FORMER Tasmanian reinsman Alex Ashwood has taken the next big step in his young harness racing career by establishing himself in Bendigo.
Ashwood, the son of astute Apple Isle trainer and driver Rodney Ashwood, has recently settled in Bendigo with girlfriend and trainer Kate Hargreaves, with the couple basing themselves at the Shelbourne property previously owned by former trainer Larry Eastman.
It’s been a long road to Bendigo for the talented 24-year-old, who left his home state as a 17-year-old to work with the Long Forest husband and wife team of Andy and Kate Gath.
An initial three-year stretch with the multiple Group 1-winning stable was followed by a stint with Dean Braun, before a return to the Gaths.
Ashwood said he would be ‘forever grateful’ for the support and opportunities afforded him by the Gaths, but the time was ripe for him to branch out on his own with Hargreaves.
“It’s exciting times ahead, we have a great group of owners behind us supporting us and backing us,” he said.
“We just need to get the results on the board now.
“(Bendigo) is a great harness racing community, it’s very central to most of the main tracks in Victoria.
“We have a variety of options to place the weaker horses.”
Their first three weeks at Shelbourne have produced a few placegetters, but as yet no winners.
But with a few of the team’s better horses returning to action in the next few weeks, Ashwood believes a breakthrough success is close.
“The year ahead, we have a couple of nice two-year-olds coming through,” he said.
“We have two we are hoping qualify for the VicBred series later in the year and we can chase that Group 1 glory.”
An exciting and busy settling-in period for the couple just got even busier, with Hargreaves this week returning to her full-time job as a teacher at Kennington Primary School.
A typical day for the young trainer begins at Shelbourne at 5am, before a trip back into Bendigo at 7.30pm in time for a day in the classroom.
Ashwood, whose busy driving schedule has taken him from Junee last Sunday, Stawell (Monday) and Bendigo (Wednesday), to Cranbourne (Thursday night) and Mildura (Friday), did not hesitate in choosing his father and Andy Gath as the biggest influences on his career in the sulky.
Want to say a big thankyou to @apgath68 and Kate for the past 6 years. You guys have gone above and beyond for me and if it wasn't for you both I wouldn't be where I am today. You took me in as a 17 year old and made me part of the family which I'm forever grateful for.— Alex Ashwood (@albieashwood) January 12, 2019
“Dad has been alongside me the whole way giving me guidance; in saying that Andy Gath has been great too,” he said.
“They (the Gaths) train about 50 horses – divided between trotters and pacers – and do a wonderful job.
“They are very organised and the care they give to their horses is second to none.
“They pay a lot of attention to detail and they get the results.”
Set on 60 acres, the couple’s training complex includes a 1280m track, two dams and 16 yards.
Future plans include the addition of a water-walker, though Ashwood admits the couple are in no hurry having finally realised the dream of a place of their own.
“Two years ago we only started off with one horse; I bought a horse at the yearling sales called Aldebaran Pete and then I owned a horse with Terry Stone called Mojo Major,” he said.
“Then we had a horse called Drayton (who won a Gammalite Cup at Terang), who did a good job.
“From there, a couple of dad’s clients from Tassie sent over a few horses over and it’s snowballed from there.
“We’re getting more and more horses and more owners behind us – we’re looking forward to what the future will bring.”