Darren Mackereth - going for broke
Perhaps it’s a by-product of our heritage, but there is a certain romantic notion about life on horseback.
Although droves of young folk now eschew rural pursuits for city lights and a cubicle, Eliza Park’s head breaker – Darren Mackereth – is not about to step down from the saddle.
One of the thoroughbred industry’s most accomplished horsemen – and with a ‘resume’ which includes Horse of the Year, Weekend Hussler – Darren is clearly in his element.
After all, given that he’s been riding since he could walk, it’s in the blood ...
“I grew up in North Queensland, mustering and learning to break in stock horses on my family’s cattle property.
“Moving to Toowoomba to finish my studies, most weekends you would find me competing at show jumping and camp drafting events. Due to the demand for Australian horses I was able to sell quite a few overseas.
“My first job in the thoroughbred industry was with the McNicol family’s Gainsborough Lodge which encompassed every facet of stud life, including breaking in.
“By the time I was 20 I had taken out an open trainers’ licence and trained my first winner a few months later.”
Travelling overseas for the first time, Darren worked in the USA for two years, firstly in Kentucky – riding trackwork and breaking in – before heading to Texas for a stint at breaking in and training cutting horses.
“Returning to Australia, I was employed as stallion manager by Baramul Stud in the Widden Valley (then owned by Sir Tristan Antico and now with Gerry Harvey) where I worked with stallions such as Red Anchor and What a Guest along with some great mares like Avon’s Angel and Shankhill Lass.”
Heading back to the Sunshine State for the breaking in gig at the Thomas’ well appointed Washpool Lodge, Darren eventually decided it was time to hang out his shingle, leasing a farm at Oakdale in NSW where he trained and sold show jumpers, along with pre-training and breaking.
However, Darren was offered a 12 month contract in the United Kingdom as a competition rider for a large show jumping yard in Sussex, travelling to competitions throughout England, as well as Belgium, Holland and Germany. During his time there he also broke in warm bloods and a few thoroughbreds.
“Returning to NSW, I set up base at Retford Farm in Bowral NSW, breaking in and riding pre trainers, with some of its ‘graduates’ including Group winners Danewin and Schillaci.
“I then made my first move to Victoria, working as foreman and rider at the Vinery Pre-Training and Breaking In Division. Coincidentally, Vinery was run by Lyle Plumb (Eliza Park’s Asian Representative) and its client ‘roster’ included Lloyd Williams, Mick Price and Peter Moody and I worked with Group horses such as Haibery, Brief Embrace, Bollinger, Bounding Again, French Bid, Kempinsky and Untouchable.
“It was during my time at Vinery that I was offered the foreman’s job at Rick Hore-Lacy’s Caulfield stable and it was clearly a marvelous period with Dash for Cash, Dantana and Rinky Dink all firing … however, my time at Rick’s was cut short when my father got ill.”
Darren again returned to Queensland, kicking off by riding work for Gillian Heinrich ( who just won the Magic Millions ) before graduating to foreman, where he also ran there satellite stable at Warwick Farm.
Later on, Darren operated out of Bevan Laming’s property at Jacob’s Well, strapping St Basil when he won the Group One Stradbroke Handicap.
From there Darren made the first of what would be many trips to Japan, asked to break in 60 yearlings at Ten-ei Horse Park on behalf of the Silk Horse Club.
“On my return to Australia I met up with (Eliza Park CEO) Cameron Croucher at the 2005 Gold Coast Magic Millions sales and was asked to join the breaking in division.
“That first nine months was clearly memorable as breakers included Weekend Hussler (below), multiple Group One winner Gallica, and Alister Clark-G2 winner Sound Journey.
“After another spell in Japan, I was back at Eliza Park the following year … only this time I didn’t ‘shuttle’ back to Japan.
“I’d been appointed stallion manager at Eliza and, given the travel restrictions due to EI and the growing popularity of our sires, it was a VERY busy season.”
Now Darren is focused purely on Eliza Park’s ever increasing tally of breakers and pre-trainers, with the annual intake of breakers well over 170 … and growing.
“The division’s popularity has multiplied as trainers and owners can rest easy in the knowledge that their yearlings and racehorses will be well educated and tractable.
“They also have the option to spell them on farm, or pre-trained : the latter being taken up by many trainers as they have become aware of our methodology.”
So Darren, what do you look for in a potential champion?
“I have found good horses come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of conformation faults, but the ones that seem to make good horses have a good mind or temperament and can handle pressure.
“They are usually very light over the ground when you are riding them and have a big, well balanced stride … all without expending too much energy.
“They are also relaxed around the stable, never leave an oat during breaking in and are happy to lay down and sleep.
“Yet, apart from all those vital aspects, if they lack the heart or will to win, having those other attributes is of no use.”
Darren’s experience at both home and abroad sees him approach every working day with an open mind …
“I have seen many different ways to break a horse in and have changed my methods accordingly … I quite often find a new, or should I say, better way to do certain stages, but the key to it is to keep it simple.
“It’s now a more mental than physical process: the days of ‘old school’ breaking is gone.
“I’m a fan of most aspects of ‘natural’ horsemanship as it produces a much nicer result for the horse … and for me!
“One this is for sure … you never stop learning. Even after all these years, horses teach me something new all the time: they are very smart and amazing animals.
“I enjoy what I do.”