FOUR TIME AUSTRALIAN LEADING DRIVER
Born in 1958 and reared in a farm life at Romsey on the rural fringes north west of Melbourne, Gavin Alexander Lang was destined to become a horseman for how could he be anything else given his family environment. His father Graeme Alexander Lang, born in 1933, had taken up harness racing for a vocation in his youth and by the time Gavin was born his father was successfully breaking into the industry in Victoria.
As young boys Gavin and his brother Chris were taught the rudiments of horse care and training, and were absorbing the quiet characteristics of their father's driving skills and tactics at trials, shows and the race meetings they all attended. Strong careers followed, confirmed by Gavin's three Trotting Grand Final wins in Inter Dominion Championships (1988, 2002, 2004) and his Hall of Fame membership. His excellence in horsemanship has also been recognized with a record three wins of the Harness Racing Weekly Vin Knight medal (2003, 2004, 2008).
Although learning to drive from the age of six on the home track and in impromptu trials, it was not until Gavin was sixteen that he gained his licence and was allowed to drive. His first win at a race meeting at Kilmore on 2nd June, 1975 on Pensive Dream, trained by his father, was followed by a win on Rebecca Campbell in the Emerald Pace when his father was unable to drive. Gavin's first metropolitan winning drive came on Wilrose on 23rd March 1977 at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
His father's clients, however, at this stage required Graeme to drive the Lang Stable horses and Gavin, although gaining some stable drives, created his own opportunities by travelling to far country tracks in Victoria in search of extra drives and experience.
By 1979 Gavin's seasonal winning total had reached 34 whilst his father in 1980 reached his pinnacle of success with 131 1/2 wins to become Australia's Leading Driver that season.
During the period leading up to that same season, Gavin represented Victoria in the 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980 Australian Young Drivers' Championships an indication of potential future achievements.
In 1982 Gavin's seasonal wins totalled 78, and within another two years he had topped the century for the first time with 110 wins - a feat he has mastered for twenty seven of the following twenty eight seasons. From 1983, except for one season, Gavin has been in the top ten national standings including four listings as Australia's Leading Driver. In 2000, and again in 2011, he drove 222 wins for the season - his best so far.
Gavin is noted for his "ice cool" driving tactics, seemingly adopting the business axiom of arriving "just in time". His driving is noted for judicious and sparing use of the whip and then only in close finishes if necessary. His humane driving tactics endear him to owners and trainers alike for they know that their horses are looked after in races and are able to back up in following races.
By the end of the 2010/11 season Gavin had totalled 4,820 wins and was placed in almost 7,000 races in Australia and New Zealand. From 1975 to end August 2011 Gavin had driven in more than 25,770 races, winning prize-money in the vicinity of $33.7 million dollars.
He is a regular driver in all the Grand Circuit and Classic races throughout Australia and has driven in New Zealand. His greatest successes have come when driving trotters - his two best being True Roman, with 60 of that gelding's 73 wins and earnings of $530,732, and Sumthingaboutmaori Tr 2:00.9 driving 26 of that mare's 31 wins and earnings of $461,499.
True Roman won two heats and the Grand Final of the 1988 Inter Dominion Trotting Championship and then was unlucky in the 1989 Grand Final when second after claiming two heats. Sumthingaboutmaori was also an outstanding competitor in Inter Dominion Trotting Championships, capturing the Grand Final in 2004.
The Lang family, father Graeme, Gavin and Chris seem to have an affinity with the Inter Dominion Championships - between them they have won thirty two Heats and Consolations plus seven Grand Finals. In fact it seems that the Lang family has been the bulwark of success in turning back repetitive New Zealand successes in the Inter Dominion Trotting Championships with Scotch Notch, Wagon Apollo, True Roman, Game Bid and Sumthingaboutmaori.
Gavin Lang's record shows 16 heats and consolation wins, together with three of the twenty-two Grand Finals in which he has driven. Strangely his best performances have been in the Trotters section with three Grand Finals, one Consolation and eight heats, whilst in the Pacers section, he is yet to break through to a Grand Final win, although he has won six heats and one Consolation.
