won’t win. You might make a mistake with a good horse, and get away with it, but to make a mistake with an ordinary one is usually fatal.
There are many crucial components to a successful life in harness racing, but the “big three” stand out. You must have respect for the industry, an unbridled passion for the Standardbred horse, and an unshakeable work ethic. It’s not easy to tick all three boxes, all of the time.
Kari and Paul Males have got it right.