Little forced to retire early due to lack of track riders at Pakenham
Retirement has been forced upon Group 1-winning trainer Colin Little, who has saddled up his final runner.
The 73-year-old commenced a training partnership with long-time employee Matt Lindsay at the start of the racing season but a shortage of trackwork riders has resulted in them duo closing their stable doors at Pakenham.
“We had two riders, one fell off and hurt his back and cracked a vertebrae, so was off for several months, so it left all the work with Matt,” Little explained.
“Matt had struggled for a couple of years with a bad back but continued to ride work.
“I was on The Ghan and Matt rang me and said ‘I’ve just ridden my last horse and I can’t move’, he was lying on his back and it had just gave out completely.
“So that meant no work riders and no hope of securing one because they are like hens’ teeth, so we immediately shut the stable down.
“What I had been thinking about some time (retirement) had been bought forward instantly.”
Lindsay has put his training career on hold as he continues to see an orthopedic surgeon, while Little, who oversaw the operation ‘a couple of times a week’, decided the time was right to step away.
“The track used to be open until 11am and trainers would finish around 9am and anyone that wanted to ride would go out when the track was deserted and get around on ponies and learn,” Little said.
“But you can’t do it these days because the tracks shut early and we’re flat out getting the horses worked let alone training anyone.
“Once the ambulance leaves, no horse can be ridden until 4am the next morning, so it’s hard to train people at racecourses who wish to ride.
“On top of that, 30 per cent of trackwork riders were overseas people on a Visa or working holiday from Europe during winter but they don’t exist now.”
With close to 50 years in the training ranks and a lifetime in the game, Little looked back fondly on his career, having occupied the famous Lord Lodge stables at Caulfield from 1986.
“We started with one or two horses and messed around like that for a long time,” Little reflected.
“I was very lucky I met a lady named Joan Heamin, who has now passed on, and she gave me a horse called Testimony, who won 13 in town, so he helped me along enormously.
“It’s been good, had a lot of fun and met some great people and had some great owners that are more importantly great friends, it’s been fulfilling.”
Little will undoubtedly most be remembered for his training feats with four-time G1 winner and 2007 Cox Plate champion El Segundo.
“I trained his mother, who was very, very good and underrated, she held three track records at one stage and her last race she won the Bagot but broke down,” Little said of Palos Verdes.
“I went to New Zealand to go buy her first foal and I stood there for half an hour trying to find something to like about it and I hated it.
“Anyway, it was called The Snake and it ran like it.
“So I went back the following year and looked at her next one and loved him and paid $140,000 for him, that was El Segundo.
“Having ran second in the Cox Plate (in 2006) and we thought for a moment he’d won because the broadcaster called him the winner and I thought ‘That’s not a bad day at the office I’ve won the Cox Plate’ – but it wasn’t to be.
“But we were very, very pleased to do it the next year, it’s a long time one year to the next and things go wrong, bugs, viruses or they go sore, so you never know but he was a better horse next year.”
Little, who now resides in Black Rock, says he will continue to follow the races closely with shares in several horses including Vassilator, who is accepted to run at Flemington on Saturday.
Vassilator has been transferred to Cranbourne-based trainer Lisa Jones, while Jim Conlan has taken over the training of Vegas Knight.