There’s nothing Glenn McElhinney enjoys more than driving a winner for one of the smaller stables. The veteran freelancer, always identifiable with his bright yellow helmet, has been a familiar face on Sydney tracks for more than four decades.
His very first drive was Rambling Bravado at Gosford in January 1977, and Love A Dollar was his first winner at Maitland only a week later.
His easy going nature and willingness to help out have made him a very popular figure among Sydney’s harness drivers. He’s widely known in the business as “Macca”, and rarely do you hear him addressed as Glenn.
I've always believed legendary horsemen Joe Ilsley and Kevin Robinson were trotting’s busiest dads - each fathering families of twelve children. But just a few days ago, I discovered that Glenn McElhinney’s late parents Ted and Ruth deserve the title, for having produced a family of fourteen (8 girls, 6 boys).
Glenn spent the first few years of his life in Queensland, but in the 1960’s his family moved to Rosehill, where Rodney Vernon was one of very few harness trainers in a bustling thoroughbred precinct.
“Rodney drove his horses to the Granville Showground via a laneway that passed our place, and it wasn’t long before I became fascinated with these harness horses” recalled Macca.
The youngster had his first jog session at age 13, and it wasn’t long before Rodney had him driving fast work. The Granville showground was a valuable facility for a number of trainers including the legendary Jim Caffyn, Barry Matterson, Bill Hansell, Les Kosklin, and Charlie and Tom Forrest. The circuit was owned by the Agricultural and Horticultural Society which sanctioned monthly Sunday gymkhanas.
Horses came from everywhere to the Granville trials, and I can remember twenty or more races being conducted. It was well known in that era, that anyone desperate for a bet could find a “bookie” amongst the crowd on the hill.
Local trainers were shocked when the A&H Society asked them to vacate the premises to make way for the famous Parramatta Speedway. “My brothers Adrian, David, and Tim also held trainers licenses, and we made a joint decision to work our horses at Bankstown” said Macca. “We were lucky enough to be able to rent half a dozen boxes at Ned Feehely’s stables and a whole new chapter in our lives began”.
From the time Glenn McElhinney became a regular at the busy Bankstown training centre, the freelancer’s drives multiplied rapidly. “I was out of sight out of mind in the Granville days, but there were trainers everywhere at Bankstown, with many of them needing a freelance driver” said Glenn.
For more than twenty five years Macca worked for the well-known bedding company Sleep City. “Fortunately most harness meetings were conducted at night”, recalled Macca. “If I needed to attend a day meeting I would make up the hours over the weekend”.
Hard work has never fazed Glenn McElhinney. He’s been mixing a second job with training and driving for many years, but inevitable fatigue hasn’t impaired his cheerful disposition. Macca’s work ethic and boundless talent have brought him almost 1500 career winners including 4 at Group One level.
He completed a unique two year old double in 2008/09 when he won consecutive, Gold Crown finals on the half-brothers Emjayem Grand and Chariot King. The latter gave him a second Group One by winning a Breeders Challenge 3 year old final in 2010.
Macca has no doubt Theartofillusion is the best filly he’s ever driven. He won 16 races on the daughter of Perfect Art including heats and finals of 2 Queensland classic futurity races. “Trainer Brett Cotterill did a super job with that filly, and she raced consistently throughout her career” said Macca.
The brilliant filly’s son Theartofdelusion gave Macca and Brett another Group 1, when he won the two year old Breeders Challenge final in 2011.
Another of Glenn’s favourites was Blank Canvas, which he trained and drove to win 9 races “He had an accident at trackwork one morning, and had a troublesome suspensory ligament from that day on” recalled Macca. “He was a tough bugger, and would have gone a long way had he remained sound”.
Amanda Rando, Media and Communications Manager at HRNSW was kind enough to furnish some interesting stats for Glenn McElhinney. The hard working horseman topped the century in five successive seasons last decade.
2002/03 101 Winners
2003/04 139 Winners
2004/05 127 Winners
2005/06 151 Winners (His best ever performance)
2006/07 114 Winners
At 59 he has now joined the veteran ranks, but has lost none of his enthusiasm, and continues to drive with judgement and finesse. When you look at the massive number of drives he’s had in four decades, his absence of injury is testimony to his sense of responsibility on the track. He’s had a few broken ribs, and a break to the coccyx bone 8 years ago, but overall he’s a very fit competitor.
Macca has been a guiding light to his daughter Tiarn, who has driven 4 winners and trained close to 30. The popular young lady and her husband Leigh Sutton recently presented Macca with a strong healthy grandson named Tai.
Macca acknowledges a group of trainers who’ve given him loyal support over a long period of years. Trainers like Rodney Vernon, Neil Costello, Sam Trefelliti, Brian Hancock, Peter Morris, Roy Roots, Clayton Harmey, Jim Castles, David Waite, Neville Hargraves, Colin Pike, and Bill Neave. “I apologise to those I may have forgotten” said Macca.
Rare as a blue diamond, are those in the Sydney trotting industry who haven’t had some assistance from Glenn McElhinney, somewhere along the line. He’s an old fashioned bloke who never fails to acknowledge someone he knows, and most times someone he doesn’t know.
Don’t worry if Macca’s driving a horse for you in the near future, and he’s a little late into the parade yard. He’ll just be helping someone change a sulky tyre.