When Alex Freeman was putting shoes on the likes of
Weekend Hussler and El Segundo at the busy Caulfield racecourse
in Melbourne, he never expected his first training win would be
in the Central Otago town of Omakau. He talks to Otago Daily
Times racing reporter Matt Smith.
Charlotte Neilson, Charley (17 months), Harry (2) and
trainer Alex Freeman. Photos by Matt Smith.
Alex Freeman (28) ended a frustrating run of near misses when
Ustibecasual - a horse who has clocked up almost as many
miles as Freeman - scored in the rating 65 1400m at Omakau
earlier this month. It was love and a family lifestyle that
drew Freeman to Central Otago after he had set himself for a
life with horses in Melbourne.
Freeman was ''bred'' into a racing family, and not a bad one
''My mum's sister married Robert Smerdon. I was his main
farrier for a long time in Caulfield and Ballarat,'' Freeman
Smerdon is known throughout Australasia for his success with
a wide range of horses, ranging from former Victorian Oaks
winner Mosheen to jumpers such as Black And Bent and recent
star Brungle Cry.
Freeman met Otago woman Charlotte Neilson (27) in 2007 when
she was riding track work for Ross McDonald's team at
Caulfield, the same stables where Freeman happened to be
working at the time.
As love blossomed, and son Harry - now 2 - introduced himself
to the world, the couple made the decision to head back
closer to Neilson's family.
''Charlotte's parents are here in Alexandra,'' he said.
''Where I was, we had no relatives within an hour and a-half
of us so it wasn't very fair with me working six days a week,
and Charlotte sitting at home by herself with little Harry
Freeman continued his farrier work when he arrived in Central
Otago, shoeing Murray Hamilton's horses for some time before
spreading his work around the equine industry in the area,
working with showjumpers and a wide range of horses.
''That's my main source of income; it's funding the
Ustibecasual (Ross Doherty) brings up Alex Freeman's first
training win at Omakau earlier this month.
The racehorses have become a labour of love as each
galloper has thrown a challenge at Freeman.
The first horse he tried was Theatrical Affair, who was out
of Office Affair, one of the last Secretariat mares still
producing offspring. While Theatrical Affair showed the
occasional hint of talent, Freeman had to give up on her.
''She had the ability but wouldn't show it on race days,'' he
''She was a bit allergic to the rest of the field.''
The next horse to make it to the races was War Paint and,
while success was not forthcoming with the Lord Of Warriors
gelding, it did give Freeman and family a good chance for a
''He had bad conformation so we just tinkered around with
him, drove around to six or seven different tracks and got a
feel for the area and the way they do it in New Zealand,'' he
Volksraad gelding Compensate gave the team hope of a first
success, before a tendon injury ended his career.
''We had a lot of trouble keeping him sound. We fixed his
feet and he came out and went fifth, fourth, ran two seconds,
getting beaten half a nose on his fourth start, then
unluckily broke down at Riccarton.''
Finally, Ustibecasual came along, courtesy of a friend, Vicki
Bonham, who had ridden for Rex Cochrane and knew the owner
and breeder, David Lees.
Freeman's training career had lasted almost as long as
Ustibecasual's losing streak. The Ustinov mare's last victory
had been at Trentham during the 2011 Wellington Cup carnival
and she had been tying up, or cramping badly, in her work.
''She lost a bit of form in the North Island,'' he said.
''The only thing we've done is got her away from the race
track, trained her a wee bit different and got her feeling
good. We changed her diet around and got her over all those
little problems now, and she's loving it.''
Luck continued to desert Ustibecasual in her first five
starts for Freeman, but it all fell into place at his home
track of Omakau - even if there were some nerves in the
grandstand as jockey Ross Doherty settled her near the back.
''It made us a bit nervous though, because we were all
sitting there saying 'she's out the back, you're going to
leave it too late, Ross','' Neilson said.
Freeman will now plug on with his racing team of
Ustibecasual, Nancho Lass and Vindication, while he has got a
big Ekraar half-brother to Nancho Lass waiting in the wings
for Lauder owner Clive Booth.
''He's a big 17-hand monster that will take a bit of time -
he'll be a two-miler."
Don't be surprised to see Harry, or younger brother Charley
(17 months), in the saddle in the future, either.
''They can both go on the rocking horse and Harry has made it
on to a few horses.''
While the long-term plan may include setting up a training
establishment in Canterbury or further afield, Freeman is
enjoying the idyllic surroundings at the moment.
''It's a lovely part of the world down here - the people are
nice and it's a good place to bring up kids.''