BENDIGO hobby trainer Debbie Wills says she’s humbled to be the first winner of the Donna Philpot Memorial Award.
Wills, who has a modest two horses currently in work, was announced as the inaugural recipient at last Saturday night‘s Bendigo Trainers’ Association Horse of the Year Awards night.
The award for special achievement in Bendigo racing is named in honour of the popular Bendigo racing identity, who was tragically killed in a track work accident on her home-track in June last year.
It was an emotional moment for all 170 awards guests in the room on Saturday night, which included members of the Philpot family, when the award was announced.
It was especially touching for Wills, whose effort in training four winners from five starters last summer with her small two-horse team, was recognised.
“I was very proud …. it was a very emotional moment,” she said.
“I could barely talk when I got up there (to accept the award) because it was named in honour of Donna.
“I was very honoured to win Donna’s award – and to be the first.
It was an emotional night for a lot of people (on Saturday).”
Wills was one of the trainers Philpot would ride track work for at the Bendigo Jockey Club course.
The passionate trainer, who combines her racing commitments with a full-time job in aged care, revealed she was one of the last people to talk to Philpot in the lead-up to the jumpout and fall, which claimed the 48 year-old’s life.
“It’s a conversation I will never forget,” Wills said.
The Bagshot-based trainer currently has two horses in training – Ahsha, who provided her with two of her four wins in that roughly 10-week period, and stable newcomer Bright Steel, who was previously trained at Warrnambool by Symon Wilde.
Unfortunately for Wills, Special Feeling, who won back-to-back races in February and March, had to be retired after suffering a bleeding attack during his last start at Ballarat in March.
The former David Hayes-trained gelding won three races for Wills and provided her with her second success as a trainer at Kerang in April last year.
“He’s now the ‘stable supervisor’, I’ll keep him out here forever,” she said.
“I love the horse.
“He was just hitting his straps at the time he bled – he would have won in town.
“My other little one Ahsha, who I got from Echuca, she’s just come back into work. I’m setting her for Gunbower in October.”
Wills said she was eager to add another recycled galloper to her stable and would go the same route as she did with Special Feeling.
“I’m waiting for the right one of Hayes’ to come up to buy,” she said.
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