Tony McEvoy

published: 13 May 2013 in Personality profiles

Learning at the hands of a master in Colin Hayes has certainly helped Tony McEvoy in his climb to the top ranks of Australian trainers. Now the South Australian is enjoying the next stage of his career and is training plenty of winners from his state-of-the-art property Kildalton Park.

IN 2010 Tony McEvoy, then 49, decided to give himself the opportunity to shine in his own right. For nearly all of the previous 33 years he had been accumulating his knowledge of the racing industry under the guidance of the Hayes family at Lindsay Park, at Angaston, in South Australia.
  After beginning as an apprentice and rising to become travelling foreman with the legendary Colin Hayes, Tony spent time as assistant trainer with Colin’s sons, David and Peter, before being appointed Lindsay Park’s head trainer in 2001. During his four seasons in charge Tony prepared an impressive total of 927 winners for earnings of $26.7m. During that period he won the coveted Cox Plate at Moonee Valley with Fields of Omagh, a VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes with Barely a Moment and a South Australian Oaks with Larrocha at the elite level. His score sheet also included 11 Gr.2 victories, 13 Gr.3 events and 47 Listed races, as well as the 2002-03 Melbourne Trainers’ Championship and three Adelaide trainers’ premierships.
  On David’s return from Hong Kong in 2005 Tony had “no problems” going back to the position of assistant trainer, but then five years later, when an opportunity to purchase the Lindsay Park training facility arose, he took his chance. Besides having the benefit of working in a rarefied environment with thoroughbred luminaries such as Almaarad, At Talaq, Beldale Ball, Better Loosen Up, Desirable, Dulcify, Fields of Omagh, Jeune, Miss Finland, Red Tempo, So Called, Special and Zabeel, Tony had a business partner ready to lend support. 
A long-time friend and enthusiast owner Wayne Mitchell was fully aware of Tony’s capabilities and entered into a partnership to form McEvoy Mitchell Racing.
  Although starting out with only a handful of horses, the stable won the Adelaide Trainers’ Premiership in its first full season of operation, which was a surprise even to Tony. “I thought it would have taken longer, but I was happy it didn’t,” he said. “We’ve now grown to the point where we have 100 horses on the books and are looking to being competitive in the major races in the spring. So we will just wait and see what happens from here, but I think it will be an interesting ride.”
  It had all begun for Tony many years earlier at the peaceful, picturesque coastal resort of Streaky Bay on the western coastline of South Australia, some 720km west of Adelaide. Like all the locals Tony and his five brothers, Peter, Phillip (who is jockey Kerrin’s Dad), Geoffrey, Stephen and Darren, fished the waters of the Great Australian Bight as they were growing up. Even though it was a town of a little more than 1000 residents another attraction was the racecourse, where respected trainer Bill Holland was based, and it was not long before both the track and Bill began playing a significant role in Tony’s life.
  “Bill trained horses for our parents Charlie and Connie. The best they had with him was a horse named Wavemaker, who I think won about 18 races. Naturally, I was going to school but I had started riding around at the country shows at a very early age, and from around eleven I began riding track work for Bill.
  “The horses became my life from that time onwards,” Tony said. “I’d ride track work in the morning, I’d come home at lunchtime and feed the horses and then couldn’t wait to get home and feed them at night. 
That meant school went by pretty quickly for me because I just had horses on my mind.”
  Although Tony’s size was always going to be a concern, it was a natural progression for him to become apprenticed to Bill, which he did in 1975. 
“I had a really good start, they only race in seasons over on the west coast and I rode 30 winners in the first six months I was riding.”
  His successes brought him to the attention of Colin Hayes who was searching for a claiming apprentice, and it was in 1976, at 15 years of age, that he first walked through the gates of Lindsay Park. That was the beginning of a close relationship with C.S., which lasted until the master trainer’s death in May 1999.
  During the two and a half years he rode for the stable, before weight caught up with him, Tony landed 100 winners, which included the 1977 South Australian Oaks-Gr.1 on the Hermes (GB) filly Deesse (NZ). 
The victory came only a matter of months before Tony experienced the devastation of the downside of racing.
  “We had a filly named Private Show, who was by Lindsay Park’s great stallion Without Fear from the Fortino mare Salon. She won the Dequettville Stakes by 11 lengths at her first start but then she went sore in the knees, had an operation, thrashed coming out of the anaesthetic and had to be put down. She was an incredibly fast filly and could have been anything, so it was a tragic day when we lost her.”
  When increasing weight ended Tony’s days riding for C.S. he went back to the west coast and rode there “for a little while”. “After that I went to Darwin and Alice Springs and rode for four months, but that was it as far as race riding was concerned,” he said. 
