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Club Spotlight: Blackall

IMG-5331.jpgBy Jordan Gerrans

Rookie Blackall trainer Danielle O’Brien reckons she never had a discussion that did not involve “bloody” racing with her late father Dennis.

Dennis was a long-time trainer in the central west region of Queensland until late last year before he sadly passed away after being sick for some time.

Around seven months since Dennis’ death, Danielle is now doing just what her old man loved to do – train thoroughbreds.

Danielle has been around the industry her entire life; riding work, working as a stable hand, among other roles, but becoming a trainer was not something she would have considered until a few years ago.

Danielle, who works at a tyre fitting company in Blackall, is one of a handful of licensed trainers in the town who train out of the Barcoo Amateur Race Club.

The Club, which hosts five race days a season, is gearing up for a five event non-TAB program this Saturday – a race meeting Danielle is hopeful she might bag her first career winner at, where her father trained many a winner over the years.

She has Spallina nominated, a four-year-old bay mare, who ran third at Barcaldine earlier this month, the first ever starter under the name of Danielle O’Brien after Dennis trained the winner of one career race when he was still alive.

“She went really well, better than expected,” the up-and-coming trainer said.

“I did not know if she was race fit; she was fit, but I was not sure if she was proper race fit but she kicked on well coming home.

“It was a great effort, it was a strong third, she kicked again late in the race.”

Barcoo Amateur Race Club Secretary Kylie Banks says Danielle is making her own name in the racing industry in the area. 

Barcoo-Amateur-12-FB.jpg“She is stepping up into her father’s shoes,” Banks said.

Dennis trained 89 winners in his career, saddling his first horse in a race in 1994 and had his last horse go around in August of 2020.

His daughter says racing was Dennis’ life.

“He probably did not win many races, but he certainly did love it, it was his absolute passion,” Danielle recalls.

“I don’t think we ever had a bloody conversation that did not mention racing somewhere in it.

“He was successful as a trainer, but I wouldn’t say he was a champion or anything like that - he just loved it.”

As Danielle goes searching for her first winner this weekend on her home track, she would love to have a racehorse who wins 22 races for almost $200,000 in prizemoney.


Barcoo-Amateur-01-FB.jpgA Dependant was the best horse her father ever trained, going around on 97 occasions, with the gelding running inside the top three 49 times.

Retired and now a 13-year-old, A Dependant won from the sprint trip up to staying events and Danielle says the versatile gelding was a special horse for Dennis.

“He was probably his most successful, he won more than 20 races for him and lots of those were in country cups,” Danielle said.

“He was the Cups king they used to call him.

“He loved the girl jockeys and three female jockeys that rode him, they all got pregnant not long after they won on him – he had a special touch.”

The O’Brien name is synonymous around the Barcoo Amateur Race Club, as is the last name Banks.  

Local horse owner, breeder and breaker Paul Banks has been the president of the Club for over two decades, with his wife Kylie the secretary.

Kylie was asked to become the secretary 20-odd years ago and has not looked back since.

She did not have a background in racing before marrying into the Banks family, but she certainly does now.

“Paul and his family, they have had racehorses their entire lives,” Banks said.

“The Banks family, they have had a lifetime history of racing, going back to their great grandfather.

“They have had some good horses - a few champions - who went down to Brisbane and raced, including Miss Petty – who was a famous bush horse.”

Miss Petty was most certainly a champion of bush racing.

She created history in 1989 when she set a new Australasian record for 22 consecutive wins on the racetrack.

That record was eventually broken by the legend Black Caviar in 2012, and again knocked off by Winx in 2018.

Like the Banks' and O’Briens - trainer Charlie Prow is also a well-known racing identity in the region, training for over 50 years, before riding as a jockey before that.

A handful of trainers use the track itself at Blackall, as well as the pool to work their horses and race around the surrounding areas on a consistent basis.

“The club is going well, we have a good committee and membership group right now,” Banks said.

“We are a pretty social area out here, so we get good crowds at the races no matter what.”

As a first-year trainer, Danielle says the locals have helped her along the journey in the early stages of the game, with other local trainers offering advice and help when required.

When Dennis passed away, Danielle took a break from the horses and moved on many of her father’s stable to other trainers in the region.

But, after time spent away from the track in the morning, she eventually got the bug back in November of last year.

As a track work rider and stable hand for her father in the months before he passed, there were times Dennis was too sick to attend the races or track work in the morning, so Danielle was basically training herself anyway in the last period of his life.

She eventually got the tick of approval from authorities for her own licence and has two horses in work, including Spallina, who is likely to go around on Saturday.

“I have been around the horses all my life, Dad had horses since I was born,” she said.

“I started riding track work for dad eight years ago, it has just become the norm in my life.”

Ahead of the five race program this weekend, local trainers have noted the dirt track should race in perfect fashion following recent rain in the region.

Club spotlight will be a regular feature that shines a light on the unique and individual racing clubs across Queensland.