CHAMPION Longlea horseman Brian Gath is again the toast of the harness racing world after capturing the sport's highest individual honour, the Gordon Rothacker Medal.
The Little Master joined a long list of greats to have won the prestigious medal, many of them from the Bendigo region, when presented with the prize award at Crown Palladium on Sunday evening.
A popular win came eight years after his induction into the Victorian Harness Racing Hall of Fame in recognition of his successful career.
It was a proud moment for Gath, who last season became the oldest driver to contest an Inter Dominion final when he steered the Tony Peacock-trained Illawong Stardust into fifth place in the trotter's final at Menangle.
"It's wonderful. Gordon Rothacker was an idol of mine in my younger days; I grew up watching him drive and drove against him and became friends with him and his family," he said.
"I was just writing a thank you to Robert Rothacker when (the Bendigo Advertiser) rang as he sent me a congratulations.
"I'm very proud.
"I've done a little bit in racing, it's turned out pretty good.."
Gath, who represented Australia at the World Drivers Championship in West Germany, France and Norway in 1977 and has driven more than 3600 winners in his career, was always destined for a career in racing.
But it was in the saddle and not the sulky where he made an early impression as an apprentice jockey.
"It was only for a little while. I started my apprenticeship too late - I was 19 or 19-and-a-half and I only had about a year-and-a-half of riding, so I wasn't very well established," he said.
"Dad wanted me to come home. He had a big team of horses and wanted me to take over the driving for the stable, so I thought I was best to do that."
Thoroughbred racing's loss has certainly been harness racing's gain.
Early in his career, Gath had three aims - to win an Inter Dominion; to win a Miracle Mile; and to drive 100 winners in a season.
Not surprisingly, he has ticked off all three, achieving the latter 13 times, including a career-best 163 wins in 2006-07.
He won the Inter Dominion Pacing Final in 1978 aboard Markovina, the horse he still rates as the best he has driven, and claimed the Miracle Mile in 1992 behind Franco Tiger.
While Gath is not one for setting himself goals often anymore, he does have one he'd like to tick off in the next few years.
"The next one is to try and find a real good young horse," he said.
"I'm working eight at the moment and four of them are young ones and I'm hoping they're good.
"There could be a couple - I'm pleased with them.
"It helps me get out of bed in the morning."
Gath, a 23-time Group 1-winner, who has won 19 of the 25 available cups in Victoria, said he still relished every opportunity in the sulky.
"I only drive here and there, I don't drive every day like I used to - maybe once a week or once a fortnight," he said.
"There's not too much pressure on me anymore."
A star-studded career has included two Hunter Cup victories, four Victoria Cup wins, four Ballarat Pacing Cups and one Bendigo Pacing Cup aboard Safari in 2007.
He has won 33 Victorian pacing cups in total and driven 14 Grand Circuit winners.
The Gordon Rothacker Medal is awarded to an individual who meets some or all of the following criteria:
* Contribution to harness racing in Victoria (past and present);
* Length of industry involvement;
* Held (voluntary or paid) key positions within the industry;
* Demonstrated excellence within a chosen field;
* Significant personal achievement;
* Service as a role model/mentor;
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