A farm accident has forced Warwick Harper to give up a sport that has been a part of his life for the best part of 40 years.
Harper, 54, started his involvement with horses on the family’s Toongi farm when his father Bruce was one of the leading trainer-drivers in the Western Districts.
While Harper has had a few spills in races and suffered a few injuries, a lower back injury from an accident on the farm about 18 months ago has got so bad that he can’t continue with the horses.
“Retirement hasn’t been easy to accept,” he said. “It probably took me five or six weeks to finally make up my mind.
“It’s not going to be easy to work around life without the horses, going to the races and the like. I’ve been around them all my life and I was only about 14 when I got to be more hands on and help dad working them.
“I think I was 16 when I got my driver’s licence.
“I’ve tried to get the work done despite the injury but it hasn’t worked out.
“The whips you get in the cart on the training track, as well as the shoeing I’ve done for myself didn’t make it any easier.
“Then of course there was the travelling to race meetings all around the state.”
Harper’s biggest support base has been at home with wife Lindy - herself coming from a family involved for many years in the sport - and their children Ryan, 15, and Kelsey, 13.
Harper has gone out on a high winning the Tamworth Harness Racing Club’s trainer’s premiership and collecting a five-night holiday at Opal Cove Resort at Coffs Harbour.
That success away from his Dubbo base equalled the feat achieved in the 1994-95 season when Bruce Harper took out the driver’s premiership at Bulli.
He retired from the sport 10 years ago.
Warwick Harper doesn’t have any idea how many winners he’s trained and/or driven but he does know that Levon Helm was his most successful horse having won 19 races.
Strings Attached, who was part of his team near the end of his career until he recently broke down, won 16 races, while Deep N Easy (13), My Glen Power (8), Huzzaar and Rachel’s Retreat (7) and Showtime Warrior (6) all paid their way.
Strings Attached had a great career but now aged 13 will spend the rest of his time on the Toongi farm.
Live To Laugh is another Harper horse that has performed well winning five races but will now be raced by Spiros Calligeros.
Deep N Easy
The most satisfying win of Harper’s career was with Deep N Easy at Harold Park in 1985 when he took out the $20,000 Loyal Satin Welcome Championship Final and collected a cheque of $14,550, the Deep Tan x Take It Easy (Raider Frost USA) gelding’s biggest race win.
“Deep N Easy won 12 races at Harold Park and I was like every other trainer or driver, I liked to win races at the sport’s headquarters, Harold Park,” he said.
“I always liked racing there and will be sad to see racing finish there now that Menangle is up and running.”
In a period from May 24, 1985 to July 5, Deep N Easy won four successive races at Harold Park before having two unplaced runs at Albion Park, then returning to headquarters and won two more in a row. If Harper loved to win at Harold Park, so did this horse.
During his career Deep N Easy, bred and raced by Warwick and Lindy Harper, won 13 races and just over $50,000 in stakes money.
The Harper’s were also great promoters of the sport and took Deep N Easy to all the shows.
His first ever win was at the Peak Hill Show in 1983 and his last race win was three years later at the Parkes Show, his second last race before he finished with an placed run at Harold Park.
His best mile rate was 2:00.7.
Harper has also his share of successes in Sires Stakes races. Rachel’s Retreat took out a Sires race at Parkes and also a Parkes Oaks.
Despite his striving to breed, race and win with his own horses, Harper has always considered harness racing to be a hobby.
“Farming was our main focus and the horses gave us the break away from the place,” he said.
“We’ve only had a couple of horses in work at any one time but during the drought at different times we’ve spent more time with the horses and have travelled away as well.
“Lindy’s father Neil Freeman was involved in the sport as a trainer-driver at Mona Vale and we often set up base down there to have easier access to race meetings.”
Harper’s other claim to fame was his ability to pop up anywhere around the State with his horses. He arguably travelled more kilometres than any other hobby trainer in NSW.
One day he would be a Canberra, and then he would have his team at Harold Park, or maybe Newcastle, Tamworth, Parkes, Bathurst or Dubbo.
“I never really tired of the travelling but as my back got worse, the long hours behind the wheel didn’t help,” he said.
“The biggest issue for the sport at the present time is the lack of regular meetings in and around Dubbo which means you have to spend a lot of time and money travelling away to meetings.
“Now we have reduced prize money so there are some major issues that have to be sorted out by the authorities before the sport can go forward.”
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