Phelan records 500th driving win
By Garrick Knight
The country boy who travelled to big smoke aged just 15 has joined an elite club occupied by many of his peers.
Scott Phelan, 37, brought up his landmark 500th New Zealand driving win behind Bella Roza at Cambridge on Thursday night.
The quiet and unassuming Phelan says bringing up the milestone was something especially significant to him.
“I might not mean a lot to most people, but it means the world to me.
“I never thought I’d get anywhere near that number.
“You start at one and keep chipping away, battling, hoping to get a few more.”
That first win is one he remembers fondly, and it was prepared by a now-departed loyal supporter of Phelan’s.
“It was The Rich Uncle for Errol Downey in May of 2000.
“Errol was a great supporter of mine when I first started out as a junior driver and I’ll be forever thankful for the chance he took on me.”
Downey died in a car accident in his home town of Kumeu in 2016.
A majority of Phelan’s wins have come for three stables – Barry Purdon, Steve Telfer and Bella Roza’s trainer, Arna Donnelly.
And while all three have played a tremendous role in getting him to 500 wins, it is Purdon who has been the biggest influence on his career.
It was Purdon and wife Katrina who took in the 15-year-old boy from Otaki when he moved north to Clevedon in 1997.
“They pretty much took me straight in.
“I was only young but I came up here looking for full time work. Tony Herlihy, who drove for Dad (Frank) on the central circuit quite a bit, he actually organized the job for me.”
Over 22 years later, after one significant stint away from the stable, Phelan is back working and driving for Purdon.
“Barry and Katrina have become like a second family to me. I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.”
It was Barry that catapulted a 21-year-old Phelan in to the spotlight when partnering him with aging champion, Holmes D G, in 2003.
They would go on to place in an Inter Dominion Final and Auckland Cup together, and give Phelan his first New Zealand Cup drive.
He was the first of many good horses Phelan has driven for Purdon, so many he can’t remember them all.
“Miracle Man, Power Of Tara, Pembrook Benny are the ones that spring to mind, but there have been too many to recall.”
Phelan was, of course, in a training partnership with Purdon from 2007 to 2011 before heading to Victoria when an opportunity arose.
He eventually moved back to Auckland and took up a key role with Stonewall Stud and Telfer for a few seasons before returning to Purdon’s in 2017.
When he parted ways with Stonewall Stud and lost the large book of drives that came with that job, he became a little disenchanted with the game.
And it was Donnelly initially that got him back on his feet.
“Arna has been really good to me the last couple of years. She’s kept me in the game, if I’m being honest.”
Bella Roza, a former Canterbury mare who had galloped on multiple occasions since joining Donnelly, might not go down as one of the greats of the game but she’ll always stick in Phelan’s memory.
“When it got up here it was just ok but as with most of Arna’s, it just kept getting better and better.
“She thought it was a pretty good chance last night and that gave me a bit of confidence.”
Donnelly wasn’t wrong – it won by over four lengths, leaving Phelan to pose for a photo that will no doubt grace his wall for years to come.