At a lower level Gavin has travelled afar to win races in all Australian States and New Zealand, and he moves regularly around Victoria driving sometimes at the rate of four or five meetings a week. Being a "catch driver" he is regularly engaged by some trainers for a particular horse but many of his drives are singles for the non-professional trainers who prefer his quiet style of driving.
The Lang family, although having separate training establishments, have been a closely knit unit for some thirty years and when one is injured or suspended the others are utilized for the family trained horses. Gavin has driven his father's champions at various times including Wagon Apollo Tr.1:57.1 and Scotch Notch Tr.1:55.8, and they now share training responsibilities as well.
Apart from True Roman and Sumthingaboutmaori, the best trotters driven by Gavin include Game Bid NZ, winner of the 2002 Inter Dominion Trotting Championship when Gavin equalled his father's two Grand Final wins - and ID Trotting Championships finalists Maori's Glory, Maori's Dream, Kyvalley Prince, Sparkling Eyes, Euro Ringeat EU, and Lester Scott.
His ID Pacing Championship finalists include Riverlea Jack, Ataturk, Jagged Account, Persistency, and London Legend. He also drove Yulestar, Grumpy Ole Man, and Rainbow Knight, to heat wins; Imperial Atom NZ was a Consolation winner but won 14 races leading up to the ID Championships. Many other performance horses benefited from his skills too.
Other Performance Horses driven
The season of 2005/06 saw Gavin take on driving Robin Hood P.3,2:00; 4,1:58.1; 1:58. Bred in Queensland by Fake Left USA from Surfer's Paradise P.2:00.7 by Vanston Hanover USA and taken to Victoria as a rising two year old, Robin Hood had 12 wins in his 3 and 4 year old career including 11 in country areas but only one at Moonee Valley for lifetime earnings of $63,163.
Leading Victorian reinsmen DK Douglas and Brian Gath had been driving the colt, but the change was made probably when the owners realized that the Inter Dominion Championship in Hobart in 2006 was within their reach.
Over the ensuing two months Lang drove Robin Hood to wins in the $20,000 Melton Plate, the $20,000 VHRC Cup, $100,000 Kilmore Cup, $125,000 Ballarat Cup and was placed third in the $500,000 Miracle Mile. His future for the Hobart Inter Dominions looked very promising. However, an inexplicable lapse of form with three unplaced runs in the $300,000 Victoria Cup, $50,000 Moonee Valley Cup and the $500,000 Hunter Cup put the owners' Inter Dominion ambitions aside at least for the Hobart trip. Gavin had some compensation when he won a heat of the Championships with London Legend NZ, and again finished in the Australian Top 10 Drivers for 2005/06 with 163 wins.
The pattern of Lang's career continued through 2006/07 with another 173 wins reinforcing his reputation as a master reinsman. His Group 1 successes included the Australian Oaks (All Promises), NSW Oaks (Miss Hazel), and Australian Pacing Gold finals - 3yo fillies (Miss Hazel), 2yo fillies (Kept for Pleasure). His versatility with different horses was further demonstrated with strong drives in the Inter Dominion Series (Tribute NZ, Foreal NZ, Robin Hood), but Robin Hood missed the final placings. In a different context, Lang also volunteered for the Leukaemia Foundation's annual World Greatest Shave fundraiser.
He persisted with Robin Hood through 2007/08, despite the horse needing lengthy spells with troubled feet (quarter cracks); his reward came with a track record breaking win in the Victoria Cup (1:57.3) where Lang's characteristic driving style led him to bide his time until the home straight to upset Smokin Up and Sting Lika Bee. As Lang said, "I knew that if he could get a good trip he'd be in the finish" and it was a double celebration Robin Hood gained a ballot exemption for the Inter Dominion semi-final and Lang added the Victoria Cup to his list of winning achievements.
