A plunge into the deep end

ON A MISSION: Trainer Andrew Dale and Country Championships hopeful Lautaro. Picture: MARK JESSER
ON A MISSION: Trainer Andrew Dale and Country Championships hopeful Lautaro. Picture: MARK JESSER

ANDREW Dale’s working life has included many and varied occupations.

School teacher, football coach and administrator, motel operator and now, perhaps the biggest punt of them all, racehorse trainer.

Three years ago, aged 51, Dale advanced a long-standing interest in racing from owner to fully-fledged trainer based in Albury.

Two decades earlier Dale had tested the waters of a future career in racing when he completed a diploma of horse management and breeding at Wangaratta TAFE.

But before an unconventional entry into training ranks started Dale had to shake off a footy bug which included two senior AFL matches for Melbourne in 1986 and the start of a coaching career in the Diamond Valley league.

The first of two coaching stints in the Ovens and Murray league was at Benalla, which included a runner-up finish in the Morris Medal in 1993, before a switch to Myrtleford where he also coached and took the Saints into a rare finals appearance in 1996.

A shortage of on-field success at McNamara Reserve was tempered by young guns Steve McKee and Guy Rigoni being drafted to AFL clubs during his time as coach.

Dale then coached New Norfolk in Tasmania where he also worked for the AFL before a return to the Alpine Valley and the purchase of a motel.

A chance meeting with award-winning chef, Michael Ryan, also led to the creation of Range restaurant as part of the motel complex owned by Dale and his wife, Heather.

Range won the 2008 Country Restaurant of the Year.

After seven years operating the motel, Dale did some part-time teaching in his adopted hometown of Myrtleford, before racing’s spell seduced him.

Success as an owner played a big part.

He part-owned Mr O’Cerin, who qualified for a start in the 2013 Caulfield Cup after wins in the Grafton Cup and Naturalism Stakes.

A year earlier, Dale and close mate, Ian Wales were part-owners of Wodonga Cup winner Zabisco.

Another horse, Wingardium Levioso, had an even bigger contingent of Myrtleford-based owners with Tony Chapman, Adrian Villella, Chad Rigoni and Damian Rossatto joining Dale and Wales.

Wingardium Levioso was prepared at the Albury stables of trainer Robbie Wellington where Dale began to dabble before being granted his own licence in 2014.

“It’s been a fair journey to get here, but it is what I want to do long-term,” Dale said.

“I didn’t start until I was 51 so I didn’t have time to do an apprenticeship if you like as a stable foreman or assistant trainer.

“I know it’s not your conventional start to a training career.

“I’ve thrown myself in at the deep end and I’d be kidding if I said it had been smooth sailing, but here I am.”

Dale endured the frustration and some self doubts of 33 race starts before finally breaking his duck on Albury Cup day 2015 with Itsmycall.

The horse’s owners were also becoming impatient before the break-through win which was followed up by victory in the Queen of the South Handicap on Wagga Cup day.

Twelve months later Dale struck gold again on Albury Cup day with Pacific Tycoon.

OFF AND RUNNING: Andrew Dale won the Towong Cup last Saturday with recent stable addition Little Red Devil.

OFF AND RUNNING: Andrew Dale won the Towong Cup last Saturday with recent stable addition Little Red Devil.

Despite the Albury track being out of action due to a major renovation in recent months, Dale is heading into a third Gold Cup carnival with an even bigger prize in his sights.

He saddles up top-weight Lautaro in the Southern Districts Country Championships qualifier on Sunday with the up-and-coming stayer on a Wagga Cup mission this preparation.

The $150,0000 heat is the richest race staged at Albury outside the Gold Cup.

The trainer’s confidence is on the rise after winning the Towong Cup last Saturday with Little Red Devil.

As Dale settles into the roller-coaster life as a trainer, he sees many similarities with some previous career choices.

“Working with a small team is something I’ve done for a long time,” he said.

“The processes are very similar I’ve found.

“Communication with the owners is obviously very important, but the preparation of an equine athlete and a human athlete is not that dissimilar.

“You build their fitness base up to a point where you begin the pre-season so to speak of jump outs and trials before hopefully you can hit the track running at the start of a season.

“Then it’s a matter of keeping them on the park which is no different to footballers.

“I’ve discovered in my short time training 90 per cent is commonsense and 10 per cent is just gut-feel and instinct.”

Dale’s sons Frazer, who also played two AFL senior matches, and Lachlan are working alongside their father as he attempts to build up his stable numbers.

Frazer has spent time working for David Hayes and also played football with the champion trainer’s twin sons, Will and James, at Footscray’s VFL team.

The Dale boys will line-up again for their dad’s former O and M club, Myrtleford, and like their old man they will be hoping to kick some big goals in coming seasons.

Dale never savoured the ultimate success of a premiership in his football career, but said winning a big race would come close.

“It doesn't matter if it's a race at Hay, Towong or the Albury carnival, it's just so hard with so many variables involved,” he said.