Alice Springs holds no worries for trainer Greg Connor
Alice Springs-based trainer Greg Connor has called the centre of Australia home for six decades and while far from oblivious to the crime and violence the town is experiencing, he also does not feel threatened by the constant theft and alcohol-fuelled upheaval making interstate and international headlines.
Connor feels somewhat sheltered, living on his property 15 kilometres out of town and five kilometres from Pioneer Park, Alice Springs’ oil-based dirt racecourse, which hosts its annual Cup meeting on Sunday as well as a lead-up card today.
“When you do go to town it is a bit daunting, I might say, for some people to see that side of things,” Connor said of the almost riot-like scenes across Alice Springs.
“There’s a lot of thefts and things like that, cars being stolen in town, which obviously hits the news and affects a lot of people.
“Kids are roaming the streets and if something looks like it is accessible then they’ll have a crack at it.
“In town there’s been some quite nasty things happening, but like I said, I don’t feel threatened by it because I am out here and when I go into town I pretty much ignore it. The younger folk do [go out to the casino or pub at night], but I certainly wouldn’t.”
Prime minister Anthony Albanese visited Alice Springs in January with snap alcohol bans put in place and while the booze restrictions may have helped curb the illegal activity to some extent, one big difference Connor believes has been the relocation of some sporting competitions being played in Alice.
“They’ve stopped the districts’ footy coming into town, which has probably helped out because a lot of what was happening, these young fellas were coming into town and they don’t go back, they hang around town for three or four days,” the trainer said.
“So, now they’re not allowing the community footballers to play in town, they’ve got to play in their own communities.”
The son of legendary Territory trainer Neville Connor, who died aged 86 in 2016, Greg was his foreman for three decades before branching out on his own while simultaneously running an automotive repair business.
However, Connor turned to full-time training about two years ago and he says Territory racing is in a pretty good space. He has 18 horses currently in work, about as many as any Alice Springs-based trainer will have at any one time, and since taking out his own licence in 2011 he has prepared 217 winners.
Connor said: “I can’t see too many problems at the moment as far as our racing goes. Our prize-money’s very good for us and it’s just got another increase.”
He has trained 12 winners so far this season and by his own admission has hit a dry spell, but Connor could turn his fortunes around with ten horses accepted across this weekend’s two Pioneer Park meetings including Bar Gem (Barbados) and Flying Start (Flying Artie) in the $100,000 Pioneer Sprint (1200m).
Most trainers then hitch the float to Darwin for the two-month winter carnival, culminating in the $200,000 Darwin Cup (2050m) on August 7, but Connor is unlikely to be a major participant.
“Dad and I used to [go to Darwin] and I did for about ten years, I suppose, but when Covid hit it put a bit of a stop on things and I didn’t go back last year,” Connor said.
“I sent up a young fella who used to be my apprentice, Dan Morgan, and he took a few up and did well and I think I’ll do the same this year.
“It is a pretty expensive operation. There used to be free stable rent and all those things, but not anymore, and last time I went I was there for about 12 weeks and, all up, it cost me about $60,000.
“For the past couple of years, I’ve stayed here and I’ll send something up for specific races if they’re good enough.”
A seven-lot Alice Springs Select Tried Horse Sale, which is being conducted with the assistance of Magic Millions, will be held after the completion of today’s five-race card, the precursor to Cup day on Sunday.
David Chester has been dispatched to the Red Centre as the auction house representative for the sale, jetting out from the Gold Coast to Alice Springs yesterday.
And just a note: none of my calls are so important that anyone needs to answer them as the plane is taking off, but I appreciate the courtesy nonetheless, David, even though the air hostess was not quite as understanding, nor was she familiar with ANZ Bloodstock News.
Arrowfield Stud doesn’t have a new stallion in 2023, but that doesn’t mean the Hunter Valley nursery hasn’t been on the lookout for fresh blood to add to its roster, which is home to champion sire Snitzel and the progressive Dundeel.
John Messara, who made a successful high-stakes play which led to five-time Group 1 winner The Autumn Sun returning to the place of his birth at Arrowfield in 2019 and Dundeel’s son Castelvecchio in 2020, says he and his partners are ready to roll again when the next potential top stallion prospect emerges.
“It is harder to acquire stallions [now] because a lot of the horses who end up winning the good races are owned in syndicates where a farm is a part-owner and they end up standing the horse,” Messara says in reference to the likes of Coolmore (Shinzo and Home Affairs) and the Newgate-China Horse Club syndicate (Wild Ruler and Russian Revolution, among others).
“It does make it more difficult but we want to stand exceptional animals at stud, rather than just a Group 1 winner – and it’s hard to win a Group 1 race, I know that – but I think we’re looking for exceptional horses like the Dundeels and the Castelvecchios and The Autumn Suns and those horses and they don’t come around all the time.
“I don’t think we’ve missed out on anything we’ve really badly wanted at this stage, but we are cashed up and ready to go if the right one comes along.”
Stallion farms right across the east coast of Australia were plagued by lower than normal conception rates in 2022 and Arrowfield Stud was no exception but John Messara is confident that fertility rates will be back to normal this coming spring.
“Last year I think it was an aberration. A lot of farms were affected. We tested our stallions during the season and there was nothing wrong with them, they were fine, and so it was the mares and I think it was the unseasonal [wet] weather we had for so long,” Messara told us this week.
“It was teeming with rain for so long, what it did to the paddocks, what it did to the grass and what it did to their [mares] systems, I don’t know, but it was definitely more difficult to get mares in foal last year than it has been.
“It is the only thing we can put it down to and, interestingly, it ran across the industry, so it wasn’t just us. I think it’ll be business back as usual, the paddocks look good and we are very happy with where we are at the moment, so we are looking forward to a good spring.”