Affable Victorian harness racing trainer-driver Glenn Conroy reckons there’s a thin line between being a champ and a chump!
And fortunately, the Daylesford-based horseman, also well-known for his gold-fossicking passion, finished dramatically on the right side of the ledger at Maryborough on Monday, with a runaway victory on five-year-old trotting mare, Aldebaran Belle (Dream Vacation – Chiola Belle (Sundon).
Conroy’s pre-race plan was to take advantage of the stand-start conditions – but neither he nor his trainer sister Anne-Maree would have imagined the pair would be the best part of 50 metres in front on settling.
“If you are slow away, you can be a long way off them, so the plan was to chase her out early if I could,” Conroy said.
“She stepped, and I chased her and normally what you do then is put the brakes on and the rest of the field tacks on. But when I took a look over my shoulder and saw the distance the others were behind, I thought I might go to Plan B and chance my arm,” he said.
As commentator Dan Mielicki observed, Conroy adopted “Vo Rogue”-like tactics, and with a lap to go, Aldebaran Belle led by more than 40 metres.
“I haven’t done that too many times before, and it was exhilarating, but a bit frightening as well,” Conroy laughed.
“When I came round the home corner, I admit I was a bit panic stricken and I did get tapping her along. She responded though and she still had some fuel left. I think she was hitting the line as well as any of the placegetters in the end.”
Conroy said the mare was inclined to pull hard in her races, hence her being left out of the draw in mobiles, and driven with cover in most of her races.
“The only way to stop her is to be on the back of a helmet, so I’ve always driven her sit and sprint. There’s just no reasoning with her if she gets a head of steam and doesn’t want to come back. But today definitely seemed to suit her.
“It was certainly a bit of fun, but yes, there is a thin line between champ and chump sometimes! You don’t see much of that sort of driving these days because if it doesn’t come off you have a please explain from the stewards, and you’ll get a roasting on social media as well!”
Aldebaran Belle eventually pulled away again to win by 17 metres, the second leg of a winning training double for Anne-Maree, who had success earlier in the day with Uncle Al (Framework – Melva Grace (Keystone Salute), whom she drove herself.
Glenn Conroy said the win delighted Aldebaran Belle’s owner, long-term stable client Colin Beveridge.
“Colin’s been with us for 45 years and that was his first ever double as an owner – he was absolutely walking on air,” he said.
“Anne-Maree normally drives all of Colin’s horses, but when we got Aldebaran Belle (in 2020) Anne-Maree had a bit of a shoulder injury, so she got me to drive her early, because of the pulling. Then once her shoulder was okay, she was gracious enough to let me keep the drive.”
The Conroy siblings of Anne-Maree, Glenn and Peter prepare a team of about 15 trotters. Anne-Maree also assists her husband Mick Barby with his team of eight, and Glenn and his daughter Lyndal always have a small team of their own in work.
Conroy said he believed one of the keys to success for the team was training on bush tracks in the Hepburn Regional Park around the property established by their parents, Pat and the late Bob Conroy.
“I think it helps the horses to race more tractably, particularly trotters. It builds their muscles and their stamina and not only that, I think it’s good for man and beast – Dad started it and now we do it with most of the horses,” he said.
“If you’re jogging around and around a track for 40 minutes it seems to take forever, but when you’re out in the bush the time just flows.”
Conroy is undoubtedly a “bushie” at heart, spending free time gold fossicking in the Wombat State Forest – a pastime that’s spawned his own YouTube channel, and earned him considerable media attention particularly in recent days in an article in the Melbourne Age.
“My partner Josie told me I’d become a bit of a media tart! I had the Age article, and an interview with Mary Guerin on the ABC and a couple of other stories in the media, then I got the gold at the races too. It’s been great fun!
“Harness racing is a tough game mentally – your brain just never leaves it alone and I honestly don’t know how the really big stables do it. For me prospecting is like a game of golf for others or an afternoon at the pub – it’s my relaxation and I get a bit twitchy if I don’t get out in the bush with the metal detector at least once a week!”
Check out Glenn’s Victorian Gold Hunters YouTube Channel by clicking here.