By Duane Ranger
Queensland’s severe drought and increasing commitments at his workplace in Rocklea has meant Rosewood horseman, James Lewin, will retire from training at Albion Park this Saturday night.
The 55-year-old, will line up Allamerican Ingot gelding, Vader, from gate eight (one on the second line) in the eighth event at ‘The Creek’.
He said it was fitting that his long-time friend Ryan Veivers will do the steering behind the 9-year-old. It will also be Vader’s last race before he embarks on a life as a performance saddle horse.
The appropriately named ‘Aspirational Pace’ comes 16 years after Lewin’s first introduction into standardbreds. That came via a New Zealand imported trotter named Zyuganov, who Lewin originally purchased with his wife as a riding horse.
“Sadly, the drought has made things unsustainable. I will continue to be involved with the breed, but more so in the pleasure side of things, and maybe one day down the track, as an owner again.
“As I look back on my career, I can proudly say that all of our horses have found homes when they have retired. I have always taken on horses that are past their prime. Many have been basic giveaways.
"That has probably been my undoing, but it's just the way I wanted to go. I love horses," Lewin said.
“I am fairly sure at some stage down the track I will have another crack at training, perhaps when I retire from work, but in 2019 I have other priorities,” he added.
He said that when Zyuganov arrived, he had already had a few thoroughbreds and other breeds for riding and pleasure purposes.
“We were so taken by Zyuganov, and instantly fell in love with the breed. One thing led to another through horse events and agricultural through this horse.
“Before long I soon found myself heavily involved with the Standardbred Association of Queensland (SAQ). I served on that committee for a decade, including one term as president.
“In fact, my ex-wife who is now Melissa Bell, is still heavily involved with the SAQ and the rehoming side of horses,” the former Wavell State High School student said.
Lewin said his primary rising horse was an ex Paul Fitzpatrick trained chestnut named, Vertical Limit (see photos).
“He was a standout in the show and performance horse arena, winning many ribbons and trophies along the way.
“He also paved the way for standardbreds to be accepted in the performance horse community”
Lewin said that during his time with SAQ, the couple spent countless hours after work, and on weekends covering many kilometres picking up unwanted and retired from racing standardbreds.
“We found new homes for them and organised standardbred events and clinics. There were literally hundreds of them,” Lewin said.
He said his love of standardbreds evolved rapidly, and he then bought his first standardbred racehorse – a pacer named Gentle Spirit (two wins) and raced her at Rocklea.
“I loved Rocklea and believed it was the hub of the sport, the grass roots entry level to the industry - which is sadly missing these days.”
When he and Melissa went their separate ways, Lewin said he continued to train as a hobby horseman, doing the best he could with average facilities and hand-me-down giveaway horses.
“I continued to wave the rehoming flag very strongly and still do to this day, despite the unkindly drought. There have been other factors too, which have made it difficult,” he said.
“But believe it or not those troublesome giveaways which did teach me a lot, despite all the frustration.”
Several years ago Lewin said he met a young Ryan Veivers.
“I remember giving him some drives on a very troubled horse named Edds Wild Cash. My friendship with Ryan blossomed and we had some good success.
“We are still best friends to this day and hopefully forever. The sport needs more ‘Ryan Veivers’ types, and I would love it so much if he could get Vader home on Saturday.”
Lewin said that as Veivers ventured more into training he was fortunate enough that his mate trusted him with a couple of his fringe horses that he wanted to move on.
“Ryan also wanted to make sure that they got looked after and know where they were. That’s when Highview Sign came along.
“He was the best horse that I trained.”
That now 14-year-old Life Sign gelding ended his career on July 7, 2016, the winner of 13 of his 160 starts. He also placed 23 times and banked $47,764 in purses.
“He gave me several good wins and many good times. At the time I was also fortunate enough to have Barry and Richard Williams as good friends
“They gave me Extreme Makeover, who also won some good races for me including the 2015 Des Wallace Memorial at Marburg.
“That 29 metre win still remains one of my career highlights – right up there with him and Highview Sign, who quinella-ed a Friday race for me at Albion park one night,” Lewin said.
“Both pacers are now enjoying retired life as pleasure horses,” he added.
It was during that era, my mare (Gentle Spirit) gave birth to my first foal, Iron Flight, (by Catch A Flight). He won a couple of good races but had soundness issues.
“He’s 10 now and still enjoying life with us.”
Lewin said the last few years had been “tough”, with his 2007 Nikalong Shadow gelding, Shadow Son, being his last winner.
“That was back on January 26, 2017 at Redcliffe and I only retired him last week. He is such a troublesome horse, but has a beautiful soul.”
Lewin said he now has a new partner, Alayna, was expecting their first baby in late December.
“Alayna has also played a huge hand in assisting the plight of the breed for many years as well. She is a very accomplished show jumper and dressage rider, and has a lot success with her retired standardbreds - especially in show jumping and the show ring.”
In summary Lewin said he was grateful for what harness racing had done to his life.
“I have had some amazing horses and have met some life-long friends through, but sadly trying to juggle work getting to and from the races has been tough in recent times.
“I just want to thank all the wonderful people that I have met, especially those that have assisted me when times are tough,” said Lewin, who works in customer support at the Rocklea-based Mendham Engineering business.
Although only achieving 13 career wins, Lewin said victories were never his primary objective.
“The primary objective was to spread the word about rehoming and value of the racing. That was always my main mission.
“Harness racing was always a pleasure hobby for me and I did it for the pure enjoyment of spending time with this magnificent breed,” he said.