The Inter Dominion campaign was unsuccessful (January 2008), but Lang recorded another personal best in the lead-up and set an Australasian record with his 4000th winner. He went on to score a second Victoria Derby win (Tanabi Bromac) and the Victoria Oaks (Kept for Pleasure) this made him the first driver in over thirty years to claim that double in the same calendar year since Brian Gath in 1977. With an overall count of 11 Group 1 wins in the season, it is understandable that he is considered Australia's premier big-race driver. (Refer to Major Races table below)
A highlight was his record three wins from six Group 1 races on Breeders Crown day at Bendigo (August 2008) with Skyvalley; Keppel Bay, and Captain Joy. Again, his skills with both trotting and pacing gaits were on display, and his comment "It's a great finish to one of my most memorable seasons" summed up the result. Further success came with the Tabcorp Driving Performance of the Year award (Robin Hood Victoria Cup) and scoring a second Australian Pacing Gold victory (Esprit De Kayjay). Overall, he recorded a milestone 59 metropolitan wins in the season, and claimed his maiden State metropolitan drivers' championship.
A slow start to season 2008/09 due to a mystery illness improved pre-Christmas when a winning double at Kilmore (December) provided a belated 50th birthday present. The Inter Dominion Trotting championship soon followed, with early success in qualifying two of his regular drives for the final Save A Sixpence and Skyvalley, but brother Chris took line honours with Sundons Gift in the final. A major place finish also eluded him in the Inter Dominion Pacing championship final, when he drove the early favourite Auckland Reactor, "a very special animal", after regular driver/trainer Mark Purdon was suspended.
Nevertheless, outstanding results with Captain Joy were some compensation this young son of Mach Three captured four Group One races among ten straight wins with Lang in a six months' period. These included the Victorian, Queensland and New South Wales Derbies and the NSW Breeders 3YO Colts & Geldings final outstanding performances that led to two national awards 3YO of the Year, plus 3YO Colt/Gelding pacer. A State Horse of the Year award was also received. Overall, Gavin's 169 wins from 807 races in his home state brought another top three finish in the 2008/09 Victorian State Drivers' premiership with over $1.53m in prizemoney, and he secured his second Victorian Metropolitan Driver's title in a last minute narrow margin from Chris Alford, again demonstrating his driving ability and consistency of performance.
Further success and recognition came during season 2009/10 - with several horses prominent among his notable results. Established performers such as Sammy Maguire, Tanabi Bromac and Don King were strong contenders, along with newcomer Stunin Girl, with average prizemoney close to $100,000 each. Wins in two Vicbred finals came with Chateau De Ville (4YO Trotters) and David Hercules (3YO Colts & Geldings). Positive racing continued with Captain Joy, and a provincial Cup win over the reigning Inter Dominion champion (Mr Feelgood) in early 2010 was some consolation for a near miss in a ballot for an Inter Dominion pacing final's berth with Sammy Maguire. Lang claimed a third consecutive Victorian Metropolitan Driver's title, with highlight Group 1 wins in both trotting and pacing contests included in his tally of 32 first placings. They added to his national total of 201 wins his second best result in the past 10 years and confirmation of his high calibre expertise.
The arrival of ex- Kiwi trainer Brent Lilley in Victoria in early 2010 opened opportunities for Lang to drive at more meetings - "something I decided I wanted to do a year or so back". This showed in season 2010/11, when he equalled his personal best with 222 wins, which featured a majority of Country successes. Although he did not venture to Auckland for the Inter Dominion Championships, he was heavily booked, and highlights included triple wins on two occasions at the Melton raceway, both featuring emerging achiever Talaspring, and two significant Group 1 results with star performer David Hercules the Vicbred (4YO Colts & Geldings) and the Breeders Crown (4YO Entires & Geldings). He also continued with pacer Village Of Dreams whose lifetime earnings passed the $265,000 mark.
Lang's driving activities continued to favour non-metropolitan engagements in 2011/12, and his results often showed 2 wins per meeting, which contributed strongly to his 188 tally for the season, and another national TOP10 ranking. His consistent performance was reflected in prize-money too, with various runners such as Lady Penrose, Restrepo, Bobjacks Angle and Village of Dreams all exceeding $32,000. However, no doubt the highlight of his year was setting a benchmark as the first harness racing driver in Australasia to record 5000 wins, when Takeiteasyonme scored in August 2012 at Warragul where Lang was born. He "believe(s) every win is great" and is very proud of having "so many loyal owners and trainers who have stuck with me throughout my career".
