NINETEEN months into a harness racing comeback filled with highs, Bendigo's Rod Lakey has secured his biggest break of all.
The 46-year-old trainer-driver will join star Shepparton horseman David Moran as a co-trainer at Lochinvar Lodge, based on-track at the Kialla Racing Complex at Shepparton.
It's a giant and thrilling step-up for Lakey, who had been training a small team of three horses from fellow trainer Gary Donaldson's property at Junortoun, only minutes from Lord's Raceway.
Those three horses, including Jong Ang and Illawong Parris, who have combined for five wins and a string of placings in the short few months since Lakey has turned his hand to training, are in the process of being sent to other trainers.
He will start his new role with Moran next week.
"It's going to be very exciting. He's obviously got some quality horses and he'll only ever train a maximum of 16," he said.
"It's an amazing opportunity for me.
"I was only saying to someone the other day that I had to my first drive back in April 2020 and by early-November I will by an A-grade driver, A-grade trainer and co-training with David Moran, who is one of the nation's top trainers and horse people.
"It's quite amazing to reflect on and quite humbling that I've been asked to do this."
The exciting move for Lakey is likely at some point to place him in contact with Australia's best pacer, the Moran-trained Lochinvar Art.
The pacing millionaire and A.G Hunter, Victoria, Shepparton, Ballarat and Cobram cups winner is rehabbing from injury at Cobbity in New South Wales with Luke and Belinda McCarthy, but is expected to be back in Victoria later in the year.
"I can't believe an opportunity like this has come my way, so I am just going to grab it with both hands and run," Lakey said.
"Lochinvar Art is Dave's pride and joy, so I'll think I'll just watch and learn with him.
"I'll be happy to just be part of their story. There's plenty of other good horses for me to sit on in the morning and every now and then I might get to drive one.
"There's just a lot of opportunities that can come from this - Shepparton is such a strong harness racing area."
Lakey, who will also taken on a mentoring role with young stable employee and emerging driver Mitchell Rowney, will continue to live in Bendigo and will travel up and back from Shepparton.
Firmly entrenched in Bendigo where his daughter attends school, he does not perceive the travel as a burden.
The new set-up will allow Moran to devote greater focus on his freelance driving.
The brilliant Shepparton horseman has been in superb form in recent months, claiming a swag of Group 1 and feature race wins aboard the likes of Victorian Oaks winner Ladies In Red, APG Vic Gold Bullion winner Irish Black Label, Yianni and Joanna for the dynamic Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin stable.
Lakey was quick to thank Donaldson, from whose property he has trained his three horses for the last few months, for his understanding.
In terms of the horses he trained, Mac Almighty, who is still part-owned by a group that includes Lakey and his partner Melanie May, has been sent to Susan Hunter's at Echuca.
"She will be a really good fit for him - she's obviously won a lot of Group races and she is really good with those older horses and keeping them healthy, fit and happy," he said.
"Illawong Parris has gone to Adelaide, while Jong Ang will be going to Wagga. They're going in all sorts of directions.
"It would have been lovely to have kept racing them, but this opportunity is too important."
Lakey ended a 14-year hiatus from harness racing when he returned to driving in time for the start of last year's regional racing period.
He was immediately among the winners, steering the Shaun McNaulty-trained Gobsmacked to a victory on his first night back in the sulky at Lord's Raceway.
He notched a double at his fourth meeting back 12 days later before scoring a treble one meeting later on April 20 aboard the Glenn Douglas-trained Treacherous Saint, Orbie for Kylie Linsell and Hashtag for Shaun McNaulty.
Lakey, who trained a small number of runners in the late 1990s, had his first official runner as a trainer the second time around in November last year.
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