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DAMIEN LANE – ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL SEASON ON THE ROAD


PERHAPS Damien Lane’s surname should instead be “Road”!

Whilst the affable Wyong trainer might not consider himself a modern-day version of the Leyland Brothers, travelling all over the countryside is something he has certainly become accustomed to.

Lane’s latest jaunt was a 12-hour round trip to Grafton with three horses for last Sunday’s opening of Clarence River Jockey Club’s historic five-day July carnival – and it was a successful one.

To coin Meat Loaf’s famous 1970s hit, two out of three ain’t bad.

Promising filly Deep Opinions landed the Grafton Guineas Prelude (1420m), and Propel Motion took the Class 1 Handicap (1215m). Darryl McLellan, Lane’s most successful jockey, rode the pair.

Though Lane admits it takes up a lot of time hitting the road with his horses, at the same time he says it is necessary to achieve the best possible results he can for his owners.

“You have to place your horses where you consider they can be competitive, and I especially enjoy the overnight stays on longer trips when you go away,” he said.

“It gives me the chance to catch up with other racing folk, enjoy a beer and a meal, and see all the different set-ups.

“I like to try to take a few horses on those trips, which helps split the costs for our owners.”

Lane’s policy of “have horse, will travel” was set in stone right from the start when, as a Coonamble native, he took out his training licence, and was quickly on the road.

Sixteen years have elapsed this week since his first runner resulted in a six-hour return trip to start She’s A Goldigger at Moree on July 6, 2007.

The mare had already had a few trainers, and Lane over the next 10 months gave her as many starts at nine different country tracks for a solitary placing; second at the Tottenham picnics in March, 2008.

He has raced horses on no less than 45 country tracks in NSW, to say nothing of the provincial and city circuit, various trips to Queensland with success, and one to visit the “Mexicans” in Victoria, where luck deserted him.

“Sonnet Star won the Wellington Boot in 2021, and I took her to Melbourne later that year in spring for the Group 3 Red Roses at the Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington,” Lane recalled.

“The other Lane (jockey Damian, but not related) rode her and felt she should have won. She finished fourth and was beaten less than a length.”

Though Lane started work as an apprentice carpenter and later was also involved in a family glazing business, there was little doubt he was always going to train.

Growing up in the bush, his father and uncles all trained racehorses at various stages, and he lived a stone’s throw from stables.

He rode a bit of trackwork for a while, but was always too big to ever become a jockey.

After having “around 12 or 15 starters” without success from his Coonamble base, Lane decided it was time to head toward the coast for a new beginning (fellow Wyong trainer Allan Kehoe also moved from Coonamble around the same time).

“Things were tough in Coonamble, and it was time to move,” he explained.

Lane began working for another Wyong trainer Rod Bailey, but never abandoned his quest to become a successful trainer in his own right.

He had one horse in his care working for Bailey, and also helped out another former Wyong trainer Michael Clout, learning as much as he could about the caper.

Lane acknowledges it was a struggle in those early days, battling along with a few cast-offs and making ends meet by also working at Wyong racecourse on the maintenance staff.

Eventually, his journey began to take shape.

A horse he “imported” from Victoria in 2010 gave him his breakthrough winner; Benny Blue Eyes at Gosford on February 10, 2011.

“I was lucky enough to be able to lease Benny Blue Eyes from the Hirsch family, although I didn’t know them,” he said. “He had raced 10 times in country Victoria for one placing (at Mildura in 2009 on debut).

“Benny Blue Eyes ran second at Cessnock and Gilgandra at his first two starts for me and then won a 1200m Maiden at Gosford at $12, ridden by Kathy O’Hara.”

That maiden victory had a profound effect on Lane’s career, though he didn’t know how much at the time.

“One of the Hirsch brothers called me out of the blue after Benny Blue Eyes won, and said they were impressed with what I had done and would send me any other horses who didn’t make the grade in Victoria,” Lane said.

“One of those horses was his younger half-brother Pirate Ben, who hadn’t raced when he came to me.