There was another tilt at the Inter-Dominion held in Victoria, when Save a Sixpence competed in the last trotting Championship, and registered the best mile rate (2:00.3) in the heats to win at Shepparton, but finished mid-field in the final. Better results came with Im Smouldering, collecting some $82,000 prize-money in four months, including the Group 2 Tatlow Stakes, followed by a Breeders Crown win with Glenferrie Shuffle (2YO Fillies Group 1). That gave trainer Craig Demmler his first Group 1, and maintained Lang's position as the most successful Breeders Crown competitor, with nine "caps", including three in 2008 (another record).
His popularity and achievements were re-affirmed in 2012/13 with a fourth award as Leading Metropolitan Driver (Victoria), recognising a winning strike rate of 15% from 261 races. Trainers such as Emma Stewart (Restrepo) and Brett Cargill (Jack in Flight, Our White Knight) partnered with Lang for several top results, and a highlight was the VicBred Super Series finals (July 2013) when Lang won $185,000 in stakes-money, including two Group 1s for 3YOs - Guaranteed (colts & geldings) and Im Smouldering (fillies). He also piloted Claudys Princess to victory in the 2YO Trotting Fillies (Group 1) at just her third start.
He claimed two Cups - Shepparton (Our White Knight) and Mildura (Five Star Finish), and rounded out the season with another Breeders Crown cap Whereibylong (2YO fillies Group 1). His season tally passed $2million, with 224 wins and a national TOP4 ranking his best in the past five years.
Gavin Lang has an enviable reputation in the industry, and his combination of professional excellence and endeavour has been recognised with a well-deserved Distinguished National Service Award (2012), and induction into the Victorian Harness Racing Hall of Fame (2013). Other honours earned include the national J.D. Watts award for Leading Driver four times (1992, 1991, 1988, 1986). He won more races than any other driver at the Moonee Valley track prior to the industry move to Melton (1029 including the last), and his widespread popularity was confirmed with a vote as Australia's top reinsman in reader polls on the industry website. He plans to continue driving "for at least another decade" and looks set to record further success in 2013/14 and beyond.
Other performance horses driven:
Perhaps the first best horses of his younger days were Copper Leopard, winner of eleven races, followed by Marching Order Tr.-16 races, Our Real Force Tr, Young Trouper Tr, Crystal Sunset Tr-11 races, Sparkling Eyes Tr.-11 races, Exemplify Tr-14 races, Andandon Tr- 16 races, Poet's Corner Tr. His best pacers included Franco Tiger P-21 races, Hokum P-15 races, Black Duke NZ P-20 races, Bronsky Beat P-19 races, Aim First P-17 races, Persistency P-23 races.
Other well known pacers which he drove at various times, included Lombo Skyrider, Mont Denver Gold, Manifold Bay, Sassy Sarah, Mister Roberts, Iraklis, Northern Brewer, Newsbreaker, Denver Gift, Golden Reign, Hyperstat, Provocative, Vanderport, Another Bart, Low Man, Sentinel, Table Card Tr., Our Navy Lady, Voight, Johnny Aigar, Lee Vegas, Aberdeen, Floreat, Innocent Eyes, Alabama's Idol Tr., and many of the Myrniong named horses.
|INTER DOMINION DRIVER WINS RECORD FOR
INTER DOMINION TROTTERS CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Game Bid NZ (2002)
True Roman (1988)
INTER DOMINION CONSOLATION
Imperial Atom NZ (1992)
Jazz Legend NZ (2008)
INTER DOMINION CHAMPIONSHIP HEATS
Tribute NZ (2007)
Robin Hood (2007)
Grumpy Ole Man (2000)
Rainbow Knight (1998)
Save A Sixpence (2012)
True Roman (1988 x 2, 1989 x 2)
For Gavin Lang's Major Australian Race Wins click here
2004 Trotting Final
Race footage courtesy Harness
Racing Victoria and Provideo
||2002 Trotting Final
Race footage courtesy NSW
Harness Racing Club
||1988 Trotting Final
Race footage courtesy Harness Racing Victoria and Provideo