Shannon O’Sullivan makes a good early impression in the sulky

HARNESS racing is in Shannon O’Sullivan’s blood, and it’s a good bet she will soon add to her family’s success in the industry. 

The 18-year-old from Heathcote has only had her B-grade driver licence since early September, but is already making her presence felt at racetracks across Victoria.

O’Sullivan, who is the daughter of legendary harness racing figure and 2017 Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient Jim O’Sullivan, has had 38 drives during her short stint in the sulky for four seconds and five thirds.

While that “elusive first win” has so far evaded her, O’Sullivan has rarely finished outside the top five in a race.

There’s a feeling – after another close-up second and a third at Elmore on Boxing Day – that it’s only a matter of time before the soon-to-be first-year university student takes the spotlight in the winners’ circle.

“Hopefully …. hopefully that first winner is not far off,” the affable young reinswoman said.

“I’ve been close …. a couple of seconds. I think I have weighed in most of my drives.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do when I do get that first winner, I’ll probably just hug mum and dad and thank them for carting me around everywhere.

CARVING HER OWN NAME: Shannon O'Sullivan with her 10-year-old gelding Panofwar on Elmore Cup day. The pair combined for a second placing in the final event on an eight-race cup day program. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

CARVING HER OWN NAME: Shannon O'Sullivan with her 10-year-old gelding Panofwar on Elmore Cup day. The pair combined for a second placing in the final event on an eight-race cup day program. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

“(My parents) have put in just as much effort into my career as I have, helping me with my passion.”

While some might consider following in the footsteps of such a clever horseman, with as many wins as a trainer and driver alongside his name as Jim O’Sullivan, daughter Shannon takes it in her stride.

She feels no pressure to emulate the feats of her famous father in the sulky and insists the decision to take up driving was all hers.

Shannon O'Sullivan with her father and 2017 Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient Jim O'Sullivan. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

Shannon O'Sullivan with her father and 2017 Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient Jim O'Sullivan. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

“I’ve always wanted to do this. I did the pony trots before I jumped into this and got the passion from that,” she said.

“But I was born around horses and have always had horses around.

“We moved to Queensland with horses and raced there for a fair bit and now we are back down here I have jumped back into horses from the pony trots and into the big leagues.”

On a few occasions already in her fledgling driving career, O’Sullivan has gone head-to-head with her father, making for a friendly rivalry.

(My parents) have put in just as much effort into my career as I have, helping me with my passion.

Shannon O'Sullivan

“I think it’s happened twice and I’ve beaten him home both times,” she said.

“It’s a really great competition between dad and I … but a healthy competition.

“I envisage plenty more battles between us ahead.”

Away from the sulky, O’Sullivan is looking forward to starting her Bachelor of Exercise Science at La Trobe University following a gap year in 2017.

But that won’t mean a scaling down of her horse commitments.

“I’ll be studying in Bendigo, which is nice and central, and I’ll have the horses close by,” he said.

O’Sullivan senior, whose most famous win came in the 1978 Inter Dominion in Christchurch with My Lightning Blue, made no effort to disguise his pride at how his daughter’s early career was panning out.

“She tries hard and the horses go well for her. She’s not frightened to get the horses in to where they need to be,” he said.

Jim O'Sullivan with his family after being awarded the Gordon Rothacker Medal. Picture: HARNESS RACING VICTORIA

Jim O'Sullivan with his family after being awarded the Gordon Rothacker Medal. Picture: HARNESS RACING VICTORIA

“Of all her drives, I don’t think she’s driven a bad one.

“She just needs a bit of luck. The other day she ran two seconds, one paid $21 a place and the other $17 a place, so they were outsiders, but she drove them both quite well.

“I drove my first winner in 1964, when I was 17 or 18 – there’s probably more opportunities now for drivers her age.

“There were no junior drivers back then, you were thrown to the wolves straight away and I probably drove a long time before I won one and probably a lot longer than Shannon will have to wait.”