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  • Provincial Racing NSW


TALK about a dream start!

It was only a few days shy of Valentine’s Day, but it may as well have been when husband and wife Mitch and Desiree Kearney had the perfect beginning to their joint training partnership five years ago on February 11 at the Bathurst Cup Showcase meeting.

Their success in the Bill Aspros Cup (1200m) with $16 chance Final Trick, ridden by Winona Costin, was with their very first starter together.

And the hard-working couple’s joint venture came at the recommendation of Racing NSW stewards.

“I’m from a racing family, and it had always been a dream of mine to train,” Desiree Kearney explained.

“When I got my licence, the stewards suggested that as Mitch was already training, we should train as a partnership rather than start out on my own.

“We could not have wished for such a great start to our venture, winning with our first starter.”

Whereas Desiree wanted to train, Mitch was keen to ride – and the training side arose through a visit to Queensland during school holidays.

“I rode in trials, and was going to be an amateur jockey, but weight got in the way,” Mitch explained.

“I used to visit my uncle Chris Kearney, who was a jockey at the time and is now training, at the Sunshine Coast.

“When I was 16, I stayed there for a week during the holidays and that’s when I began to get really interested in the horses.”

The popular Hawkesbury couple is one of three husband and wife training partnerships at the Provincial track (along with Phil and Tara Vigouroux and Jason Attard and Lucy Keegan-Attard), and met at TAFE.

Their friendship blossomed some time later when Mitch was working at Muskoka Farm.

“My brother was also at Muskoka and I was working for fellow Hawkesbury trainer Garry White at the time,” Desiree said.

“I went to visit him, caught up with Mitch again and when our relationship started to get serious, I moved to Muskoka to be with him.

“We were married in 2012.”

Having started a family – the Kearneys have two children, Jack (13) and Isabella (10) – Desiree put her training ambitions on hold.

“The Hawkesbury area has always been home to me, and when we moved back here in 2015, I mentioned to Mitch that I was still keen to pursue a training career,” she said.

“What’s stopping you?,” was his reply – and so the joint venture, thanks to stewards, was set in motion.

Mitch Kearney had begun training whilst at Muskoka, and his first winner, fittingly, was at their now home track at Hawkesbury, with another mare Silk Spun (also at $16) in a 1600m Maiden on July 20, 2014.

Whilst the American-bred mare won only that one race, she was indirectly responsible for later providing the Kearneys with a memorable city breakthrough in their partnership.

Hard Spun’s first foal (by Nicconi) was Heza Gentleman, who won a midweek Benchmark 64 Handicap (1400m) at Warwick Farm on August 12, 2020 at $31, with apprentice Cejay Graham aboard.

The accomplished wet tracker scored again 12 months later on the Kensington track, and then really put his trainers in the spotlight by winning three consecutive races (all on rain-affected ground) at the Canterbury Friday night session later that year.

Unfortunately, the now six-year-old gelding hasn’t raced for almost a year, and is currently sidelined with a fractured sesamoid injury.

“We’ll get him scanned in another month to determine if we can put him back into work,” Mitch Kearney said.

“If not, he will be retired. Heza Gentleman has been such a good horse to us that we wouldn’t take any risks with him if he hasn’t recovered fully.”

Desiree Kearney, always on the lookout for a bargain buy, clearly has an eye for one. She picked up the 2019 Gold Coast $300,000 yearling purchase, oddly-named gelding Lady Shenanigans, for only $1750 online in April 2021 before he had even raced for a leading Sydney stable.

The Zoustar five-year-old has won five races and been placed 10 times, and earned just over $131,000 prizemoney.

The Kearneys presently have 10-12 horses in work with room for more, and are going through a stage which all trainers experience at one time or another.

“A few horses are not performing as well as we would have hoped, and we’re just going through the process of deciding whether they’re worth keeping on with,” Desiree said.

Mitch Kearney also works part-time driving floats for Prestige Transport, and the couple did a tremendous job for the industry at various stages of the COVID pandemic, helping get horses to race meetings and saddling them for their respective races.

Desiree says her Mum Glenda is an amazing help to them in their training business.

“Mum works at night at a local club, and whilst the children now don’t need minding, is always there at the drop of a hat to help out whenever needed,” she said.

And whilst the couple continue to ply their trade, it seems daughter Isabella is also ingrained in the industry.

“Isabella loves the horses,” Desiree said. “She can’t wait until she turns 14, and will be out there riding them on the track.”

HOOFNOTE: Being a married couple, we had to ask the obvious question. Do they ever have arguments about the training caper?

“Every day,” they laughed. “But we work as a team,” Desiree said.

“Our horses do trackwork in pairs, and we both ride them.

“Mitch looks after all the nominations, acceptances etc, booking the jockeys and getting our runners to the races, and I manage the feeding side and the after care of our horses.

“Like every couple, we have our moments, but generally it works pretty well.”

*Words John Curtis, May 22, 2023 - pics supplied*

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