By Duane Ranger (courtesy of Redcliffe Paceway)
Peak Crossing trainer, Mark Rees, puts a surge in winners in recent seasons down to New Zealand imports.
“If Australians get a good horse, they hang onto it for dear life. Kiwis aren’t afraid to let good horses go. They are the opposite of us, but they do like to haggle,” Rees joked.
“That’s one thing they are good at – trying to talk the price up. But generally, I get the sale I want – and usually then try and make a profit,” he added.
Rees has been training standardbreds since the 1989-90 season. Up until three seasons ago he had never trained more than 15 winners in a season.
Then in 2020 Rees trained 28 winners, last year he won 25 times, and this year he is heading for a career best with 24 winners so far.
In fact, this season has been his most lucrative yet with $198,821 – $9,344 more than his previous best recorded last season.
All-up Rees has conditioned 254 winners in 33 years. He’s also placed 628 times from his 3,270 careers starters and netted $1.24 million in purses.
“I’ve been importing New Zealand horses for about a decade now, and when they arrived, I started getting better results. I like to get them from their ready-to-run sales. Stu Valentine also helps me search them out,” Rees said.
But one horse that didn’t come from New Zealand was the Rees-bred One Last Roll – a ‘trick pony’ that let his former owner stand and ride him; and could get him to lie down and roll on instruction.
Rees trained and Narissa McMullen driven One Last Roll notched up his 18th win in 187 starts at Redcliffe Paceway on Friday (November 4). He has also placed 57 times and banked $108,769.
“I bred him with a family friend – Sonia Beyer, and I own him with my neighbour, Noel Dumke. I actually sold him to ‘Frenchie’ (Rachel Belier), and she turned him into a trick pony.
“Then when ‘Frenchie’ moved on I bought One Last Roll back off her, and to be honest he’s a much better pacer now that he’s been trained as a ‘trick pony’.
“He’s rising 10 and doesn’t know that. There’s still plenty of racing left in him yet,” Rees said.
One Last Roll won race four by a neck on Friday after leading all the way from gate five. He paced the 2,040-metre mobile in 2:29.9 with a 1:58.3-mile rate.
“It’s just so good to win for Noel. We have lived at Peak Crossing for 26 years and he’s not only our neighbour, but a very good friend.
“Noel‘s been in a lot of horses with me and comes down to the barn every day and grooms and feeds the horses. He’s a great mate and I’m just so pleased this horse keeps winning for him,” Rees said.
Just One Roll, who is by Life Sign, is the last of four foals out of the 2000 four-win Fake Left mare, Jilly Moreau, whom Rees also trained.
Rees rates him right up there with the best couple he has trained.
“He’s a good honest horse who has done a good job, but I think the best horse I’ve trained is Molliesmaryelle,” Rees said.
Molliesmaryelle, who has earned $1,239 less than One Last Roll, has won 12 of her 79 starts and $103,134. The 2015 brown Sportswriter mare has also placed 21 times.
“She’s coming to the end of it and might have possibly one more start before she heads to the broodmare’s paddock.
“She’s rising seven and has done a real good job for me. She’s the best so far, but I’m hoping my Group One star is still to come,” 60-year-old Rees said.
Rees was born and educated in Darwin. He joined the Army and played the trumpet (bugle calls) for them for 30 years.
“The Army set me up for what I have now. I was also a boiler-maker and still do a lot of welding, steel framing, and constructing new stables for trainers – a lot of whom I remember when they were born, or was at their Christening,” Rees said.
He said his first winner came at Toowoomba via Granted A Chance on October 5, 1999.
“I’ll never forget it, but Turca Kiwi was better. I won 25 races with him between 1994 and 2000. He got me going and set me up in this business. Yes, he was a Kiwi import,” Rees said.
Rees works a team of eight at Peak Crossing, which is a rural town located 20 kilometres south of Ipswich.
He is married to his school teacher wife, Robyn, and they have two children. Amy is a trotting driver and journalist in Bathurst and Jack, who used to drive, but has since followed his father into the Army.
“Amy is also a very good judge of horse-flesh. She got Ale Ale Kai, Kay Nora Shannon and Wee Jimmy from New Zealand for me. Ale Ale Kai has actually left us a lovely Rocknroll Heaven colt.
“She drives well and like Jack has been around horses all of her life. She also writes for the Western Advocate in Bathurst.
“It’s great to watch your children develop. I’ve seen it with so many of the drivers here over the years. They all know me pretty well. Nathan Dawson for example, is my Godson,” Rees said.
Rees said he loved the game and said a lot of hard work over the years had ensured a personal best season.
“You have to run with the good times and bad in this game, but I’ve always loved the people and the horses. My wife, who makes all of this possible, will tell you there have been times when I had to eat the dates off the calendar,” Rees joked.
Rees’s mother, Barbara ‘Nanna’ Rees, helps out with the behind the scenes work at the stable and rarely misses a race meeting.
Rees is further supported by a loyal circle of friends and owners who share his same passion for racing.
Meanwhile, Rees’s daughter Amy, said her father deserved every bit of success that came his way.
“Dads definitely had a good run of late with a few ex-New South Wales and New Zealand runners that have gone up to Queensland, and I’m so happy for him.
“He’s been in the industry for a long time so it’s lovely to see him going through a purple patch,” she said.
One Last Roll (5) notches up his 18th win, with a 1:58.3 mile rate, at Redcliffe Paceway on Friday (November 4).