Stewart and Tonkin to branch-out

By Adam Hamilton

JUST hours before the return of one of their stable stars, top Aussie trainers Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin have shocked the harness industry.

In coming months, the champion training team will branch into thoroughbred pre-training and scale back the size of their huge harness operation.

Tonkin confirmed the plan while talking about the return to racing of 2019 Chariots Of Fire winner and Miracle Mile placegetter Poster Boy at Melton on Saturday night.

He revealed they had partnered with a few clients, most notably high-profile owner Justin Baker, to buy a large chunk of land neighboring their harness property at Cardigan, near Ballarat.

“It’ll be a pre-training centre for thoroughbreds,” he said. “It’s a huge set-up, we’re pouring millions of dollars into it. It’ll be awesome and, hopefully, be operating by about July.”

It’s an astute long-range plan with Ballarat continue to grow rapidly as a training base for thoroughbreds and opportunities increasingly for pre-trainers.

“It’s about building a sustainable future and finding a way we don’t have to work as crazily hard as we do now,” Tonkin said. “Don’t get me wrong, harness has been great to us, but we can’t keep going long term with so many horses and working these hours for the returns we get.

“We will keep training the pacers and trotters, but just not with the huge numbers we’ve got now.

“We’re really excited about the pre-training set-up and the early support we’re getting for it has been fantastic.”

Tonkin is also excited about Poster Boy’s returns from almost a year out, after cheating death with pneumonia and some other tendon issues.

“He got so sick, it was touch-and-go for a while, then when we pulled through that we found some issues with the tendons around a foot and had to rehab him for four months,” Tonkin said.

“He’s ready to go and it’s not a strong race. There’s talk of metro racing returning in Victoria in the next few weeks and that’s crucial for us to keep a horse like Poster Boy racing, rather than stand him at stud next season and think about a comeback again after that.

The stable’s other brightest star, Ride High, is also close to a return after a throat operation.

“It’ll be great to have him back, too. I think he’s our best horse, a bit of a freak really, while Emma (Stewart) thinks Poster Boy is our best. Hopefully they both comeback well and we get to find out,” Tonkin said.

Another horse who has Tonkin and Stewart buzzing is top young trotter Alpha Male, who is less than a month away from the races after injury.

Alpha Male galloped when beaten when third and second at first two runs and then won three on end, including two at Group 1 level, before injury struck after a Melton win on March 9, last year.

“He’s just the most magnificent horse to look at. He looks like he’s standing at stud now,” Tonkin said. “He’s just got so much ability and such a huge motor. We can’t wait to see him back racing.”

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