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  • Provincial Racing NSW


HOW time flies!

It hardly seems 12 months ago that Kerry Parker celebrated his biggest triumph when a daring Nash Rawiller ride on $41 roughie Think It Over landed him the $4m Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Royal Randwick.

As Think It Over continues to recover from a tendon injury, the Kembla Grange trainer will be back at headquarters on Saturday as an onlooker to the 2023 renewal, now worth $5m.

But he will still be seeking a fourth success at racing’s elite level – this time in the $1m Queen of the Turf Stakes (1600m) with his hardy mare Hope In Your Heart.

And he has the jockey who rode his maiden Group 1 winner on board to help him achieve another important goal.

Tim Clark, who won the 2018 Queensland Derby (2200m) on Dark Dream for Parker, is back on the four-year-old daughter of Dundeel; having won both the Group 3 Tibbie Stakes (1400m) at Newcastle last September and Group 2 Guy Walter (1400m) at Randwick in February on her.

Clark had a commitment to Alligator Blood in last week’s Group 1 Doncaster Mile, when Hope In Your Heart was a splendid fourth to Mr Brightside, lifting her career earnings beyond $1.44m.

“All the signs are good that the mare has come through the Doncaster run in good order,” Parker said.

“She is back against her own age, and I’m looking forward to her running well again.”

Wollongong-born 56-year-old Parker does a tremendous job considering he doesn’t keep anywhere near a big team; he currently has 15 horses in work.

But it has been a long and hard road to eventually reach racing’s dizzy heights.

Having taken out his trainer’s licence in 1991, he recalls starting out with two horses who were all but retired.

“There were three different times early on where I didn’t have a horse to my name, either in the stable or in the paddock,” he said.

“It was tough going for sure, but fortunately I was able to ride trackwork for other Kembla Grange trainers to make ends meet.”

Parker’s first major success was in 1994 with Gold Sovereign in Australia’s oldest classic, the ATC St Leger Stakes, which then carried Group 2 status.

Gold Sovereign later that year became his first Melbourne Cup runner when he tailed the 24-strong field home behind Jeune, ridden by Wayne Harris.

His only other runner in the famous race since has been Don Raphael in 2004.

Parker won six races with the gelding, including the Group 2 Saab Quality (the old Hotham Handicap) only three days before he finished 20th at $61 to the mighty mare Makybe Diva in the Cup.

Parker began his racing career riding work for trainers Errol Amos at Canterbury and Sid Barker at Nowra, and also went walkabout, as he put it, working for David Balfour in Adelaide for five or six weeks.

But the five or so years he spent with Hall Of Famer Les Bridge at Randwick unquestionably were a great learning curve, and left him with an appetite to train in his own right.

“Les was brilliant to work for, and the fact that David Vandyke (then David Hayes) and Tim Martin were there at the same time as I was, and we all went on to become Group 1 winning trainers, says it all,” Parker said.

“I had a lot to do with horses such as Melbourne Cup winner Kensei and Row Of Waves, and the little champ Drawn, who became an established Group 1 performer.

“I said I would ride work for Les for three months, and never left!”

Parker says he was small and always wanted to be a jockey – but was never the right fit.

“I was just a bit too heavy. It was when apprentices could claim 3kg on a horse weighted at 49kg, and I was around 51 or 52kg.”

Parker’s Group 1 breakthrough with Dark Dream at Doomben five years ago when Eagle Farm was closed, was laced with a mixture of joy and disappointment as he lost the young stayer soon afterwards to Hong Kong.

“David Vandyke accommodated us at his Sunshine Coast base, and my son Aaron spent eight weeks there with the horse, and did a terrific job,” he said.

“We were never sure we would keep Dark Dream leading up to the Derby. It was one of those things where you would wake up in the morning wondering if you still had him.

“When he won, there was a great deal of satisfaction that we had achieved what we set out to do.”

Luck is worth a fortune and, whilst Dark Dream’s loss was understandably tough, now dual Group 1 winner Think It Over joined his team totally out of the blue 12 months later in mid-2019 as an unheralded three-year-old who had raced six times for a Goulburn 1300m Maiden win and subsequent placings at Hawkesbury, Scone and Randwick.

“Richard Johnson, who had Bylong Park then, had a share in a horse which the late Guy Walter sent to me,” Parker explained.

“Guy was a champion bloke and always had a bit of a wrap on me.

“He used to say I was racing’s best kept secret, and loved competing against me.

“We went head and head in the straight in the 2012 ATC Oaks at Randwick when his odds-on favorite Streama just edged out my filly Aliyana Tilde, and he was over the moon about the contest.

“The horse that Guy recommended be sent to me had only one or two starts for us, and I told the owners not to persevere with him.

“For some reason, Richard must have remembered that and rang to arrange to come and see me.

“He had bred Think It Over (by international star So You Think from the Zabeel mare Personal Service, who never raced after being unplaced in a 900m Rosehill trial in January 2008), but didn’t offer him at the yearling sales as he was leggy and immature.

“Four horses came to me; two geldings and two fillies.

“The only one I finished up keeping was Think It Over. My first impression was that he was a lovely animal and whilst I obviously knew he had ability, naturally you can never predict at that stage they would win a $4m Queen Elizabeth.

“However, I’m sure the fact we didn’t push him and allowed him to mature has been most beneficial.”

Parker’s list of credits with Think It Over include the 2020 Group 3 Craven Plate (2000m), 2021 Group 3 Liverpool City Cup (1300m), Group 1 George Ryder Stakes (1500m), Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes (1600m), Group 2 Hill Stakes (2000m), Group 3 Craven Plate (2000m) and Rosehill Cup (2000m), and of course last year’s Group 1 Queen Elizabeth, which was his last race.

He was also runner-up to triple Group 1 winner, Hawkesbury mare Duais, in last year’s Australian Cup at Flemington en route to the Queen Elizabeth.

Parker’s father lives in Nowra and his mother in Townsville, and of course follow his career closely.

“They are great supporters and very proud,” he said.

In fact, it was Les Parker who was instrumental in his son becoming involved in thoroughbreds.

“Dad had a share in a trail riding business in Kangaroo Valley (in the Shoalhaven region on the South Coast), and that’s where I first became interested in horses,” Parker said.

Nowadays, Kerry Parker is indeed blazing his own trail in racing – and doing it brilliantly.

HOOFNOTE: Whilst Think It Over hasn’t raced for 12 months, Parker is looking forward to getting him back as an eight-year-old for the spring.

“His rehab is going really well,” he said. “There’s no way we were going to rush him to get him ready for the Brisbane winter carnival.

“It’s all about giving him the right amount of time to give him every chance to make a complete recovery.”

*Words John Curtis - pic Bradley Photos*

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