TOP CLASS DRIVER
In 1996 Sue Hall approached Western Australian Trotting Association officials seeking permission for her 14yo son, Gary, to be allowed to join his parents behind the railing in the stable area at Gloucester Park race-track. The teenager was following in his father's footsteps, with Gary Snr having established himself as a successful driver and budding trainer over the previous twenty years or so. Grandfather Ted Murphy was also a hobby trainer and Curator at the Guildford Training Track.
The request revolved around Sue's horse-mad son being more than capable at handling horses but the race-night restrictions saw him left to his own devices and away from the watchful eye of his parents.
WATA Racing Manager Ray Holloway was sympathetic but he needed a workable solution to maintain a level of control in what was potentially a risky area restricted to trainers, drivers, stablehands and owners of horses engaged at the meeting.
The minimum age for issue of a Stablehand Licence was lowered from 15 years to 14 years and Gary Hall Jnr was the first applicant and first approval for the new licence.
The young Hall's first recollection of the mere existence of harness racing was when, at the age of six, he experienced the fuss when his father trained the trifecta in the Group One Golden Slipper Stakes for two-year-olds in June 1989.
"Dad won the race with Love Of Glory and I can remember the celebrations with John and Eileen Dunstone who bred and owned him", Hall recalled recently.
"We used to spell the horses at the Dunstone's in Baldivis and their grand-son Mark Lewis and I used to bet against each other at a very early age".
With a backyard full of horses it was only natural that the young Hall gravitated to the stables and soon graduated from cleaning boxes and delivering feeds to helping his father work the horses.
"I have never really modelled my driving on anybody and I can remember watching replays of Dad's first really good horse Zakara competing in Cup races and being told to take notice of the way Fred Kersley and Chris Lewis drove".
"I am not really sure though that I knew what I was supposed to be looking at", Hall laughed.
The advice was clearly on the mark as even now Hall ranks Lewis as the hardest driver to beat.
"Chris is tough and his skills are better than anyone else. He always seems to be in the position you don't want him to be in", Hall said.
Within a few years of receiving his Stablehand's licence Gary Hall Jnr got his licence to drive in races and promptly celebrated his 16th birthday (1998) at the Pinjarra trots by driving a horse called Enhancer to victory for his father Gary Hall Snr.
Enhancer was raced by Mike and June Van Rens who were later involved with the father/son duo in owning champion The Falcon Strike in partnership with Sydneysider Alex Kay.
Somewhat ironically Kay and Van Rens were subsequently part-owners of Victorian champion Smoken Up which became one of the great race-track rivals of the Hall's more recent star Im Themightyquinn.
It was Gary Jnr's first drive in a race, the first of more than 1850 winners, and the first of more than 1100 winners recorded by the father/son combination by end 2013. His early aptitude with the reins led to 7 winners and 11 placegetters in his first 30 race drives and hastened his father's scaling back from driving duties
Hall had some 70 winners to his name when his father negotiated the purchase from New Zealand of the Falcon Seelster colt The Falcon Strike.
Racing in New Zealand as Falcon Strike, he had finished fifth to Franco Heir in New Zealand Sires Stakes (G1) before coming to Perth in early 2001, and winning his first four races, including the Western Gateway Pace (G3). This set him as an early favourite for the 2001 WA Derby but a chequered run saw him finish well behind the interstate trained pair of Manifold Bay and Franco Heir.
Manifold Bay again proved his nemesis eight months later in the 2001 4yo Golden Nugget Championship (G1) after The Falcon Strike had won seven of his eight starts leading into the race including the McInerney Ford Classic (G3).
A month after the Golden Nugget, in January 2002, The Falcon Strike won both the WA Pacing Cup (G1) and Fremantle Cup (G1) and the big race record of Gary Hall Jnr was under way.
He became the youngest driver to win Western Australia's premier race at 19 years 177 days, beating the fifty-three year old record of Alan Woodworth who was 20 years and 296 days old when he won with Bintravis in 1949.
The euphoria of a pair of Group One wins was soon to be followed by the despair of injury a month later after the 2002 Hunter Cup at Moonee Valley on the eastern seaboard.
The Falcon Strike not only galloped at the start but was checked shortly afterwards by a galloping Tailamade Lombo and forced off the track. Despite that, the stallion made up a massive amount of ground to finish less than two metres from the winner Safe And Sound in fifth place.
"He had broken down during the Hunter Cup and we were devastated as the run had shown just how good and gutsy he was", Hall recalled.
