A lifelong fascination with Phar Lap has – ultimately – led a former “nine to five city worker” to a new life in the Barossa Valley and her first winner as a racehorse trainer.
Donna Ormerod admits she was overwhelmed by emotion when her six-year-old mare Lucy Diamonds – just her fifth runner as a trainer – saluted at Gawler last month.
“I was floating on air for two days afterwards,” she said.
Ormerod purchased Lucy Diamonds for $5000 at the Adelaide Magic Millions sales in 2016 and took her time getting the daughter of Shrapnel to the races. It’s also been a lengthy journey to racehorse training for the 50-year-old, whose love affair with horses started via a childhood experience.
“I can remember being six years old and my mum having a book about the history of Australian horse racing,” she recalled.
“I couldn’t read the book at that age, but I would look at all the pictures and ask Mum about them. I asked her ‘What’s this horse?’ and it was one of those famous pictures of Tommy Woodcock and Phar Lap.
“Mum said a bit about the horse and from that moment onward I just loved Phar Lap.
“It sounds corny, but I’m really excited now I’ve got a couple of racehorses and I get to be – in my own little way – a part of the industry.
“And I’ve still got that book.”
Prior to obtaining her trainer’s licence, Ormerod had an equestrian background, but an association with Gawler trainer Gary Searle’s stable led to a landmark decision.
“I got sick of the rat race and the stress of my city office job,” she said.
“So I picked up casual work in the Barossa Valley and I thought I’d go down to the racetrack and see what happens there.
“I started going once a week to help out at Gary’s stables and I really enjoyed that, so after a while I thought I’d get my trainer’s permit and have a go.”
Unafraid to put her feelings ‘out there’, Ormerod feels her association with Lucy Diamonds was meant to be.
“This will sound funny, but I had a real gut feeling that I needed to go to the yearling sales in 2016, that there was a yearling there for me, and that I would know this yearling when I saw it,” she said.
“I was lucky enough to see Gus Lamont there, from Kooringal Stud, and told him I didn’t have much budget but that I was looking for a good horse.”
Ormerod was shown a filly and the rest his history.
“The first thing I saw was her big round bum, because of course she had her head in the feeder and she loves eating,” she said.
“I really took a liking to her and I thought ‘this is the one I want’, so I was thrilled I could buy her for $5000.”
Ormerod says the horse is named after the famous Beatles song, because she “just looked like a Lucy”.
“And the song was actually on the radio one day as I was driving to see her at the breakers,” she said.
“I’d already been thinking about that name, so I thought ‘There you go, she can be Lucy Diamonds’.”
Ormerod works part-time at a Tanunda cellar door and says her husband Dan Houston is “a huge help and a big part of the stable”.
She has also been appreciative of the support of her fellow Gawler trainers, plus Trevor Peckham, who has acted as strapper and farrier in the past.
Ormerod bought another horse at the 2021 Adelaide Magic Millions Yearling Sale (“I just loved her as soon as I saw her – I’ve had her home now for a couple of days”) and also has another horse in training, which is yet to be named and – like Lucy Diamonds – is destined to be a relative latecomer to the track.
Meanwhile the stable star is currently spelling and will brought back later in the year.
Image: Donna Ormerod with husband Dan Houston after her first win as a trainer with Lucy Diamonds at Gawler last month.