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By Graham Potter | Friday, September 24, 2021

It is hard to think of a business that is more difficult to start up than a that of a racehorse trainer starting out without a big benefactor in the ownership ranks supporting the venture.

Those difficulties are well known from the outset so, in the first instance, it takes a fair dose of courage for a new trainer to take that leap of faith which, in turn, relies heavily on a strong measure of self-belief with a resilience factor which is sure to be severely tested along the way.

There are many bridges to cross on that path to securing a viable training business and every time a new box is ticked the encouragement and confidence grows for the next step … and so it goes on.

Take Melissa Taylor, for example. She has already done herself proud!

“I’m ultra-proud of what Melissa has achieved in such a short period of time. In just three years she has gone from having one horse to thirty,” said Taylor’s partner, former jockey Dale Smith.

That growth stands as an absolute credit to Taylor’s expertise and dedication to the cause.

But it was never easy.


“We came up from Melbourne with one horse,” explained Taylor. “Napoleon’s War was a tried horse, and I gave him a run first-up at the Sunshine Coast and I think I had him a little bit dour … first-up over 1400m. He ran midfield, but wasn’t beaten overly far. Then I went back to the drawing board and changed a few things with him and then I took him to Doomben he just got beaten right on the line … he ran second at 100-1.

“I was stabled at the time at a property of Steel Ryan at Deagon, and I built a good relationship with his father John Ryan … also a great trainer in his own right. Between them, they know a lot of people in different businesses and John introduced me to one of his old acquaintances, David Cherry.

“David Cherry is a breeder and an owner in his own right and I had a chat to him. It wasn’t that he was going to give me a horse at that time, but there was an indication that he might give me a horse along the way to help get me started.

“When David imported a mare from New Zealand by the name of Idea From Heaven … he had had two starts and ran last both starts … the offer was made to another trainer who declined the horse … and that trainer recommended that David give me a go with the horse.

“I got the horse up and going. She won her first two starts for me at the Sunshine Coast in good time and by good margins. From there, things then progressed fairly quickly for me with David Cherry and his great friends, the Sullivan family … that’s Goldmount Lodge … who have become great supporters of my stable.”


“It never stops. You just have to keep working at it and, not only that, you have to keep working on several fronts.

“For example, when I go out to Aquis Farm to look at the foals, Dale has to be at the stable to be available for the owners that are visiting the yard.

“In that example, I’m really looking at the future by visiting the foals. David Cherry has got foals on the ground at Aquis and a mare is there, that I trained, having its first foal. Obviously, these foals are twelve months or two years away, but I’ve want to keep the relationship going as well as keep my eye in on what is happening with the foals.

“That’s trying to take care of the future … while, at the same time, Dale is handling the present needs of our clients who want to come in and see their horses. There are just constant demands on your time.

“In essence it is that you have to stay involved with people in different ways for everything to come together. You have just got to keep talking and communicating with people.”

Being a ‘master of communication’ can be a testing role … which begs the question, who is better at it, Melissa or Dale?

“We share that workload,” said Melissa. “but, I’d say that Dale is the better talker. I mean he does have a background in a Real Estate Agency.

“Let’s just say he has got better people skills than I do.”


Taylor originally wanted to be a jockey, but an injury brought a premature stop to her career.

“I was an apprentice jockey. I had a trackwork fall which ended my career,” explained Taylor.

“I was lying in the hospital bed after doctors told me it was very unlikely that I would ever be able to ride again due to the injuries that I sustained, and I thought … geez, what am I going to do?

“I left school at the early age of fifteen to become an apprentice jockey and I realised I was not educated to do anything else … but I needed to do something. I went on and did a diploma in beauty therapy which I didn’t like because you are only dealing with people and not animals and that’s not my scene.

“So, I put myself through a certificate for veterinary nursing and became a veterinary nurse.

“I did that for a few years in Victoria before moving up here … just small animals mainly, dogs and cats and that … but I also worked at a Equine Clinic on the Mornington peninsula before coming up here.

“It was never a desire of mine to become a trainer in Victoria because it was just such a competitive state but, once we had made the decision to move to Queensland because of Dale’s riding career, I decided to take out a trainer’s licence.

“In the last seven months, I’ve also been back working in a clinic. I work for Tony Doherty at Northcoast Equine in Pierce Avenue. I do a couple of days a week with Tony. I think having that veterinary background certainly is a plus for me when working my horses.

“Couple that with Dale’s input as an experienced rider and we really do make a good team.”


What is on Taylor’s wish-list looking forward … say over the next twelve months?

What would the ideal balance be in the stable … a spread of runners of different ages over different grades?

“I have thirty horses at the moment and obviously we just want to keep on building,” said Taylor. “You have always got to be aware that horses can be a day-to-day proposition. They could be in the stable today and gone tomorrow for a variety of reasons. That’s just the reality of it.

“I prefer to focus on my two-year-olds. I think Dale might be a little different.

“I really enjoy the selection process of choosing my own horses. Selecting them from babies and taking them through their education process and producing them at the end of the day … that is what I love about the young horses.

“I enjoy attending the yearling sales. Identifying a type of horse and bringing them through to the races from scratch, for myself and for our clients. That is a real pleasure for me.

“It is a question of being able to start with a blank canvas and what you create from there is up to you.

“But, of course, you need a number of horses in the older age groups to balance that if you are to have a viable business … so we will always have room for more horses.

“Whatever horse it is … they are all treated the same in terms of our endeavours to getting to understand them individually and in making every effort to get them to be good inside and out … in the coat and physically … and getting them to their upmost best.”


“For me, it is the thrill of the anticipation of the destination,” said Taylor.

“Racehorses are professional athletes … and just to build up an understanding with them so that you can have them perform at their best is an amazing experience. As I say, it is the thrill of what the destination can be … and nobody knows what that is until you give it a full go.

“It has been said if you have a happy stable you have a happy horse … and we constantly work on given our horses the best environment.

“I really love the interaction with the horses and the challenge they present in terms of guiding their careers. I’m now so enjoying what I do!”

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Melissa Taylor ... happiest with the horses ... at the track ...
Melissa Taylor ... happiest with the horses ... at the track ...
... or at the farm
... or at the farm
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