While The Falcon Strike was off the scene for more than 12 months he lost none of his ability although it took all of Gary Hall Snr's considerable skill and expertise as a trainer to keep the stallion sound and fit to compete at the highest level.
And compete at the highest level he did. Partnered by Gary Jnr. he added a further two WA Pacing Cups, two Australian Pacing Championships and a second Fremantle Cup on his way to more than a million dollars in career earnings over six years.
So strong were his performances, and with a home track advantage, The Falcon Strike was installed as pre-post favourite for the 2004 Perth Inter Dominion.
The remarkable record of Gary Hall Jnr in the Inter Dominion began with a winning double behind his father's horses in two of the three heats on the opening night of the Championship. Faking It won the first heat, The Falcon Strike won the third, and with subsequent placings Hall qualified both horses for the final.
It wasn't a difficult decision for Hall to choose The Falcon Strike as his drive in the nation's biggest race despite the stallion drawing wide in barrier six. Faking It had drawn even wider and the drive on the 80/1 outsider went to Fred Kersley.
After working early Hall settled The Falcon Strike outside the leader Jofess in a carbon copy of the pair's second night clash which had seen Jofess draw away in the straight to win comfortably by a little over a length.
The Inter Dominion final was a lot closer as The Falcon Strike, carrying the hopes of his legion of Western Australian fans that had sent him out as a $3.30 favourite, dug deep with many on-course believing that he had got up in a desperate final lunge. However, the photo-finish showed Jofess holding on to win by a nose from The Falcon Strike with a further nose to Sokyola in third place and Mister D G another nose away in fourth place in what ranks as one of the all-time great Inter Dominion finishes.
It was to be another seven years before Gary Hall Jnr had a second drive in an Inter Dominion final as his father continued to search for a second champion with a series of purchases from New Zealand and the Eastern States of Australia.
"I don't have any input into the horses that Dad gets for his owners and in fact Dad gets cranky when he tells me about the new one and I don't bother looking them up on the internet", Hall laughed.
In June 2008, less than a month after he had finished third in the $200,000 Harness Jewels final for three-year-olds in New Zealand, a diminutive brown gelding called Themightyquinn arrived at the Hall's Hazelmere stables.
Despite his high price-tag Hall Jnr was hardly impressed with the new arrival.
"He arrived as a late three-year-old and I didn't think much of him as he appeared pretty runty and not much to look at. I guess it just goes to show that good things come in small packages".
Re-named Im Themightyquinn, to avoid a clash with an average Australian bred gelding of the same name, the son of Washington VC was given a short break before being prepared for the 2008 Summer Carnival at Gloucester Park, with Hall Jnr as his regular driver.
A third placing behind Schinzig Buller and Mysta Magical Mach in the Golden Nugget 4yo Championship (G1) was followed by an all-the-way win from barrier one in the McInerney Ford Classic (G1).
An attempt to emulate the four-year-old performances of The Falcon Strike in the WA Pacing Cup and Fremantle Cup failed, but the following season (2009) "Quinny" won the Fremantle Cup from his stablemates Alzona and Dartmoor and then finished second to Washakie in the WA Cup.
A tendency to pull hard in his races and over-race wasn't helping Im Themightyquinn and Gary Hall Snr spent many hours teaching the horse to relax.
As a six-year-old Im Themightyquinn established himself as the best pacer in the Southern Hemisphere with a series of impressive performances, starting with wins in the 2011 Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups. Hall missed the Pacing Cup drive due to a suspension, but was back in the sulky when the gelding returned to his homeland for that year's Inter Dominion series.
Originally scheduled to be held in Christchurch, the Championships were transferred at the eleventh hour to Auckland after an earthquake devastated the Canterbury region.
Racing at Auckland is conducted in a clockwise direction as opposed to the anti-clockwise racing at Australian tracks and Gary's father decided that a couple of starts at the track would benefit the horse.
After finishing a close third to Power Of Tara and Monkey King in the City of Auckland FFA (G2) a typically cool and calculated drive from the younger Hall saw Im Themightyquinn sprint over Mr Feelgood and Pembrook Benny in the straight to win the Auckland Cup (G1).
The Inter Dominion was shortened to two rounds of heats and final. Hall steered "Quinny" to a pair of brilliant heat wins, and he started a warm favourite in the final but failed to run down Smoken Up in the straight.
Months after the actual race Im Themightyquinn was announced as the winner following the discovery of the anti-inflammatory dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) in the swab taken from Smoken Up.
While he was feted as the winner of the 2011 Inter Dominion it didn't sit particularly well with Hall.
