Yesterday evening at the Hilton Hotel, the racing industry made amends for its egregious insult over the years by finally inducting Wayne DaCosta into the Hall of Fame.

I do not need to regurgitate the awesome statistics that have long cried out for this Great Trainer to be inducted.  Eight Trainers’ Championships to date (with a ninth seemingly in the bag after less than a half season); the winningest Trainer in the history of racing; one of only four trainers to exceed 1000 lifetime wins; 15 Classic victories including 3 Derby winners; and a list of great horses trained that reads like a Roll Call for a Hall of Fame all by itself (Thornbird, still the only two year old to run a track record on debut and a winner of three Classics; War Zone, Triple Crown winner and holder of the record for the most wins in a row; Swing By, a Champion Filly in two Countries; and Good Prospect to name a few) speak for themselves.  But what separates this dedicated professional from the rest of those in his profession is his day-to-day relentless pursuit of winners with a view always to maximising returns for his owners.  At the end of the day, trainers have an impossible task and that is to keep their owners solvent in a game in which 90% of owners are perennial losers and none accomplishes this apparently hopeless task better than Wayne.

It is his unparalleled attention to the business of racing and his unequalled business acumen that places him head and shoulders above his colleagues.  In his barn, the lowliest Claimer receives the same diligent attention as the Classic contender because he has always recognized that the monthly bill to both owners will be remarkably similar and that the owner of the Claimer craves the winners’ enclosure just as much (and probably needs it more) than the owner of the Classic contender).  And the proof of this attentive approach to training is in his record number of winners saddled, year after year, for the past 15 years or so.   He is the punters’ best friend as no race day passes without the now customary sight of the Great Wayne DaCosta taking a picture in the winners’ enclosure with at least one successful runner.  He holds the record for the most number of wins posted in a single season.  He has trained 5 winners in a race day – a feat since unequalled – and has the remarkable record of saddling four winners in a day on no fewer than an incredible eleven times!

But it was not an easy road.  Wayne DaCosta, despite rumours to the contrary, was not born to privilege.  The son of an accountant of modest means and a mother with youthful exuberance, he soon found himself a product of a broken home with neither parent exactly anxious to have him as a responsibility.  Tertiary education was not a prospect so he went out on his own, took a menial job with the Gleaner company and tried to pursue his interest in horses with as much assistance as Tyson Gay gets from Usain Bolt – none.

The problem was that he loved horses and had spent what childhood he was permitted to have riding horses on friends’ property; behind Kings House and on any open field that presented itself.  His small group of friends would roam the Sandhurst area of the Hope Plain seeking every chance to be with horses and make them a hobby, if not a business.  For all intents and purposes abandoned by his parents, with no financial or other resources save those he could scrimp and save from his measly gleaner salary, he set about becoming a racehorse trainer with a grim determination that would not admit failure.

Even before I would come to know Wayne DaCosta and begin a friendship that has stood the test of time, he was scrambling around trying to make his way in the racing world as Assistant Trainer to his friend Philip Feanny and owner of a horse named Windsor, who managed to win a race within a week of the purchase.  He took out his Trainers permit on his own in 1977 (one year before I owned my first horse) and, for many years, was what is now popularly called a “small trainer”.  His first winner, Adorable, was no big thing but it put food on the table.  Still, he could not even afford to own a car and I remember only too well hanging out on a Wednesday afternoon at an OffTrack Betting Parlour (no, not an OTB; in those days, the off-track was really OFF track with a different pool; different dividends and in no way resembling the smooth online operation so taken for granted today) with friends when Wayne and a friend from the Sandhurst days was seen entering the premises.  “Look” one of my companions whispered to me “it’s Walk-foot Ooksie!”.  It is not easy to be the laughing stock of the middle-class from whence you spring simply because your financial situation is perilous and I remain convinced that it is this sort of early adversity that he took as inspiration (no pun intended); that focussed him on his goals; and that put the steel in his back and the determination in his spirit to succeed against all the odds.

He soon married Elizabeth McCulloch, his girlfriend of many years despite seemingly having no real prospect of supporting her.  It was the best decision of his life.  Liz became the solid rock around which his professional and personal life would flourish; the anchor to keep him steady in rough seas; the provider of the type of unconditional love that assures success; and the lifetime companion of such sincerity and devotion that she has become the envy of her generation.  While they were “courting”, her sister, Diane, was being courted by She Who Must Be Obeyed’s brother.  Thus Wayne and I were brought together by circumstance of impending marriages and family ties which have never been cut.

And he has been an inspiration (oops, there’s that naughty word again) to me in my own work.  I watched as he went to bed hungry so that his horses could eat.  I watched his meticulous and personal approach to the conditioning of his horses with their health and happiness at the forefront of whatever he did.  Wayne DaCosta is the only trainer I have ever seen who habitually entered his horses’ stalls, individually, and examined the horse (especially the hoof and joints himself not wanting, waiting or depending on any report from a groom.  And with his grooms, he is a severe taskmaster refusing to tolerate even the most simple procedural error or (horror of horrors) careless or slack omission.  One small example of what I mean occurred many years ago.  I was at evening stables doing the rounds with Wayne (as I used to do regularly as a youngster – too old and decrepit to keep it up these days) and we had paused at the stall of a particularly promising youngster to spend some time observing while Wayne brought me up to date with whatever family chat was the order of the day.  The horse was a magnificent specimen and you could see even then that he would be a Champion all things being equal and if he continued with the DaCosta touch.  While I’m busy admiring the horse and quietly talking, like a bolt from the blue a thunderous Wayne DaCosta voice shouts out the name of a groom.  Loudly.  Very loudly.  And angrily.  My left eardrum is still recovering.  In three seconds flat a groom was seen scurrying from the other side of the barn “yes trainer”.  “John (name changed to protect the guilty)” when last you clean out this stall?”  “This morning trainer.” came the polite but certain reply.  “John” the voice had become very cold, “don’t play the giddy ass with me (or words to that effect – this is a family blog after all).  WHEN LAST HAVE YOU CLEANED OUT THIS STALL???”  “This morning Trainer” came the reply but with a slight tremolo in the voice.  “Look up there” said the Trainer pointing to the top back corner of the stall (pigeon hole for you football fans) “see that cobweb?”  “Yes Trainer” very meekly now.  “John, if I come back here in five minutes and that cobweb is still there, you no longer have a job!”.  Don’t ask me how he spotted the cobweb so far away and in the darkness of the pigeon hole when there was a beautiful horse to admire and a good friend to gossip with but he did.  The point here is that, in all the years I have known Wayne, his first and foremost starting point has always been the comfort of the horse.  Everything else is sacrificed but the horse must be comfortable and clean surroundings are an essential feature of that aim.

So, congratulations my friend.  At last, the industry that you have faithfully served for more than 30 years; that you have dominated for the past ten years; that you have bestrode like a Collosus; to which you have given so much; has FINALLY put aside its prejudices and decided to acknowledge your seminal contribution.  Keep up the good work.  And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow we can celebrate your induction into the Hall of Fame with your first Derby winner as a Hall of Famer.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Good Luck!



  1. Valerie Rennalls Says:

    As usual, an excellent article. Very encouraging to those youngsters who love the sport, and may feel all is lost as it relates to them becoming “successful” at it, and that absolutely nothing is wrong with humble beginnings. Far too many of us want to start at the top without paying the “dues”.

    Blessings my friend.

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