Matthew Dale's Winning Ways
Sep 23, 2015
~~Canberra trainer Matthew Dale has been studying the form almost as long as he's been able to walk, picking his first trifecta when he was just five years old.
Now he's developed into such a gifted horseman, the man in charge of one of the richest stables in the world rates Dale as one of the best trainers in Australia.
Dale fell in love with racing as a small child, going to the races with his grandparents every week when he was just "three or four" years old.
He became an avid student of the form, using his $5 pocket money to buy a bucket of chips and put a bet on at the Canberra races one week and then Queanbeyan the next.
Dale believes his love of form and his knowledge of the racing calendar has helped him know which races suit his horses, which is clearly something he's good at. The 33-year-old has one of the best winning strike rates in the ACT and NSW - over the past 12 months, one in four of Dale's runners has saluted.
In comparison, Chris Waller, who has won the past five Sydney trainers' premierships and is considered Australia's leading trainer, saddled up a winner once every seven starters over the same period.
Dale almost won the NSW country premiership, finishing just one winner behind Luke Griffith - despite having almost half as many starters.
"It doesn't matter how good you have your horse going, if it isn't in the right race, it can't win," Dale said.
"That comes from being an avid form student from a very early age. I grew up loving that side of things, having a bet and just following the form.
"I remember having my first trifecta when I was five years of age - a 50c straight trifecta and my grandparents put [the bet] on for me.
"That then transpires into your training in that you can assess your horses quite well and where they need to be placed in order to be a winning chance."
He wanted to become a jockey, but when he literally outgrew that dream it only steered him onto his current path.
Dale studied equine business management at Sydney University's Orange campus before he went to work for the queen of Australian racing, Gai Waterhouse.
While he was too big to pull on the brightly coloured silks and climb on the back of the horses on race day, Dale rode trackwork for Waterhouse, as well as being a general stablehand.
It was there John O'Shea, who now trains for the Australian branch of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin stables, first noticed him.
Dale, almost on a whim, decided to buy a racehorse with a mate, get his training licence and take some stables at Queanbeyan.
He was an instant success with that first horse, Jumping Jack Flash, winning his first start for his new owner.
The winning didn't stop there and Dale had 19 winners from his first 40 starters as his business started to explode.
But Dale felt it was getting out of control and took some time off to reassess.
O'Shea lured him back into the racing game as his foreman for six months.
The Godolphin trainer has repeatedly told Dale he should move to Sydney, which would see his stocks rise even further.
That's if you can become better than the best.
"He's an extreme talent and he's as good a trainer as there is in the country," O'Shea said.
"If he trained at Randwick, he'd have 100 horses. I've begged him 100 times to come to Sydney and he won't come.
"He's just a great horseman and he understands his horses, he's a hard worker, he's uncompromised, he's a fantastic young man.
"He's just an all-round package ... he'd be a top-five trainer every day of the week if he trained at Randwick."
But Dale's not interested in moving to the big smoke.
He has a young family in Canberra and he likes having a small stable, which allows him to have an intimate knowledge of every horse.
Dale still rides trackwork, which means he doesn't have to rely on a jockey telling him how a horse is travelling - he knows himself.
ACT deputy speaker Mary Porter said that hands-on approach was one of the things she liked about Dale, as well as his patience.
Porter is a part-owner of the Dale-trained Fell Swoop, who's won seven of nine starts and is running in the listed Testa Rossa Stakes (1200 metres) at Caulfield on Saturday, along with partner Ian De Landelles.
She'd always had a love of racing since her parents took her to Royal Ascot in England as a young girl.
It's something she shares with De Landelles, whose father was an SP bookmaker.
"His understanding of horses, his patience with horses, his hands-on approach and keeping a small stable, I think they're the things that have made him successful," Porter said.
"And he's a genuinely nice person and his family is a lovely family ... and it's lovely to see his children growing up."
De Landelles said Dale's attention to detail was also "paramount", recalling how Dale had been concerned Fell Swoop would struggle on a wet track in Sydney.
He heard there was an unofficial barrier trial at a similarly wet Goulburn and took the four-year-old gelding there to help him get used to mud.
"He's not just a trainer, he's a horseman and that's what sets him apart from many other trainers," De Landelles said.
It's clear that Canberra-based horseman is on an upward trajectory in Australian racing, but just how high he can go will depend largely on what quality horses he can convince owners to let him have in Canberra.