"It was a pretty flat feeling as we hadn't had the chance to celebrate the win at the time and had I not won the Inter Dominion again I would never have felt that I had actually won the race", Hall said.
After returning to Perth Im Themightyquinn was given a long spell with the 2012 Inter Dominion series, at his home track of Gloucester Park, the target. Meanwhile, Hall continued driving, and recorded 122 wins in 543 starts for the season.
The 2011/12 season saw Hall and "Quinny" capture the 2012 WA Pacing Cup from Dasher VC and Lightning Raider; a week later they obliterated the field in the Fremantle Cup winning easing down by ten metres from Raglan and Lombo Navigator. That night Im Themightyquinn entered the back straight at Gloucester Park near last in the quality field and literally exploded to the front in the space of 150 metres before cruising to the line.
The 2012 Inter Dominion series was run in the time-honoured format of three heats and a final over a fortnight; Im Themightyquinn joined elite company in going through the series undefeated and providing the on-track euphoria for the connections that was absent a year earlier.
"I guess I was a bit over the top in 2012 but it was just such a great feeling and being able to share it in front of so many of Quinny's fans at home was very very special", Hall said.
"I was also so pleased for Dad as the four runs in a fortnight really is the ultimate test of the skill of a trainer", he added.
"As a driver I probably shouldn't admit it but the trainer is the key. There is an old saying that the driver can't get a horse to go any better than the trainer has it ready to go".
The format of the Inter Dominion changed after the Perth Championship and in 2013 Im Themightyquinn qualified for the final at Menangle in New South Wales with another brilliant win in a qualifying heat run at Gloucester Park a fortnight before the $750,000 final.
Yet another quality big race drive from Hall saw "Quinny" come from last with 1000 metres to travel to win by more than a length from the pace-making Mah Sish and Excel Stride and record his third straight Inter Dominion win.
"Sydney was his best win and it well and truly put the seal on his greatness", said Hall.
Following his 4yo season, and after learning to relax more in his races, Im Themightyquinn has proven almost unbeatable; in 18 starts against the Southern Hemisphere's best over four seasons of racing the gelding has never been unplaced at Group One level - his tally shows a remarkable 12 wins, three seconds and three thirds.
Those 12 wins include three Inter Dominion Championships, with Gary Hall Jnr as his driver. Hall has the amazing record of having driven four starters in the country's biggest harness race with just the nose second for The Falcon Strike standing between the driver and an unblemished record at the top level.
His coolness as a driver at the Inter Dominion level is underlined by his results. From 22 drives at this level, he has eleven wins, five seconds and one third which means he has been placed a remarkable 77% of the time when it really matters.
While he credits his laid-back attitude as a major factor in his big-race success, and may appear nerveless and calm, Hall is far from relaxed inside as horses complete their preliminaries.
"Yes I do get nervous before a big race especially on the day of the race with all the advice and as the various scenarios go through your head", he explained.
"The Sydney Inter Dominion was the worst I have been and I had no idea how I was going to drive Quinny that day. Once the barrier let us go I was fine and just in the zone".
Hall's driving skills and achievements have taken him from beginner to Leading State Driver (Season 2012/13), when he also became the first Western Australian reinsman to earn more than $3 million seasonal prizemoney. In fifteen years of driving to end 2013, Hall has built a highly creditable strike rate across more than 8,300 races with 48.5% of his drives finishing in the first three.
That performance level, reinforced by his big race profile with 34 Group One wins in Australia and New Zealand, indicates a leading presence in the industry is likely for some time to come. This was also highlighted recently when he was dual recipient with his father of the Brian Hancock Distinguished Service Award to recognise his Inter Dominion achievements.
|GARY HALL JNR
DRIVES - CAREER TABLE
** Equine Influenza Epidemic Year
# Includes overseas performances
^ figures to 05/05/14
|INTER DOMINION DRIVER WINS RECORD FOR
GARY HALL JNR
|INTER DOMINION PACING
|Im Themightyquinn (2013, 2012, 2011*)
|INTER DOMINION PACING
|Im Themightyquinn NZ (2013) - G. Park)
Im Themightyquinn NZ (2012 (3) - G. Park)
Im Themightyquinn NZ (2011 (2) - Alexandra Pk)
The Falcon Strike NZ (2004 - G. Park)
Faking It (2004 - G. Park)
For Gary Hall Jnr's Major Group Race Wins - click here
||2013 Pacing Final
Race Footage courtesy HRNSW
||2012 Pacing Final
Race Footage courtesy Racing & Wagering WA
||2011 Pacing Final
Race footage courtesy Harness Racing NZ