Jockey Peter Graham and trainer John Shelton await the runners? parade for race seven at Grafton on Friday.
Jockey Peter Graham and trainer John Shelton await the runners? parade for race seven at Grafton on Friday.

Tracking the thoroughbreds


GRAFTON'S six times Northern Rivers Racing Association premier trainer John Shelton has always been attracted to the excitement of thoroughbred racing and to the action in rugby league.

His football career as a player ended when he left school aged 16 but his passion for the sport remains.

John began his racing career as a trackworker, then became an apprentice jockey, before turning to training to become one of the best northern NSW has produced.

John David Shelton was born at Glen Innes in 1955, the son of Cyril and Beryl (nee Boyle) Shelton.

His father had a livestock transport business in Glen Innes. All John's schooling was at Glen Innes, Infants, Primary and then Glen Innes High, where in fourth year aged 16 he gained the School Certificate.

His sport at school, primary and high, was always rugby league and always at halfback in house matches and in representative fixtures.

"Because I wasn't big the weight divisions suited me but then when school ended and I became an apprentice jockey that took up most of my time and, besides, I could not afford to be injured in football," he said.

John was indentured to Glen Innes trainer Frank Parry who had six or seven horses in work.

After a while his indentures were transferred to Walter Doolan who is well remembered on the Northern Rivers for his many winners here and particularly through his association with the great speed machine, Tiny's Finito. Among that horse's many wins was the 1990 Ramornie Handicap at Grafton when ridden by John Hutchings.

Helping out with the training of Tiny's Finito was Walter Doolan's son, Terry, who these days has retired and lives at Yamba.

Tiny's Finito was well bred, by Blue's Finito out of former smart Tableland's sprinter Tiny's Court.

"I had ridden Tiny's Court a number of times and won three or four times on her," John said.

"Besides being a more than handy sprinter she was a grand producing mare with her progeny winning something like 50 races all up.

"When I became too heavy to ride as a jockey I worked for my father for a while driving trucks.

"I was just out of my apprenticeship at that time and had only one senior ride.

"Overall I enjoyed moderate success with about 40 winners as an apprentice, including a couple of doubles, but it was difficult with my type of physique to take off much weight and wasting to try and do so was beginning to take its toll.

"After awhile driving Dad's trucks I returned to the horses, riding trackwork in Glen Innes and then came to the coast and started riding trackwork in Ballina for the then Northern Rivers Racing Association (NRRA) premier trainer George Reid.

"During my career as an apprentice I had ridden a few times in Grafton. I liked the area and desired to set up in the Jacaranda City. It came about when trainer Darryl Taylor offered me trackwork."

Taylor made a success at training with his most notable winner being 1984 Grafton Cup winner Riverdale which was owned by great racing supporters, father and son combination of Ross and Brian Paine.

John Shelton gained a trainer's licence from the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and when Taylor decided to retire from training John set up as a trainer in Darryl's wake gaining some of the stable's horses including a couple from Ross and Brian Paine.

For quite some time John, who has 30 horse stalls in his Turf Street complex, has had a full complement of gallopers and he thrives on the high workload.

"I have a fine group of stable workers and a topline main jockey in Stephen Traecey, as well as good back-up riders and that all helps," John said.

Another great helper is his partner, Kay Sutton.

"Kay does the bookwork and on top of that she handles the feeding of the horses, so her input is substantial," John said.

Kay, while saying she was no great shakes at sport herself, is a sister to two who certainly have been.

Her sister, Julie, is a member of the hard-working Clarence River Jockey Club board of directors and married to one of our greatest-ever jockeys, John Hutchings. Then there is their brother, Paul, who played wing in the Grafton Ghosts' 1977 Group One Rugby League premiership winning team.

John's numerous wins on the Northern River tracks and surrounding courses gave him the NRRA trainers' premiership six years in a row before finishing second to Coffs Harbour's Brett Bellamy last season.

He has also led in more than his share of winners on metropolitan tracks in Brisbane and Sydney.

Twice his horses have won $100,000 feature races in Brisbane, one a fillies and mares race over 1200m at Doomben with Star of Sequalo (Justin Stanley) and the other, a win for Words and Magic at Eagle Farm with Jim Byrne in the saddle.

Star of Sequalo by Sequalo out of Pemway Star and owned by the Paine family, won many races including seven in a row on metropolitan tracks, two in Sydney and five in Brisbane.

John also trained the dam Pemway Star for a number of wins for the Paines.

No doubt the most memorable win for John was the 2000 Ramornie Handicap at Grafton with Mother's Gift using her dazzling speed to lead throughout and triumph to deafening cheers from the local punters in the crowded stands.

Mother's Gift was owned by Jim and Jean Snow, South Grafton Hoteliers and good patrons of the John Shelton stable. They also owned Swift Lass who won 10 races in the area including a Casino Beef Week Cup.

Another flyer, Sir Dan, besides wins in Brisbane and Sydney gave John two further money finishes in the Ramornie with a third to the mighty Takeover Target in 2004 and then third again last year to King Rex.

Earlier in his training career John trained crowd favourites and real flyers, Royal Phantom and Phantom's Brother, for many successes.

The pair, raced by local syndicates, won 35 races between them, 19 to Royal Phantom and 16 to his half-brother. They were virtually unbeatable in 1000 or 1100 metres events and each won up to 1200 metres.

How about Miss Ceeanne who won 15 races for the stable, including three wins in Brisbane, and on the Northern Rivers won the Casino Cup?

Who will ever forget the introduction to racing of another of John's brigade, Tomix, who won a Grafton 1000 metre Maiden Handicap by an amazing 11 lengths to be the talk of the town?

As well as its local successes Tomix went on to be another of John Shelton's Brisbane winners.

Yet another multi-winner was Noble Arch, raced by the Paine Family and its major win for them was the Country Cup (1400m) at Eagle Farm.

John named other good horses from the stable such as Karate and Totopoly who each won 10 races under his care and then full brothers, Sircolo and High Octane, who both won Brisbane races on the one day.

A few of his gallopers raced last Friday at Grafton's TAB meeting, including the grey Sircolo and another above average performer, Lord Nedyim, in race seven, the Grafton July Carnival Handciap over 1100 metres.

Despite their big weights they finished first and second with Lord Nedyim, ridden by Stephen Traecey, taking the lead in the straight only to be run down by Sircolo (Peter Graham).

The winning margin was 1-1/4 lengths with another 3/4 length to third-placed Autumn Showers with Scott Thurlow in the saddle.

John is preparing Friday's winner and runner-up, along with others of his string, for the Grafton July Racing Carnival.

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