By Kirra Grimes
ONE of the last remaining racehorse trainers in South Gippsland, Paul Boag says he’ll retire “when they put [him] in a box”.
Alongside running dairy and beef farms at Koonwarra, Stony Creek, Walkerville and now Meeniyan, Paul’s been breeding and training race horses in the local area for more than 30 years and has no plans to give it away any time soon, saying the interest gives him “a reason to get out of bed in the morning”.
His passion for working with horses began at an early age, as he watched his father, James Joseph Boag, a farmer at Tarwin and long-time committee man at the Stony Creek Racing Club, breed and train ponies for racing.
Learning everything he knows from “the school of hard knocks”, as he puts it, Paul started training his own horses and “playing with other people’s rejects” at around the age of 40, figuring he’d save himself some money by doing a job he’d paid others to do for him up until that point.
He’s always trained his horses on the beach at Waratah Bay first thing in the morning, before getting on with the business of running a farm.
To train the bay mare Zai Bu Zai, owned by his wife Barbara and daughter Anna, for the recent Ladies Day meeting at Stony Creek Racing Club, he had to get up extra early to avoid the summer crowds and the “bloody dogs” they bring to the beach with them.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of people would like to have the option of training on a beach. And Waratah’s a beautiful beach. My daughter rides with me and we go in at the boat ramp and head towards Sandy Point. It gives you an outlet away from the farm and incentive to get up in the morning; get out of bed and have a ride. It’s something to look forward to.”
Paul’s had a long association with the Stony Creek Racing Club, having started working in the office as the acceptance clerk no less than 45 years ago and serving as a committee member for over 30 years, including as president for 10 years.
He’s lost count of the number of races his horses have run at Stony Creek and he’s also had success further afield, with one mare winning four races in Melbourne (three at Sandown and one at Moonee Valley) in the year 2000, a highlight of his training career.
Reflecting on that career in the committee rooms at Stony Creek after Zai Bu Zai’s fifth placing in the BM58 Handicap last Wednesday, Paul said there’d been some big changes at the club in his lifetime, including a steady decrease in local trainers.
“It’s certainly become more competitive over the years,” he said.
“Years ago, you could come to Stony Creek with certainty that if your horse was fit and running well, you’d get a place. That’s obviously not the case anymore.
“The leading trainers all come here now because the prize money’s so much better. Years ago, they just didn’t come.
“But back in the day, there would have been close to 40 trainers based here. Now, there may only be two trainers left with Stony Creek as their emblem,” he said.
So, why aren’t there more local trainers?
“It’s a relatively expensive exercise,” Paul said.
“With feed costs and if you pay people to do work for you… But it’s like everything else: you do what you want to do. I’ve always liked horses and I enjoy coming to the races; I’m usually here whether I’ve got a horse or not. And I do most of the work myself so that keeps it reasonably cost effective.”
As far as what makes a good trainer, Paul says patience is the key, but having a good horse doesn’t hurt either.
“There’s no such thing as a horse you can’t train. It’s just about patience and giving them plenty of opportunity and plenty of working. But you’re only as good as the horses you’ve got. Good horses make good trainers,” he said.
Paul’s favourite horse to work with over the years was a small mare named Aedes, with whom he enjoyed great success at Woolamai around 10 years ago.
“She’s the horse I’ve had the most fun with. She had limited ability, but she was just an honest little mare and she was capable of winning regularly at Woolamai. She won seven there.”
Regarding any returns on his significant investment in breeding and training racehorses as a “bonus”, Paul says he’ll keep training as long as he physically can and is now looking forward to “slowly bringing up” the 18-month-old weanling bred at his Meeniyan farm, calling it “the next champion in waiting”, but adding that “they’re all potential champions until their first race.”
“As long as my health’s good and I’m still capable of riding a horse, I’ll keep going. Once I can no longer ride, I’ll have to give it away,” he said.
“For me, it’s just an interest, a hobby, and after putting in so much work, the most satisfying thing is getting the best out of your horse.
“And over all the years, with the exception of one, there’s no horse that’s left me and done better for anyone else.”