LYNNE Mercieca has a knack for taking things in her stride.
The Toolleen harness racing trainer has learned to be patient with her nine-year-old gelding Illawong Lively, but was able to celebrate a win at Kilmore on Friday night.
"He was really under-conditioned when I bought him about three years ago - it took a good eight months to build him up, but it's paid off," Mercieca said.
"He has got a great personality - he's a very quiet horse, not like some of my younger ones.
"I haven't been afraid of travelling him in the past, but it's getting to the stage where I like to race him reasonably close to home. I was very happy after the race."
The much-travelled pacer's victory last week bookended his career with wins at Kilmore.
He was really under-conditioned when I bought him about three years ago - it took a good eight months to build him up, but it's paid off.- Lynne Mercieca
Illawong Lively won his debut race at the central Victorian track as a three-year-old in April 2003, when trained by Jodi Quinlan. He has since had a succession of trainers, among them Boris Devcic in Mildura and Heathcote's Scott Rains.
For Mercieca and good friend Ruby Tyack, there is plenty of sentiment attached to Illawong Lively.
The two women attended the sales together on the day the gelding was purchased and have found their hard work and passion for the horse as an outlet to deal with the grief of their husbands Lawrence Mecieca and Greg Tyack's deaths.
Both were former trainers, with Lynne taking up the caper following Lawrence's death about four years ago.
"We both have a real soft spot for him .... we've both been able to prop one another up," Mercieca said.
Tyack added: "The old horse has given us an interest in life.
"I have another horse called Winning Spirit, who is due to come back in.
"Lynney and I help one another and she will be the trainer .... I've given up the training myself."
Mercieca is considering a trip to harness racing headquarters at Tabcorp Park Melton this Friday with Illawong Lively.
The gelding has won there once before, back in July 2015, which was the fourth of his 10 career wins.
Mercieca believed the gelding was capable of adding to his win tally, if not on Friday, then sometime soon.
"The dear old fellow he is he just keeps on trying," she said.
"It just depends on how his race is run, which is why his form is a little patch, but when he is on-song he really is."
Illawong Flyer was driven by young Heathcote reinswoman Tayla French, who now has two wins aboard the gelding.
The gelding will always hold special memories for French, who scored her first career win aboard the son of US sire Falcon Seelster and Illawong Lizzie, last August at Kilmore.
Mercierca predicted big things ahead for the 21-year-old driver, who is rapidly gaining in confidence eight months into her career.
"She is getting better and better each time she drives," Mercieca said.
"I'll give her an opportunity any time I have one going. As long as she is happy to drive for me, I am happy to have her.
"(Young drivers) have to learn somewhere. I think she will make a top driver some day.
"If she keeps improving the way she does, I can't say anything but that.
"She is really getting her confidence and I'm glad to see her doing well."
Mercieca's small team comprises just five horses, including a couple of two-year-olds she admits to being impressed with.
"I'm hoping they keep getting better," she said.
"They're a handful the young ones."
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