Dedicated. Professional. Experienced. Benevolent. Battling. Exhausted. These words could be used to describe just about anyone who works in racing.
Today, breeder Leeanne Smith is preparing to transport her draft of 13 yearlings to Melbourne for this Sunday’s Inglis Melbourne Gold Yearling Sale. After a quick post-Easter debrief, she ends our call with “Well, I’d better keep moving, if I stop I’ll fall asleep”. It’s a familiar ending to our regular phone conversations.
Leeanne has been in my life for as long as I’ve been alive. Before I hit double digits, whatever I wasn’t learning in my father’s stable, I was being taught at her Wangaratta training stables during school holidays. Whilst my box-mucking skills were fine tuned, I was also absorbing life lessons I wouldn’t realise until I was much older.
As the cliché goes, Leeanne (or ‘Aunty Lil’ as she’s affectionately known) became involved with racehorses at a very young age. She was a 12 year old girl who, from a single parent family with three brothers, wanted a pony and needed a way to pay for its upkeep. Walking into the Mordialloc stables of Bon Hoysted, she picked up a job of mucking out boxes before school for a small wage. The love affair with racing started as the master trainer took her under his wing.
Leeanne Smith (left) with 2018 Bucklee Farm sales team
Leeanne strapped many racehorses over the years, but none have come close to Hall of Fame inductee, Manikato.
In his 40 years of training, Bon had never won a Group 1 race until Manikato came along. As a two-year-old in 1978, Manikato won the Blue Diamond Stakes and Golden Slipper double. Bon passed away suddenly after this and his brother Bob subsequently took over. Manikato would go on to add a further seven Group 1 and 16 Group 2 victories to his resume. He broke at least three track records and was the second Australian horse behind Kingston Town, to achieve $1 million in prizemoney.
“Only a handful of people are lucky enough to be associated with a champion,” says Leeanne. “I was one of them.”
Moving to Euroa to seek a new adventure saw Leeanne working for Victoria’s first and only stud mistress at the time, Thelma Harris of Lauriston Park.
“She imprinted my horse knowledge, and I am so grateful to her,” recalls Leeanne.
“She was a brilliant yearling preparer and she taught me the basics. From the first day, she changed me from a stable girl to a farm girl, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Along the way, Leanne took out her own trainers licence, basing herself at those Wangaratta stables I would come to frequent. She would eventually win the one race that meant so much to her, the Bonny Hoysted Apprentices Cup at Pakenham.
“I had strapped a true champion for Bon and I had won his race. I was in tears leaving the grandstand that night.”
In 1995, Leeanne and her partner Peter Buckley purchased an old run-down dairy farm in Greta West, a few kilometres out of Glenrowan, in North East Victoria. The property, now known as Bucklee Farm, is a boutique broodmare, weanling and yearling farm. It is also home to a family of miniature and Shetland ponies, dogs, cats and chickens. Out that way, Mother Nature is not always kind, but each and every animal on the property is cared for with the utmost attention.
Continuing to juggle training with building up the farm, Leeanne eventually retired from training to focus solely on the farm as her clientele grew. Some fine Victorian bred racehorses have been born and raised at Bucklee Farm – Miss Norway, She’s Our Gift, Sopressa, Money Maher, Free of Debt, Geraldine’s Jewel and Group 2 winner Cliff’s Edge.
This industry is literally 24/7. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. Leeanne is one of those racing people who, even though riches may have eluded her, continues her work with a passion that is becoming harder to find these days. And anyway, it’s not about the money. She’s rich in other ways.
A slight limp caused by a horse kick might slow her down a little these days but Leeanne isn’t showing any signs of stopping. She is my inspiration, my motivation and my sounding board. On those days where giving up appears the easiest option, she’ll pull me back into line. “If I’m not quitting, then neither are you.”
If you’re heading out to Oaklands Junction this week, keep an eye out for Leeanne. She’ll be the one running her barn like a well-oiled machine and turning her babies out in their best order – shiny coats, glossy hooves and no matter the weather, there will be a smile on her face.
Click here to view Bucklee Farm’s full draft for the 2019 Inglis Melbourne Gold Yearling Sale. Held this Sunday 28th April from 10am, inspections commence Thursday.
**Racing Girl will be on a break during May as I’m heading overseas for a family holiday. Follow my adventures on Instagram (@tailryan) or Facebook (Racing Girl Blog).
Champion racehorse, Manikato.