By Duane Ranger
Donna McKinnis’s sharp eye for quality didn’t put her off buying a filly that had spent the first three years of her life roaming her New South Wales property.
McKinnis spotted Ballerina Couru on the internet and after some detective work discovered that she was the only filly and just one of two foals left out of the un-raced Shark Gesture mare, Demi Plie.
“We bought Ballerina Couru when she was three off the late Colin Varcoe in Goulburn," McKinnis said.
"Colin kept in touch with me after the purchase and was very happy when she won her first race at Newcastle.
“We knew the mare’s first foal, a Shadow Play colt named the Shady One had performed very well. He has won 23 races and more than $160,000.
"Trevor Lambourn had him and I think he’s still racing. He and Ballerina Couru were the first two foals out of the mare."
Ballerina Couru notched up her eighth win in 21 starts in the $12,000 Horse And Hound Pace at Albion Park on Saturday night.
The five-year-old Sportswriter mare has also placed five times and won $57,927. It was her fifth win at ‘The Creek’.
“We are very proud of what she has achieved since we bought her," trainer McKinnis (Craig) added.
"She was quite cheap and has done an excellent job. She had her first six starts in NSW and Victoria, where she won at Newcastle (November 16, 2018) and at Tabcorp Park Melton (December 31, 2018).
“She has her first race in Queensland in late May and has come quite a long way since doing nothing in her paddock.
"She’s one of the most determined and toughest horses I have trained – and I go back to the early 1980s."
Ballerina Couru drew nicely at two and thanks to a superb drive from claimer, Lachie Manzelmann, managed to lead all the way and hang on by a nose from Just Deal It.
She paced the 1,660m mobile in 1:49.4 with a 1:55.7 mile rate. Her sectionals were 29 even, 30.1, 28 even, and 28.9.
“That was a lovely drive by Lachie. He rated her to perfection. She’s the only horse I’ve got in work at the moment. We’ve also got a Cammibest 2-year-old that we bought at last year’s annual Redcliffe Sale at ‘The Triangle’.
The 57-year-old paid a tribute to his employers, Peter and Chantal McMullen.
“I love working for them and am grateful that they have allowed me to work my horse on their property at Patrick Estate. I’ve used a lot of the family over the years to drive some of my horses.
“We have been friends with John and Jeanette for more than 30 years. The family has been a tremendous help to me,” McKinnis said.
Although he thought Ballerina Couru was still “pretty green, McKinnis said he was considering taking her out of State to compete in Mares races.
“I know she can get a lot better, but I also know she is getting close to free-for-all company here in Queensland, which will make things tough for her.
“She’s no star but I want to keep racing her for now. The mare is only five, and quite lightly raced. Even though she’s the only one that can carry on the family name, I don’t think I’ll breed from her. I may give her back to the family she came from,” McKinnis said.
McKinnis, who no longer drives has reined and trained about 300 winners since he got his licenses in the early 1980s. His best have been Adios Austrax, Paragon Pearl, Franco Glen, and Adios Astro.
“I love the game and have done for most of my life. Both my family and Donna’s family (Madden) have been heavily involved for most of our lives. In fact, I met Donna at Albion Park not long before we got married 34 years ago.
“I just would like to thank all the drivers who have driven for me over the years. They have all done a wonderful job. Thanks Lachie,” McKinnis said.
Five minutes after Ballerina Couru won race five, the meeting was called off due to a power cut. Surrounding suburbs were also blacked out.
One of the other impressive wins on the five-race card came from Rock With Sam in the feature pace – the $14,000 Remembering Almost An Angel Pace.
Once Brendan Barnes got the Jack Butler trainee to the lead at the 700m the race was for second.
“He’s such a tough pacer and really hard to get past when he’s in front. I think he’s good enough to win races out of State now. That was a gutsy win,” Barnes said.
Rock With Sam notched up his 17th career win and 16th at Albion Park by pacing the 1,660m mobile in a slick 1:56.4 (mile rate 1:52.9). His sectionals were 27.4, 29.2, 28.7, and 27.7.
Meanwhile, two Queensland drivers notched up two good wins at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday night.
The Jacob Wallace trained Royal Lincoln won the $14,000 Gerrard’s Real Rewards eighth event for the Up to R70 pacers. Robert Morris did the driving.
Then a race later the Grant Dixon trained and driven Aqua Miss won a similar Pumps Up to R70 Pace, which was also worth $14,000.