RACING is not about making money, it’s about fairy tales.
Those are the words of Paul Banks, a part-time horse trainer who does it for the love of the sport.
“I tilt my hat to the men and women who do it for livelihood. I know how to have a crack, but the work ethic in racing is beyond anything else,” Sutton Grange-based Banks said of his passion for training race horses.
When Banks purchased an undersized weanling from a mixed horse sale at Inglis he always lived in hope that it would fill out.
Instead, it taught himself how to wind-suck and had very minimal appetite.
The $900 purchase he chose to name Mr Cooley was looking like a donation, and after 18 months of breaking, spelling and a couple of preparations, his first race at Mildura seemed to confirm all time and effort should be abandoned.
“My wife and l watched the race on TV,’’ Banks recalled.
“I think I wanted to save face and not witness the humiliation live.
“I remember watching them load into the gates and Mr Cooley was beside a Darren Weir-trained horse that towered over him.
“He looked like a pony in comparison, and my wife and I were in fits of laughter. He raced greenly, and like a horse with little hope.
“(Bendigo jockey) John Keating rang me on his five hour drive back home and advised me to give the horse time, and that he’ll win races, but that he just needs to mature.
“The fact that l had named the horse after one of my very dear mates, Tony Cooley, who had passed away with cancer meant I wasn’t going to give up easily.”
This racing season Banks took Mr Cooley to the Riverina to build his confidence and the move paid dividends.
Mr Cooley won five races, and was placed second once, third four times and fourth twice to take out the Victorian Country Horse of the Year.
Mr Cooley, a four-year-old gelding by Estambul, won races at Wycheproof, Echuca, Avoca, Ararat and Kilmore.
Banks explained that his friend Tony Cooley was a great bloke who was well-travelled, educated and entertaining, and an individual type of man who left an impression on everyone he met.
“I would often look to the skies and tell him to give me a hand when preparing his namesake,’’ Banks said.
“He must’ve been laughing at the start, but then thought he better give me some luck.
“It’s great to have such joyous remembrance of a mate who l shared fantastic times with.
“For the horse to be crowned number one in the state is an honour.
“Mr Cooley is the type of horse that needs to stay in work as he loses condition when he is not racing.
“Being so small doesn’t help either. It’s a big job to try and put weight on him when comes back into work, but we’ll find a way.
“I am looking forward to doing it all again with him next campaign. But we’ll be right, as my old mate will be looking over us,” Banks added enthusiastically.