Day At The Track

Michael on the money with big gamble

12:00 PM 15 Nov 2019 NZDT
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Miss McManus after her maiden win,Harness racing
Miss McManus after her maiden win as a trotter with driver Damian Wilson and elated part-owner Norm Visca

A wild hunch by Tongala-based harness racing trainer Michael Watt has proved a winning one with stable newcomer Miss McManus.

The eight-year-old former pacing mare (Grinfromeartoear-Tasma Walton (Walton Hanover) showed at Cobram on Monday that she should have a bright future as a square-gaiter - just six weeks after switching gait.

"She's owned by Norm and Joan Visca and I still remember when I rang and told them I'd decided to give the horse a try as a trotter - to be honest I think they thought I was crazy!" Watt said.

"But she had showed me at home that she was quite comfortable trotting so I was confident I was on the right track," he said.

Watt's decision was vindicated when Miss McManus didn't put a foot wrong first-up to take out the Cliff Robinson Memorial Trot at Cobram in a handy mile rate of 2.02-6.

Driven by Damian Wilson, the mare accelerated nicely at the start to lead, but soon afterwards handed up to $2.60 favorite Bacardi Wood (Gary Pekin). Wilson waited patiently for the sprint lane and zipped through to win by 1.3 metres.


Owners Norm and Joan Visca (left) accept the trophy from representatives of the Robinson family, Andrew, Caroline and Debbie

As a pacer, Miss McManus had 65 starts for three wins and 14 placings. During her career she has been trained by father-and-son Brian and Matthew Gath, South Australians Kevin Walker and Mark Delaney, and Wilson himself.

Watt said there was "a bit of a funny story" in regard to how he initially got the mare.

"I had a few trotters in my stable and decided I needed a pacer to train, so I approached Norm (Visca) and he offered me Miss McManus," he said.

"So in just six weeks, I jogged her up, switched her to a trotter, got her qualified and won with her with my good mate Damo taking the reins - it's surreal to look back on it," he said.

However, Watt did admit he had some early disappointment at the trials when Miss McManus went back to her old habits and paced away in a standing start.

"But I gave her a few more trials, including one at Shepparton a few days before the Cobram race and she did everything perfect and ran a close-up second," he said.

And the recent victory is not the first time Watt has tasted success by switching gaits with a pacer.

In the 1990s, he took on six-year old pacer Grimster, already a winner of three races in his 80 starts.

He converted Grimster to trotting and trialled, raced and won with him two months later, going on to a further four wins as a square-gaiter.

Watt is related to the renowned Conroy family, of Daylesford, who are noted specialists with trotters.

"I grew up with the late Bob Conroy's kids Glenn and Anne-Maree, so I was always going to have a love for the square gaiters," he said.

"Bob was an absolute legend and I've written down in a book all the things that he told me.

"He was a marvel- a man well before his time. I reckon he would have been chuffed looking down on us last Monday!"

Watt said as well, he'd picked up valuable information over the years from his dad John, a long-time trainer, who still prepares one or two as a hobby.

He also paid tribute to the Visca couple, adding the industry needed "hundreds of owners like them".

"They support their trainers to the max and they just enjoy being part of the sport."

Watt works on a 25-acre property with gallops trainer Bluey Thomas. It boasts an 800 metre track, along with other facilities including a swim, walker and treadmill.

Watt rates Great Success-sired gelding Dynamic Legacy (five wins, 15 placings for $44,000) as his best horse at present.

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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