Joe Conolly isn’t the first policeman to have trained harness horses. The question was raised by trot fans after the Conolly trained ten year old All About Art, won the opening race at Penrith last week.
Thirty one year old Conolly spent seven years in uniform at the St Marys precinct, before being appointed recently to the detective ranks at Windsor. He juggles all sorts of odd hours, to get his three horse team worked in some semblance of a routine.
Joe has a small jogging track on his 2.5 acre property at Castlereagh, but has to float his horses to the nearby Hawkesbury training centre for fast work.
I had a chat with veteran trots journalist Bill Ellis about the people he’s known to have come into harness racing from other fields. Bill reminded me that Darryl Kell was an active policeman when his training career began in the late 80’s. Darryl mixed police work and horse training for several years and is the first to admit there were odd days when he’d be late for work.
Kell currently keeps a team of six pacers on the John and Liz Heath establishment near Berrima, and also has his very first galloper in work.
“It’s a maiden mare called Will She Ever and I’m enjoying the challenge”, says Darryl.
Bill Ellis reminded me of other well-known names to drift into harness racing from other jobs. ‘Where would you get two bigger names than Jim Caffyn and Percy Hall”, said Bill. “Caffyn was a drover at the Homebush stockyards. He’d unload stock from the cattle trains at Flemington station and drive them across Parramatta Rd to the stockyards. Percy Hall became one of the biggest names in the game, after beginning his working life as a butcher”.
Let’s not forget Brian Hancock and Vic Frost who started in the Bulli coal mines and successful Hunter Valley trainer Keith McDeed had been a “turkey sexer”. There was Fran Donohue, formerly a nursing sister who became the first and only woman to win a Harold Park trainer’s premiership. Paul Wood was a respected veterinarian and Bob Lyon was a physiotherapist before discovering harness racing.
Western Districts dentist Graham Bullock has dabbled successfully in the training of harness horses. Most of his horses have a name which includes the word “tooth”, making them easily identifiable wherever they happen to be racing.
But the most unlikely of all career diversions, was the one involving Dr. Lou Levi back in the 1970’s. Dr. Levi was a hard working ear, nose and throat specialist with a thriving practice in Sydney. In escaping the stress levels of his professional life, Lou wandered into harness racing and to the surprise of colleagues applied for a trainer/drivers licence.
It wasn’t long before he was winning races at Harold Park, successfully mixing it with some outstanding horsemen. A little mare called Audiogram was his best performer at headquarters.
It wasn’t stress that drove Detective Joe Conolly to a coaching job with the Bligh Park Junior Cricket Club. He simply loves the game of cricket and offered his services when his younger brother Ben joined the club a few years ago.
Another member of the team was Corey Dimech, son of respected harness trainer Wayne Dimech. Curiosity soon took Joe to the Hawkesbury Training Facility where Wayne works his team of 6 or 7 horses. He quickly learned the basics of horse management and the function of the many items of gear required. Before long he was assisting Wayne at race meetings and learning the fundamentals of driving trackwork. “I was swept off my feet by the animal and the whole spectacle of harness racing”, recalled Joe.
His first dabble in ownership came when he and Wayne bought a “cheapie” off the Trading Ring website. Her name was Kiewa Park, and although she managed four placings from eight starts her future wasn’t bright.
Joe’s next ownership venture with Wayne Dimech was a gelding called Lifes A Dream, who won races at Goulburn and Menangle and notched several placings, before being moved on.
Joe Conolly was pretty excited when he and Wayne arrived at the Newcastle Paceway with Merrywood John on Nov 17th, 2011. To this point in time he hadn’t driven a winner, but was confident an inside draw would just about get him home.
There was thought given to calling the meeting off, when a torrential downpour swamped the track, but the storm passed quickly and stewards elected to continue. “I led from barrier 1, before scraping in by a nose”, recalled Joe. “To give you an idea of how much water fell on the track, they rated 2.7.8 for 2030 metres. I didn’t care what time they ran. I’d finally driven a winner”.
Joe won another one at Penrith on Merrywood John some time later and rates the horse as one of his favourites. He and Wayne jointly bred Deadly Merrywood and Joe was delighted to drive the mare to wins at Maitland and Newcastle.
He won a race at Bankstown one night on Wiseking Merrywood and Wayne Dimech rates that as Joe’s best drive. “He drove the horse perfectly on the night”, reflected the trainer.
Old Goodtime Slater is the horse to launch Joe’s training career. He claimed the veteran at Penrith fourteen months ago and has prepared him to win three races. He drove the gelding in one of those wins, but handed the reins to Will Rixon and Todd McCarthy for the other two.
Last week’s winner All About Art found his way into the Conolly stable by a strange twist of fate. Joe was looking for the right horse to provide experience for fifteen year old Seaton Grima, who’s anxious to attain his compulsory twenty trial drives. “This old horse had actually been retired for some time”, revealed Conolly. “The owners assured me he had no problems and when they learned he was to be used to further the education of a young trotting enthusiast, they gave him to Seaton”.
Im Intense is a recent recruit to Joe’s team, from the Victorian claiming ranks. Joe drove him to win a race at Penrith and he’s also posted five minor placings, four of which have been at Menangle. He’s having a “freshen” currently, but should be competitive for the stable when he returns.
Many people from many different walks of life have been smitten by the trotting bug and there’s no sign of that changing. Here we have a young law enforcer, who happened to run into a trotting trainer at a junior cricket coaching class.
In just a few short years Joe Conolly has trained and driven winners on major Sydney tracks and is hungry for more. He attributes his success to Wayne Dimech for whom he has great admiration. “In my eyes Wayne is an outstanding trainer, who has been happy to answer every question I’ve ever asked”, said Joe.
Wayne found a willing pupil in Joe Conolly. The young policeman has a passion for the game that will last him a lifetime.