Chasing the devil
By TONY WHITE
GRAFTON hobby trainer Wayne 'Henry' Lawson has chalked up an impressive strike rate that would be the envy of Gai Waterhouse, John Hawkes and Bart Cummings.
With just two horses under his care Starlactic and Miss Devil Chaser ? Lawson has saddled up six winners and a second from seven starts.
"It's been unbelievable, just an unreal journey," Lawson said. "I still can't believe what's happened."
Last Thursday, cantankerous mare Miss Devil Chaser, owned by Grafton District Services Club general manager Arthur Lysaught, won at Grafton. On Saturday, highly promising Starlactic continued his winning spree with an emphatic victory at Doomben.
Lawson's amazing strike rate is testimony to his uncanny ability to coax the best from his thoroughbreds and even more incredible when you consider the fully qualified electrician only took out a trainer's licence 18 months back.
While Starlactic's rise to prominence continues spiralling, the four-year-old gelding has won four of his past five starts, Lawson's horsemanship to turn Miss Devil Chaser into a winner deserves special mention.
Lysaught is full of praise for Lawson and understandably so.
"He's done a great job with the mare. Wayne is just a lovely young man, a gentleman," Lysaught said.
"With his wife Paula and two children, they are a lovely family and it's been a pleasure for Joanne (Lysaught's wife) and I to be associated with them.
"This is the first horse I've actually raced. It's been an enormous ride.
"You don't normally have this sort of luck with a bush horse. It's been a real buzz. Lots of fun."
Miss Devil Chaser has been a wild child for her entire life and proven more than a handful for Lawson, his staff, jockeys, barrier attendants and track officials.
And considering her formative years, it's no wonder she's got a streak of the Devil in her.
Several years back Lysaught was able to purchase Miss Devil Chaser, then eight months old and her dam Miss Morality, from his niece, Kelly Drew.
"They were on a property at Dubbo and there was horrendous drought in the area," Lysaught recalled. "There was no grass and they were doing it real tough.
"Kelly didn't want to sell initially but I ended up getting them and brought them back to Grafton.
"The filly (Miss Devil Chaser) had been separated from her mum, went through a barbed wire fence and had a hell of a lot go wrong. There was bark off her everywhere.
"The mother and filly were in poor condition so I sent them up to New England. She was a bit small as a two-year-old, came home went back up again and wasn't broken in until a three-year-old."
Miss Devil Chaser's naming has an interesting yarn to it.
"Lester McCartney, a former president of the club, was a real character, a man's man and he always used to call priests the devil chasers," Lysaught said.
"My niece was staying with us at the time of naming and being by Sir Debonaire out of Miss Morality (by Canonise), we thought of calling her something to do with a priest."
Co-incidence and an old friendship led to Lawson training Miss Devil Chaser.
Lysaught had known Lawson's father, Max, for more than 30 years and at the time Lawson was working with electrician Jim White doing some work at the services club.
"I mentioned I had a filly and asked Wayne if he'd like to train her," Lysaught said.
"When Wayne picked her up he soon realised she was a flighty thing, very difficult.
"He's showed an enormous amount of patience."
Lawson soon became aware of the filly's belligerent nature.
"When we first got her you couldn't even put her in the tie-up stalls. You couldn't hose her or even pat her, she'd try and headbutt you," Lawson recalled. "One time there she nearly brought down the whole wash sheds."
After making an inauspicious debut at Grafton in June, the filly was tipped out again, more TLC and hard work was poured in to try and cure her wayward traits and she returned to the racetrack in October, finishing third at Ballina, then fourth at Grafton, before another 67-day break.
"She just hated having a saddle put on her, she was a real handful," Lawson said.
"A lot of people have put a lot of work into her and believe me, she takes plenty."
Resuming at Ballina on December 17, Miss Devil Chaser recorded her first win, then repeated the effort at Grafton last Thursday.
"Before she won at Ballina she broke two tie-ups and tried to hurdle into another stall," Lawson said.
"Just getting the bridle on her was a task.
"When Brett Poulos (apprentice) came back to scale after winning he was filthy. He wouldn't even take off the saddle. She's just a handful, a real task. You need a bravery medal for being around her."
Lysaught is unsure of the mare's future. "I don't want her hurting anyone," he said.
In the interim Lysaught hopes a two-year-old gelding out of Miss Morality, due to be broke in shortly by David Campbell, can rekindle his good fortune.
Miss Devil Chaser and Starlactic, who has a date with the Brisbane winter carnival and possibly a tilt at the $125,000 Ramornie Handicap during the Grafton July Racing Carnival, are both headed for the spelling paddock.