Donna Logan is a Can Do Kiwi
FOR SOMEONE WHO ONLY DECIDED TO TRAIN THOROUGHBREDS SO THAT SHE COULD RECEIVE
SOME RACE RIDES, DONNA LOGAN HASN’T DONE TOO BADLY.
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.