Tony Herlihy goes 1000 as trainer

By Michael Guerin

It would be so easy to suggest Tony Herlihy’s 1000th New Zealand training winner came an hour too soon.

But not to the man himself who joined the exclusive club when Lord Verde won at Alexandra Park on Friday night. He becomes just the second New Zealander to have 1000 winners as both a driver and a trainer, joining brother-in-law Mark Purdon. 

Yes, Alexandra Park is Herlihy’s home track so would seem a natural fit for his milestone win but an hour later he drove of the best horses he might ever potentially train in Bolt For Brilliance to a statement win in the main trot at Addington, a far bigger stage in the scheme of Friday night’s two meetings.

Herlihy caught the end of Lord Verde’s maiden win at Alexandra Park in the hands of long-time stable No.2 driver Tony Cameron on TV and says that was fitting because so much of his success comes from his staff.

“They all work so hard and Tony has been with me a long time and done a great job, as has all the staff I have had over the years,” said Herlihy.

“So for the team up home to get that win it sums up how important they and others have been to me over the years.”

Chief of the home team and the main reason Herlihy has trained any winners at all is wife Suzanne, who is the real reason The Iceman started training when the Purdon partnership he worked for dissolved and Mark moved south.

“It was Suzanne who was the one who was adamant I should train,” says Herlihy.

“I was kind of thinking about freelance driving but she really pushed me to do it and supported me right from the start. So I owe her a lot for that, and of course everything else.”

Herlihy jokes that father-in-law and master trainer Roy Purdon would be the most surprised person that his jovial, carefree son-in-law had trained 1000 winners here but back when he started Purdon wouldn’t have been alone in the doubter’s camp.

Back then Herlihy was always laughing and relaxed, incredibly talented in the sulky but didn’t need to be organised and structured like Barry and Mark. But when he bought his first set of black colours with the white star he dialled in, and he hasn’t stopped learning since.

“I had that good grounding working for some great trainers and then you learn from experience, mistakes, travel and good horses. So while I knew it was coming I am still proud to get there.”

Herlihy rates Ohoka Punter (pacer) and One Over Kenny (trotter) as two of his best while he trained Sly Flyin for a while and he was a top liner.

“And Bella’s Boy was one of my favourites I have trained,” said Herlihy.

“I owned him with a great mate in John Seaton and he won us a lot of money back when I had none,” he offers.

Bolt For Brilliance could be Herlihy’s next top horse and looked back to his best with his crushing win at Addington.

“It feels like the trip has really woken him up,” says Herlihy.

“He hadn’t been concentrating that well up home but he felt a lot sharper tonight like he wanted to be there.

“So I think the trip away will really do him some good but I won’t race him next week I will wait for the Trotting Champs the week.”

In his early 60s now Herlihy might not train long enough to get to 2000 wins but in a rare moment of introspection he feels proud of what he, his family and team have achieved.

“We haven’t had many bad years and have had pretty good numbers considering we usually only train around 30."

“So we have done okay.”


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