IT WAS an eventful return trip to Stawell last Monday for Sebastian hobby trainer Gabrielle Symons, but ultimately it was a day she will never forget.
A late-convert to the harness racing training ranks, Symons celebrated her first career win when the veteran former Mildura pacer Friends took out the opening race.
The moment was not without drama.
Symons and her partner Ben Moule managed to take a wrong turn on the way to Stawell - they also did the same thing on the way home.
But the extra kilometres travelled and the estimated additional 90 minutes on the road were well worth it after the 10-year-old Bettors Delight gelding delivered his 60-year-old trainer her first win at only her 26th attempt.
Friends had no trouble finding his way around the Stawell circuit, doing it in style, with in-form driver James Herbertson making use of the veteran's gate speed and controlling the tempo out in front, before going on to score by 7.6-metres over the 1785-metre trip.
It was win number 12 and his first since October last year for Friends, who has bounced from stable to stable across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales in a 109-start career.
Only his last 16 starts have come under the guidance of Symons, whose main occupation is working the night shift as an aged care nurse, and has held her trainer's licence for less than a year.
The win gave her the thrill of a lifetime.
"I hoped he would, he's been running thereabouts. He's had a bit of bad luck, but had a second a few weeks ago," Symons said.
"He's an old-timer. We bought him from Scott Garraway at Mildura and he was supposed to be washed up, so it's a bit of a buzz.
"We bought him to learn on and to have a horse who knew his way around. We've been lucky and I think he might have a couple more wins in him.
"We sort of looked around; we had a couple of young ones here, but we wanted one that had kind of 'been there, done that'.
"I love Bettors Delights and I know that if you treat them right and they are sound, they will keep trying for you.
"We bought him for a couple of grand and we've had a ball with him.
"He did have a bit of an atrial fibrillation episode not that many starts back at Echuca and that stopped him; we thought we might be losing him.
"But we have changed a few things around and he has come back good."
Before Monday, Friends had finished in the placings three times for Symons, including a second at Lord's Raceway on June 5.
She praised a brilliant drive from Herbertson, who drove four of the first six winners on the eight-race card and was fresh from a win aboard the Ross Graham/Sutton Grange-trained trotter Nephew Of Sonoko at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night and another the following night at Cranbourne.
"No one has been using his gate speed as he used to break a bit at the start with Scott, but we've altered his gear around, even though he doesn't wear much," Symons said.
"But we stopped him throwing his head up too high and it's worked.
"He did win well, crossed them from six, which was pretty good, and just kept going.
"It's a real buzz getting the first winner at my age."
It was a pure love of horses that led Symons to obtain her trainer's licence 10 months ago.
"I used to go to the trots with my family - I've always loved harness," she said.
"I used to hang around Ray Sutton's house as a kid a bit and he's a trainer-farrier and then I took up showing.
"It's great just trying to find our way at the moment. We have had a lot of help from people like Brian Gath.
"The trots people have been great, they know I am just having a crack."
It's a real buzz getting the first winner at my age.- Gabrielle Symons
The couple's Sebastian property is not only home to their small team of three race horses, but also a couple of Clydesdale crosses and quarter horses and a Shetland pony.
The racing team includes Days End, who also raced at Stawell, and like Friends is closer to the end of his career than the start as a 10-year-old with 240 starts to his name.
A promising and as yet unraced two-year-old trotter Robert John is their hope for the future.
"He's named after Ben's dad and he broke in beautifully. Ben had never broken in a trotter before but he did a nice job," Symons said.
"He trots along nice, so we will get him going soon and we'll see if we can win a race with something we've done everything with.
"It will be a real challenge with a trotter, but I've always loved watching trotters and it will be a lot of fun trying to get him up and going."
Until then, Symons and Mule will be hoping Friends can continue his resurgence and spearhead the chase for career win number two.
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