It's 4am on a wet Tuesday morning in April. Horse trainer Henry Dwyer's alarm clock has gone off, he's dragged himself out of his warm bed, driven the short trip to his Caulfield stables and is in his office preparing for the day.
Henry Dwyer is a young trainer who didn't follow the conventional path into racing. What started as a part time job at Flemington during university, Henry soon became passionate about the racing industry. After working for trainers such as Russell Cameron, Robert Smerdon and John Oxx in Ireland, Henry decided to go on his own and was granted his trainers licence in 2013. With 120 horses on the books and stables at Caulfield, Ballarat and St Leonards, he is quickly making a strong impression on the Victorian training ranks.
After making sure his staff know the order for the morning, Henry heads to the Trainers Tower in the middle of Caulfield's training tracks, binoculars and clipboard in hand. From here, and for the next 4 hours, he'll stand watch, clocking his horses during their work, calling out instructions to his riders, comparing notes with assistant Colin and phoning back to the stables to check in.
There is a stillness in the air yet the Tower is abuzz with trainers, foremen, jockeys and track riders. Helmet lights flash and reflect off the riders' fluro safety vests. Racing.com's Ben Asgari battles with an umbrella as he films the weekly Track Work preview show. The temperature drops a few degrees as the dark starts to turn into dawn. I'm surrounded by some big names - Damien Oliver, Ciaron Maher, John Sadler, Mick Price - all going about their business but also taking time out to chat to one another, crack a few jokes, banter about the footy and wonder if the weather will see the day's races called off. I'm the only female in the Tower but I know I'm not alone - Caulfield has a very strong female contingent of both track riders and ground staff, one of the biggest I've seen on a metropolitan racecourse.
As the morning progresses, Henry records video updates for his owners. He stands in the rain to closely watch The Dominator canter off the lead pony around the synthetic training track. He points out and names a few horses trotting past - none of which are his. A trainer's ability to recognise a horse out of a sea of dozens has always amazed me.
After the last horse has worked, we head back to the stables where Henry meticulously checks each of his 36 horses and talks to the staff to make sure there aren't any issues. While the staff finish cleaning and feeding, Henry has already briefed the Vet and the Farrier, written the afternoon's work on the board and is now back in his office drying off and completing the day's paperwork. He's off to the races today but with only one runner and an owner shouting him to lunch, he'll at least get to escape the cold before doing it all again tomorrow.
Henry, what's your earliest memory of the racing industry?
Going to the races at Mansfield on Boxing Day - I may have been 8 or 9 years old to watch a very moderately performed horse my father bred named Pickles’ Folly.
Do you have a favourite horse in the stable?
You were studying a Bachelor of Commerce degree when you took a part time job at Flemington. What was the pivotal moment that made you change career direction?
There was no real pivotal moment, just a lack of interest in what I was doing at uni and a love of what I was doing outside of it. I think Zabenz won the Grand National Hurdle the first day I worked in the stable as a 17 year old, so I dare say that had something to do with it.
The Dominator began his career in New Zealand on the flat but was very impressive at Warrnambool Carnival in the Novice Hurdle. Why the change to jumps and will you continue to alternate him between flats and hurdle racing?
He was always earmarked as a jumper from the time we purchased him - he was a serviceable horse on the flat who could win a couple of races but wasn’t going to be good enough to be competitive in city staying races. Most of the time that’s not good enough to be a leading hurdler these days but he’s an excellent jumper and very tough so it makes up for it. He’ll now basically just run on the flat to get him fit for/tick him over between jumps races however often once horses start jumping their performance on the flat improves markedly also so hopefully he’s in that category.
**If you haven't seen The Dominator's miraculous effort to stay upright and keep the jockey aboard after stumbling in the Novice, view it here.
Do you have any specific raceday superstitions or rituals?
I was given a few pairs of socks one Christmas with Left and Right written on them (the ones children wear to learn their Left and Rights). I don’t look at them before I put them on but if they happen to land on the right feet, it’s going to be a good day!
What's the one store you'd like to max out your credit card?
ATA Racing Supplies store or Messina
Horse To Follow
At the 2016 Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale, Princess Park purchased Lot 136, a So You Think x Alana's Dream filly. Henry has been appointed as her trainer and I'll be tracking her progress as she starts her racing career. She has been well educated and showed good ability in her first training preparation. She's just had a few week's holiday after going shinsore (a standard ailment to most young horses as their bones strengthen) but is now back in work and Henry has hopes that she may make it to the VRC Oaks in the Spring. Watch this space!
For more information, visit the Henry Dwyer Racing website.