“He didn’t show a lot at first and ran last in a Gosford barrier trial, and then was unplaced at his first two starts at Port Macquarie and Muswellbrook before breaking through at Armidale.

“Pirate Ben kept improving and won three of his first seven starts. He ended up winning 10 races, including the Gooree Cup at Mudgee, Taree and Wellington Cups, and three in town, and earned $314,000 in prizemoney.”

Lane credits both Pirate Ben and another good horse at the time, All But Gone, as being the catalysts to increasing his stable numbers.

“My wife Kate and myself bought All But Gone for only $1200 at an Inglis bloodstock sale in 2013.

“He won nine races, including the Country Cup at Scone and one at Canterbury, and earned $311,000.”

With the help of those two horses, Lane began to make an impact, winning 14 races in the 2015-16 season – and it caught the attention of another Wyong trainer, Group 1 winner Steve Farley.

Farley’s unfortunate 12 months’ outing over a positive cobalt result proved fortunate for Lane.

“Steve recommended to his owners that the horses be transferred to me,” he said. “My stable was firing at the time with Pirate Ben and All But Gone winning races, and I was starting to get a bit of a name in the industry.

“I don’t think getting those extra horses would have happened had it been six months’ earlier.

“It was a turning point for sure. My hands were full and I stopped working at the race club to focus on training full-time.

“Many of those new owners are still with me, and Steve (who later came back to training, but on a smaller scale) and I get on well.”

Lane has two barns of 20 and 17 at the track at Wyong, and also has a 10-acre property (Glenvale Park) only 15 minutes away – and considers that a huge advantage.

“I unloaded the three horses we took to Grafton at the farm on Monday night, and they will be there for a few days,” he said. “Being away from the track refreshes their mind.”

Lane’s training operation is a real family affair, with wife Kate, an experienced horsewoman, heavily involved, along with her parents, former successful Gosford trainer Bob Law and wife Jenny.

“Jenny looks after the farm, and Bob helps out floating horses to and from the track,” he said.

It’s been an excellent few days for the stable, with Oakfield Mahogany winning at Kembla Grange last Saturday, Deep Opinions and Propel Motion at Grafton the following day, and Oakfield Redgum scoring at Wyong yesterday.

The latter was his 30th winner of the season (17 have been on country tracks) – and the proof is in the pudding for Lane’s hard work and set-up, consistently averaging nearly 32 winners a season for the past seven racing years.

But he’s not resting on his laurels.

Lane, who was “Trainer of the Carnival” at Grafton in 2017, capturing two of the time-honored features (the South Grafton Cup with Mr McBat and Kirby Handicap with Johnny Roo Boy), is heading back to the Jacaranda City on the weekend with a couple of runners for Sunday’s meeting.

Then he will bring them back on Monday before returning there the following day with more carnival horses, including Deep Opinions for her Grafton Guineas (1600m) assignment next Wednesday.

A $25,000 yearling, the three-year-old is already a bargain buy, having won four races – and her trainer is already looking ahead to next autumn.

“She was cheap being a Deep Field filly,” Lane said. “I feel she is the ideal type for next year’s Provincial Midway Championship, especially with the final at Randwick now being worth $1m (doubled from $500,000),” he said.

“She will go to the paddock after the Grafton Guineas for a good break, but I’m going to have to manage her autumn preparation carefully if she wins next week as anything above five wins would rule her out of the Championship.”

HOOFNOTE: Winning a $1m race at Royal Randwick next year obviously would be the pinnacle of Lane’s career, but there remains another special country race which he dearly covets.

Understandably, it is his hometown Coonamble Cup.

“I had the short-priced favorite Choice Larga in 2017, and the meeting was called off after four races had been run when rain continued to fall,” Lane said.

“Then All But Gone was narrowly beaten by Red Knot the following year.

“I’ve had a few runners over the years, but haven’t had any luck so far.

“But it’s a race I will keep trying to win. Definitely.”

With the right horse or two, that means come the second weekend of October, he will be back on the road. Again.


*Words John Curtis, July 5, 2023 - Pics Bradley Photos*

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