“With that I went back to Streaky Bay in 1980 and started shearing. It was something Peter and Geoffrey were doing so I followed their lead, but after about six or seven months I got the call for the horses again.”
  So Tony was back at Lindsay Park later that year as a stable hand and began working on the pre-training side of the business. “What I was doing included riding work, breaking-in, handling mares and stallions and doing foal watch. C.S. had us doing everything in those days. It was the early days of the European stayers coming in, and of course, not long after I arrived back he won his first Melbourne Cup with Robert Sangster’s horse Beldale Ball.”
  Within a few years Tony was promoted to the role of travelling foreman and was taking the horses around the country. “That included Sheikh Hamdan’s At Talaq who won the stable’s second Melbourne Cup in 1986; the Newmarket Handicap winner Red Tempo, and Top Post who won races like the Ascot Vale Stakes.
  “C.S. had a long list of outstanding horses including Special who was an absolute speedster, and Sheikh Hamdan’s Almaarad who won the Cox Plate in 1989, right through until his retirement in 1990. In those days it was just head down, bum up, but there were a lot of good horses around. 
  “It was all very exciting and I was very fortunate because C.S. took me under his wing. We got on very well, and thankfully, I was a very good listener and I watched and learned the whole way through. 
I suppose what impressed me most was his eye for detail, his understanding of the horse, and the time that he was prepared to spend with his horses.
  “Whether at Lindsay Park or in Melbourne he was always around the stables; and he never went on holidays or went away anywhere . . . that was his life and it was the way he lived it. When I look back I think that was the key to the extraordinary success he achieved.
  “Then David started off in sensational fashion winning the 1990 Cox Plate with Better Loosen Up and training the six Group races winners on Victoria Derby Day a week later. David and I had pretty much grown up together and I had become his assistant when he took over. Because I was in that position I missed going to Tokyo when Better Loosen Up won the Japan Cup, because I was running home base while David was away.”
  It was in 1990, the year Zabeel won the Australian Guineas, that Tony and his wife, Jo, were married. “Jo has been an exceptional support and has an incredible depth of knowledge of the industry. She rode track work for C.S. and one of the horses she would ride was Zabeel, which is quite a recommendation. Importantly too, she is a good steady thinker, who helps keep me on level ground.”
  Their daughter Eliza, 20, is a university student while Calvin, 18, is very much into following in his father’s footsteps and is currently doing a “stint” with David Hayes at Euroa. “We are giving Calvin every chance to build up his experience, and I’m hoping that by the time he is 24 or 25 he will be able to come in and help his old man,” Tony said.
  Five years after his marriage to Jo a new era began in Tony’s career when David decided to accept a retainer to train in Hong Kong. “We had won a lot of good races in those years including another Melbourne Cup for Sheikh Hamdan with Jeune, who was a great galloper. We had a lot of fun and it was a very enjoyable time.”
  It was following David’s departure that his elder brother Peter, who had developed his own stable, agreed to return to Lindsay Park as trainer with Tony as his assistant. Everything continued smoothly and the winners continued to flow for more than five years with Peter winning the Melbourne Trainers’ Premiership in 1995-96 and again in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 as well as five consecutive Adelaide titles. Devastatingly, misadventure struck in March, 2001, when Peter was killed in a light plane crash.
  In the trauma of the aftermath David rushed home from Hong Kong to be with the family. “As you can understand it was a terrible time, with everyone so distraught about what had happened,” Tony said. “During the grieving process David and I managed to squeeze in a few minutes to discuss what was going to happen. At that stage David felt he had unfinished business in Hong Kong and wasn’t ready to return to Lindsay Park, which led to me being elevated to the position of trainer.”
  The faith displayed in Tony was soon rewarded when he regained the Melbourne Trainers’ Premiership for Lindsay Park from Lee Freedman in 2002-03. However, as the spring carnival was approaching he encountered problems when four of the stable’s prized three year-olds suffered setbacks and he found his star, Fields of Omagh behind schedule after damaging a suspensory ligament in the VRC Australian Cup at Flemington in March. After finishing last behind Exceed and Excel in the VATC Dubai Racing Club Cup at Caulfield, the situation improved when Fields of Omagh flashed home to run second to Roman Arch in the VATC Toorak Handicap.
  That performance convinced Tony that the Rubiton gelding deserved a shot at the $3m MVRC Cox Plate, and in the finest traditions of his predecessors, his judgement proved correct. With Steven King aboard Fields of Omagh went to the front more than 400m out and then successfully withstood challenges to score by a neck from Defier, with Lonhro a half-length away in third place. The triumph boosted Fields of Omagh’s record to an imposing 10 wins, six seconds and three thirds from 25 outings for prizewinnings of $3,247,870, which was due in a significant degree to Tony’s skills as a trainer.
