Since the resumption of racing on 14 June following the COVID-19 enforced shutdown one stable that has had his team of horses going to the best of their ability is that of veteran trainer Geoff Smith.
In recent years Smith moved from his previous residence at Forth and bought a 40-acre property at Northdown up on the north-west coast which enabled him to put his own 900-metre training track in place.
“It has been one of the best things I have ever done as it enabled me to have more horses in work but it was a lot easier for me than most as I have my own excavation business,” said Geoff Smith who’s All-Site excavations business has been running for over 35 years.
Smith had no aspirations of ever being involved in the harness racing game until 2003 when a few mates around the north-west coast began to get involved. One mate in particular, Maurice Jarman who is well known up around that area as a trainer and farrier was a key influence.
“I was out at his property one day doing a bit of work and he happened to be working a few horses and he sings out Smithy come over and have a go at driving one. With a bit of hesitation, I jumped on with Maurice and I bowled around the track a few laps with him and I thought how good that was,” Smith recalled.
Around the time well-respected horseman Leigh Plunkett had a few broodmares that he was looking to let go and Smith was convinced to pick one up after a visit to his stud.
“Leigh talked me into taking an unraced Ticket to Heaven mare called Paiges Dream. We then negotiated a good deal on a service to Leigh’s stallion Times Stand Still.”
In December 2005 the mare produced a beautiful strong colt, but it was a day of mixed emotions for Smith as on the same day he lost his best mate of 30 years David Waldon.
“It was a very tough time for all, and I was trying to think of something that would keep his memory going so I decided to name the horse Dodgermemate,” Smith said about his mate who had the nickname dodger.
Dodger was a great horse winning 20 races over several seasons and reaching open company in Tasmania. He raced against the best and beat them with his two big wins coming in 2010, the Doug Martin Danbury Park Cup and two weeks later he took out the City of Devonport Quality. When he finished racing, he had amassed over $150,000 in prizemoney.
At the 2007 yearling sales Smith was the successful bidder for a Blissfull Hall gelding out of Noel Salter’s handy race and broodmare Really and Truly which delivered another above average performer.
Truly Blissful won his first two starts driven by a young James Johnson and after that went on to win another 16 races. He held two track records in Launceston with his best performance being the 2015 Launceston Mile where he beat Tasmania and Easter Cup winner Motu Crusader, rating a slick 1:55.2 with the king of Burnie Craig Hayes in the gig. He later retired with $136,000 in prizemoney to his name.
In the early days Smith also had a good association with Hobart based owner Gerald Norton, leasing a couple of handy horses off him called Tough Rock and Sparkling Glow.
“Tough Rock was the one that got me going back at the start of it all winning 17 races.
“He was just one tough pacer who would never give up with one of his best wins being the Cannonball Charge with Shelley Barnes in the gig,” said Smith on the pacer who’s first win came back in November 2002.
Sparkling Glow was similar to Tough Rock, as tough as they come and a good stand start horse. That came to the fore when he won the 2005 Burnie Cup with Paul “Smiley” Hill in the gig.
“It was a huge thrill to win my hometown Cup and a month later he also won the Carrick Cup,” Smith said.
In 2006, Tough Rock and Sparkling Glow ran the quinella in a Devonport free-for-all which was a highlight for a simple hobby trainer taking on some of the best in the state.
The quartet of Dodgermemate, Truly Blissful, Tough Rock and Sparkling Glow really instilled the racing bug into Geoff Smith and that’s why he is still in the game today.
“Dodger is definitely still the favourite though, the story behind the name says it all but he also had amazing ability when right. He will be part of the family forever, looking out the window he still looks like a four-year-old the way he’s running around enjoying his retirement,” said Smith.
In more recent years Smith hasn’t had anything like the horses already mentioned but he enjoys it as much as ever, and loves the challenge of getting a discarded horse and working them back into the winner’s circle. In recent times the likes of North Star Lad, Laid Back Kenny, Chris Be Quick, Mostly Spirit, Midair Meltdown and Devil of Tyne have all done just that.
The stable nearly pulled off a big plunge recently when Lightning Scooter was backed from $101 into $26, only missing by a neck and was a little unlucky. Smith said everyone that helps out around the stables were on at the big odds.
Smith says he is very lucky to have a good bunch of people that help out around his stables each day with the special element being that they all own horses that he trains so most of them actually drive their own horses in track work.
“Shane Boon has been a big part of the stable for many years and it’s great to see him with a nice horse after a very serious fall going back a few years. He has the stable star in North Star Lad who has been racing very well in good company of late and a win is not far away. He also owns the consistent Midair Meltdown, with his wife Elaine who is also a big part of the team.
“Eddie Murdoch is also a good help around the place and has been one of my lost loyal owners for many years. He loves coming out, giving a hand and jumping in the gig on trackwork days.
“Ken Hall who bought Devil of Tyne is also a regular at the stables alongside his partner Linda who is always happy to do whatever is asked so it’s a great environment to work in,” the trainer said with a smile.
Smith’s two oldest sons Graeme and Heath are integral in keeping his earthmoving business running smoothly when his commitments with the horses take him away.
Between his business, the horses and a young family, there is plenty to keep the 73-year-old Geoff Smith on his toes.
Smith is the type of trainer that the industry needs going forward as without the smaller trainers the future could look a lot different.
The one thing that stands out when talking to Geoff Smith is that the passion for the game is still burning and his effort to sit fifth on the trainer’s Premiership table is an outstanding one with mostly tried horses.