Sport

Shepparton Harness legend still going strong at age 90

By Aydin Payne

Shepparton's Eddie Walsh has lived and breathed one of the most colourful harness racing careers of just about anyone involved in the industry.

Walsh is only 10 years away from having three numbers on his birthday cake, but he is still going strong as a licensed harness trainer - something he has been doing for more than 65 years - and does not look like slowing down anytime soon.

Walsh celebrated his 90th birthday last month on November 12 and the next day he was back down at the Shepparton Harness Racing Club training and preparing his beloved Concorde Dawn.

He still operates out the back of the Kialla Raceway at the on-site stables where you can find him trotting Concorde Dawn around the training track behind the back of his ute at 40 km/h.

And that is only because up until two years ago, Walsh would defy his age and often jump in the sulky behind his runners and drive himself.

“Two years ago the steward said to me, ‘Eddie Walsh, you are all in one piece, stay that way’ and so they never gave me my license back,” Walsh said with a laugh.

“I don't even drive in trials anymore, I was going to apply for my trial license, but I didn't.”

The seasoned trainer has spent 75 years involved in harness racing.

“I've been involved since I was 15,” Walsh said.

“I drove in my first race at the old Woodend racetrack when I was around 18 and finished fourth.

“I had a few days on the track, I guess I was just lucky I had a will to win.”

And his will to win paid off not long after.

Walsh won his first race as a driver on Wilbur Direct a few years later at Warragul in 1952 on New Year's Day.

“We went to Healesville on Boxing Day and thought he was a good chance, but he got beat and we lost our money,” he said.

“Then we decided to take him down to Warragul for New Year's Day and he won, but we had no money left to back him with.

“But my best performance came in the ‘70s when I took Meadow Lawn up to the Sydney Derby and ran second in the heat and fourth in the final against the best drivers and trainers in the country.”

And he fondly remembers the time he bought his first pacer, Eagle Pride, for 40 pounds in the 1950s, a yarn that he still has trouble to even believe to this day.

Having grown up in Melbourne's northern suburb Broadmeadows, Walsh worked as a milkman and had a surprise visitor knock on his door pleading for the newly-married Walsh to take his horse.

“After I got married, a man rocked up one day and pleaded I take his horse and no matter how many times I said no, he didn't let up,” he said.

“The next day I got a lift down to his house and the horse was in the chook pen and the fella said to me, ‘the chooks are coming today, so the horse has gotta go'.

“So I had to walk home from Westbreen to Broadmeadows, which was around five miles, leading a horse I had never even seen race before.

“But as soon as I got home, typical me, I had to test him out and see if he was any good.

“I slapped him on the backside and away he went trotting and from that moment, I knew he would win races. He won seven and I said I would never ever sell him.”

Walsh never did.

When Walsh left the city and lived as a farmer at Warrenbayne, near Benalla, he took Eagle Pride with him and that is where the long-time favourite of Walsh's is buried.

His care for trotters rivals his will to win, even though he confesses he is not in the sport for the money.

And perhaps it is that love and competitiveness that has allowed him to still be involved after all these years and no doubt for many more to come.