  “It was some win, Stephen and I planned to be third in the running and then move into the race from the 800m. Everything went according to the way we worked it out, which was just brilliant for the connections and the stable.”
  Another Gr.1, the race was still regarded as being at the elite level then, was notched up early in the new year when Barely a Moment won the VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes. By season’s end Tony had saddled up the winners of 18 stakes races, which placed him third behind only John Hawkes and Gai Waterhouse on the national listings. “We won a lot of good races besides the Cox Plate and the other two Gr.1 events. They included a Moonee Valley Fillies’ Classic, an Angus Armanasco and Kewney Stakes with Elegant Fashion, a Blamey Stakes with Market Price and a Magic Night Stakes in Sydney with Alizes, who was ridden by Darren Beadman.”
  Then, in the middle of 2005, David came back from Hong Kong and resumed as Lindsay Park’s trainer at the beginning of the new season. “I stayed on as assistant trainer,” Tony said. “He had been away for 10 years, which is quite a long time, and the racing landscape had changed a bit. As a result David needed some help to settle back into Australian racing again so I was very happy to sit back and support him. That was no problem at all for me.”
  Again it was an exciting time for the operation with David capturing the feature juvenile double of VATC Blue Diamond Stakes with Sheikh Hamdan’s Nadeem and STC Golden Slipper Stakes with Arrowfield’s Miss Finland. He sent out 46 individual two year-old winners in 2005-06 and he followed that in the 2006-07 season with 11 Gr.1 winners, which earned him the Fred Hoysted Award for training achievement. 
  The combination remained together for another two years until Tony was presented with the opportunity to buy the 288-acre (116ha) training side of Lindsay Park, because of David’s development of his new base at Euroa in Victoria.
  “I had been thinking of going out on my own and I grabbed my chance with both hands.” Along the way, Tony remembers it was 1998, he had met Wayne Mitchell whose company Mitchell Water is behind Australia’s largest water distribution project in Victoria’s Wimmera-Mallee region.
  “At the time I met Wayne his company was building a pipeline through the Barossa Valley. We got on very well, we did a bit of fishing together and we owned a couple of slow racehorses together. Wayne finished up having five or six horses in training with David, before expanding into the game quite heavily and having horses with Gai Waterhouse, John Hawkes, and Mike Moroney. Anyway, when I mentioned what I was planning to do he fully supported the idea and backed me by becoming my business partner, which was very good.”
  Besides buying what is now a state-of-the-art training facility, named Kildalton Park, McEvoy Mitchell Racing also purchased the pre-training property which has been named Kildalton Farm, at Murbko on the River Murray from Lindsay Park’s holdings.
  “The places were named after an area in Scotland, where my family basically come from. We felt the name had a nice ring to it. I have put in a new 1600m Viscoride track at Kildalton Park and we have totally renovated the 1800m grass track. Added to that we’ve done a lot of fencing, upgraded the pastures, and we’ve put in a track at Murbko where we do the education of all the young horses.”
  With only four horses in the team to begin with the going was especially difficult early on, yet the stable still managed to win the Adelaide premiership in the 2011-12 season. Lately, as part of this process of growing the business, Tony has worked out a formula for importing stayers from the northern hemisphere, which is already proving to be a worthwhile venture.
  Foremost of the imports is Le Roi (GER), by Areion, who after scoring three wins in Adelaide and Melbourne registered a comprehensive victory under Glyn Schofield in the ATC Summer Cup-Gr.3 (2400) at Randwick. Mouro (USA), a half-brother to the Hong Kong star California Memory, by Grand Slam, has won two races in Adelaide while the My Risk horse Sysmo (FR) is a winner at Morphettville. Also among the earliest imports is Saint Desir (GB), by Barathea, who is a winner at Saint-Cloud and Longchamp and although he has only placed since coming Down Under, he is rated highly by Tony.
  Joining this quartet recently are two younger horses from France. Both 2010 foals, they are Big Memory (FR) who is a winner at Fountainbleau by Duke of Marmalade, and a Soave filly You Are My World (FR) who was successful at Longchamp.
  “We have been buying for longevity,” Tony said. 
“Of the four we bought out last year I am hoping Le Roi and Saint Desir will develop into Cups horses, but Big Memory and You Are My World will be at least a year away. It is a difficult market in which to grow but we feel the biggest asset we have is the amazing number of facilities we can provide for the horses.
  “Our tracks are already proven because three Melbourne Cup winners have been prepared on them. Added to that we’ve modernised them as well as upgrading everything else, so we feel we have a lot to offer to owners with the combination of the facilities and the environment we have.” n