By Duane Ranger
Harness racing in Queensland has been bolstered with the return of one of Australia’s most experienced horsemen.
Craig McKinnis, who has spent a lifetime working alongside some of the nation’s best trainers and their horse-flesh, returned to the ‘Sunshine State’ four months ago to buy a house.
The 57-year-old Ararat-born ‘harness servant’ came to Queensland when he was 18. He spent 19 years working horses here before leaving for his native Victoria, where he was based for 20 years.
“Since Mum and Dad have passed away, Donna (wife) and I decided to come back to Queensland. Donna is from Marburg, and we wanted to be closer to our daughter, Zoe, who had a baby boy (Slater) three months ago.
“Zoe used to do the pony trots and Dad was a horseman, so it’s very much in our blood. This is all I’ve done since the day I left school at 15.
“We are living in Brassall for now and have just bought a home in Fernvale. We are here to stay,” McKinnis said.
A renowned farrier, McKinnis is working for Peter and Chantal McMullen at Patrick Estate. He has one horse in work named Ballerina Couru.
“I’m happy just working one, doing a bit of farrier work, and helping out Pete and Chantal for now. Ballerina Couru is a 4-year-old Sportswriter mare, who has won five races – her latest win was at her last start at Albion Park two Saturday’s ago (August 31),” McKinnis said.
“She’s in again on Saturday (race six) and has drawn well (2). Pete (McMullen) will drive her again. I like her because she always gives her best. She has got a lot of bottom to her and is the sort of horse who never dies wondering,” he added.
McKinnis said he had been close family friends with the McMullen family for decades.
“I get on well with John and Jennette, and travelled abroad with John’s father (the late John Snr) and his horses. He gave me a lot of drives back in the day. I also worked for Kevin Thomas.
“These days I’m happy mucking out the boxes for Peter and Chantal. We are still settling in and for now the main priority is getting into our new house and starting over.”
McKinnis has shod horses for most of the big trainers in Australia, including Kerryn Manning, Matt Craven, and Andy Gath. He also shod many great horses including the 2015 New Zealand Cup winner, Arden Rooney.
However, some of his most memorable moments have been working alongside his late father, Milton.
“Dad was a pastry cook and had a lot of good horses. I think Sporting Son and Sporting Star were the stand-outs.
“Sporting Son was the best Dad had. He placed in the Brisbane Interdominions behind Stanley Rio in 1977, while Sporting Star won 48 races. There have been numerous other good ones too, but those two immediately spring to mind,” McKinnis said.
“More recently I’ve been associated with Paragon Pearl (16 wins), who won a couple of juvenile classics. Master Moonlite who won a Group 2 last season for Matty (Craven); and Chip And Gale (61 wins from 300 starts) was another good one,” he added.
McKinnis said he was happy that he was back in Queensland.
“There’s a lot of speed racing here and there seems to be a lot of good breeding and racing initiatives happening. I’m looking forward to spending time here with family and old friends,” he said.
Jennette McMullen was delighted that McKinnis had returned to his old stomping ground.
“He’s not only a top horseman, but he’s a funny fella, a real character. He worked for Mattie Craven for about 18 months before he came back here.
“Taleah (youngest daughter) worked alongside him there for four months at the beginning of the year. It is so good to have Craig back. He’s the best, and always has a good story to tell,” McMullen said.