Donna Lo­gan is a Can Do Kiwi

Ladies in Racing - - Contents - Story by Alas­tair Bull • Im­age from Bradley Pho­tog­ra­phy



From rel­a­tively in­aus­pi­cious be­gin­nings, com­ing from an un­fash­ion­able base in the North­land town of Ruakaka, which is about 130km north of Auck­land, Donna has be­come one of the most suc­cess­ful train­ers in New Zealand. It’s quite some dis­tance from the tra­di­tional strongholds of New Zealand rac­ing and breed­ing, but Donna says she has a great ad­van­tage. “We have a huge all-weather track that’s great in the win­ter. We are able to gal­lop our horses through the win­ter months; while most other train­ers are toil­ing through the mud, plus we have a white sandy beach that’s about 24 kilo­me­tres long. “We haven’t the horse num­bers, so we’re not close to ev­ery­body else’s viruses.” Donna grew up in North­land, re­ceiv­ing early ex­po­sure to horses through her mother’s horse-hire busi­ness. As she said, she was on a horse be­fore she could walk. She de­cided to try her hand as a jockey, rid­ing about eight win­ners, be­fore start­ing her train­ing ca­reer in the late 1980s, to help her rid­ing ca­reer. Donna said, “I thought if I trained my own horses, at least I could ride them, so I wouldn’t feel so let down when I couldn’t get a ride. “There’s no thrill like rid­ing your first win­ner, but train­ing my first win­ner was a dif­fer­ent sort of thrill. You’re re­ly­ing upon a dif­fer­ent jockey, re­ly­ing upon an an­i­mal that you’ve had to teach. “It be­comes an ad­dic­tion. Once you’ve done it, you crave for the big­ger Group 1 races, as well as the other big races in Aus­tralia.” Even­tu­ally train­ing be­came her main fo­cus, and Donna was keen to learn from the best. Donna con­tin­ued, “If I was at a rac­ing func­tion, I al­ways tried to sit be­side leg­endary train­ers such as Dave O’sul­li­van, Jimmy Gibbs or Colin Jillings, be­cause they were the masters. “I’d be ask­ing ques­tions and they were prob­a­bly think­ing ‘who is this woman sit­ting next to me?’ “Of course I now train for Jimmy Gibbs, and when I ring him for ad­vice, he says ‘no, you’re the trainer now, you’ll work it out’. So the ta­bles have turned.” Donna knew she was do­ing things right once the sta­ble scored its first Group 1 suc­cess in 1997, with the two-year-old filly, Good Faith in the Eller­slie Sires’ Pro­duce Stakes. Her lack of fear was high­lighted when she con­vinced Peter Vela, co-owner of auc­tion com­pany New Zealand Blood­stock and the highly suc­cess­ful Pen­car­row Stud, to put up a free two-year lease of one of their fil­lies which she would train, as a prize for a Whangarei Rac­ing Club com­pe­ti­tion.

Donna said, “I de­cided to ring Peter and tell him what we were en­deav­our­ing to do with the pro­mo­tion; that I had to choose the filly since I had to train her for free for the com­pe­ti­tion, so I asked him if he had a filly I could have a look at.” That filly, sub­se­quently named Vapour Trail, won the Group 1 2002 New Zealand Oaks and the Filly of the Year ti­tle in the own­er­ship of Bruce Sher­win, then a race­caller in Ma­cau and now part of the Raf­fles Farm set-up in Cam­bridge. “Peter had of­ten re­marked that he ad­mired peo­ple that have the gump­tion to ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions. He’d say, if you don’t ask, you don’t re­ceive any­thing,” Donna re­mem­bered. Later in the Spring of 2002, Vic­tory Smile would be­come her first Group 1 win­ner in Aus­tralia when he won the ATC The Metropoli­tan at Royal Rand­wick in Syd­ney. In the last few years, the suc­cesses have con­tin­ued to come in­creas­ingly. In 2013, the Donna Lo­gan team won the Group 1 New Zealand Derby with the out­stand­ing filly Habibi, who, af­ter be­ing sold to Amer­i­can owner Ge­orge Straw­bridge, has since run se­cond in Group 1 com­pany in Canada. A year later an­other filly, Ris­ing Ro­mance, might well have won, just fail­ing to catch Puc­cini and in 2015, Volk­stok’n’bar­rell was only just out­stayed by the sub­se­quent Caulfield Cup win­ner

Mon­go­lian Khan. Both Ris­ing Ro­mance and Volk­stok’n’bar­rell have gone on to big­ger things in Syd­ney, with Ris­ing Ro­mance win­ning the 2014 Group 1 ATC Aus­tralian Oaks and Volk­stok’n’bar­rell be­ing suc­cess­ful in the 2015 Group 1 ATC Rose­hill Guineas. “I love the rac­ing in Aus­tralia and how they sup­port their in­dus­try. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s the taxi driver or the lady sell­ing you shoes in a shop, they’re all madly keen on rac­ing. It’s just in­cred­i­ble,” said Donna. Donna had a ter­ri­ble set­back in 2015, when her train­ing part­ner and ex-hus­band, Dean Lo­gan lost his bat­tle with throat can­cer. Most of her team still re­mains and she’s been re­joined in her train­ing part­ner­ship by Chris Gibbs. The team now has own­ers in Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong, Aus­tralia and right across New Zealand. With her con­tin­ued suc­cess, Donna has been ap­proached by more of the top studs and own­ers to train their horses, while she still main­tains her ex­cite­ment and en­thu­si­asm in the in­dus­try, as she ar­rives home with new horses from each year­ling sale. She said, “I find I just can’t leave them alone. I’m look­ing and look­ing at them, try­ing to imag­ine what type of horses they will grow into, while wait­ing to see if that’s the re­al­i­sa­tion of a dream.” Donna Lo­gan is much re­spected in Aus­tralia, as well as her home coun­try of New Zealand.

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