Rebecca Butterworth

Kerryn Manning shot to prominence by winning one of the biggest harness races in the world. That was nearly 20 years ago and she's still winning.
Kerryn Manning shot to prominence by winning one of the biggest harness races in the world. That was nearly 20 years ago and she's still winning.
 
World's top racing harness driver Kerryn Manning curls up in emergency position during a recent fall.
 
World's top racing harness driver Kerryn Manning curls up in emergency position during a recent fall.
 
Kerryn Manning lies in the middle of a harness racing track, folding herself into the emergency position as 10 horses and their sulkies bear down on her, at most 10 metres – or half a second – from crushing her to death.
 
"That's me," says Manning's husband and business partner, Grant Campbell, pointing to one of the drivers about to run her over. He points to another, earlier, photo of the accident. "See there? She's already halfway into the air."
 
Campbell leans back against the sink, drying a glass. The pictures are stuck to the fridge, a record of a fall Manning, 38, had a month ago.

The world's top female racing harness driver Kerryn Manning in emergency position during a recent fall.
 
The photos are captioned in a jaunty pink font. The last one shows Manning quick-stepping to safety after the other drivers manage to avoid her.
 
"She pulled up OK," he says, unfazed.
 
Manning is the world's leading female harness racing driver, and one of the most successful sports people you've never heard of.
Kerryn Manning accepts the trophies after winning the Terang Pacing Cup with Arden Rooney.
 
That may be because of the relative size of the industry – while around $16 billion is wager annually on the "gallops" in Australia, it's around $400 million for harness racing (where horses pull a two-wheeled sulky carrying the driver).
 
But Kerryn Manning's achievements are significant, given that in horse racing women compete equally with men. The year she broke the record with 371 harness racing wins in a season, a good season averaged 175 wins. Manning isn't just one of the best women drivers, she's one of the best full stop.
 
Today, four of the top 20 Australian harness drivers are women, whereas all top 20 jockeys are men.
 
Tanya McDermott, a harness racing writer, has watched Manning race for 25 years.
 
"These days, no one takes any notice of a girl winning a race – they're just industry participants. Kerryn has removed that divide, pretty much single-handedly. Others, like Jodi Quinlan, have backed her up," says McDermott.
 
One race stands out. In 1997, Manning flew to Norway for one of the biggest races in the world, The Harley Davidson Trot. YouTube shows Manning flying up the outside in the dying seconds of the race on champion horse Knight Pistol, passing two strong leaders with 20 metres to spare.

Kerryn Manning trains Arden Rooney at her Great Western property.
 
She was 21 years old.
 
Harness Racing Australia (HRA) chief executive Andrew Kelly says she is the only Australasian to have won a Scandinavian Group 1 race.
 
"She's a trailblazer," says Kelly. "At such a young age, it was amazing."

Champion harness racing driver and trainer Kerryn Manning trains her horse Arden Rooney at her Great Western property.
Since winning her first race at 16, Manning has taken almost every award available. She is one of a few drivers with  more than 3000 wins. She was the first woman to win 200 races. She's equal Australian record-holder for most wins at a single event (six), a feat she's achieved three times. She's a dual Vin Knight Medalist (harness racing's version of the Brownlow). The full list is too long to recite, but it's impressive.
 
At 38, Manning's not finished winning. Last month she won the Hunter Cup — the Melbourne Cup of harness racing — on Arden Rooney, a horse she trains.
 
There is a pink mark on her arm from the fridge fall. It's almost healed. She rubs it. "It was a bluestone track, too," she says, and smiles.

Grant Campbell assists Kerryn Manning in harnessing Arden Rooney ahead of the Terang Pacing Cup.
 
Falls are partly responsible for the handicap women experienced in harness racing early on. As commentator Ken Dyer writes, women drove in races against other women in the late 1800s, after the sport was introduced from America in the 1850s. But after a female driver was killed in an exhibition race at the 1928 Royal Melbourne Show, women were banned from the sport. The ban endured until around 1978 – after Manning was born – and was repealed due to equal opportunity laws.
 
According to Harness Racing Australia, last year, for the first time, half the top 10 trainers in the sport were women.
 
Manning thinks she's had about 12 falls, from  more than 11,000 races. But even freak accidents can be fatal. In September 2014, trainer-driver Danielle Lewis, 28, was found dead after working horses in a sulky at the Cranbourne Harness Training Centre.
Kerryn Manning at her Great Western property.
 
"Of course the danger's inherently there," says racing writer McDermott, whose father-in-law was almost killed in a fall. "But it so rarely happens."
 
Manning's worst fall left her unable to work for three months.The dent in earnings seems to bother her more than any danger.
 
"Basically, if I'm out of action, I can't earn," she says. Horses are expensive to maintain, and she has employees.  This year, empty dams mean they'll soon need to buy water.
 
Manning makes most of her money from drivers' fees, and the training business breaks even, she says.
 
Although Manning has amassed more than $20 million in race prizemoney over her career, around 85 per cent of that has gone to the owner,  7.5 per cent to the trainer, and 5 per cent to the driver. She now gets 12.5 per cent of winnings from her own trained horses.
 
Drivers get a standardised $65 after taxes for each race.
Kerryn Manning at her Great Western property.
 
"If you're looking for a job, don't go into harness racing!" laughs Campbell.
 
Good breeding helps. Manning's father, Peter Manning, is one of the best-known trainer-drivers in Victoria.  To get to Kerryn Manning's stables you have to pass both her father's and her sister's properties. Behind all three lies a 2000 metre training track, which Peter cut himself.
 
Peter's property is rustic, littered with the shells of rusted cars, dozers, drums, and tools, punctuated with the odd herd of ancient sulkies. Michelle's stables are neat but relaxed.
 
Kerryn's  property is military clean, an expanse of well-fenced paddocks and sage green sheds. Each piece of equipment, bucket or horseshoe has its place.
 
"We don't have to pick it up straight away," says Denbeigh Wade, 22, a stablehand and junior driver, stooping to shovel up a fresh pat of manure almost before it hits the ground. "But it has to be pretty soon," she says.
 
"Kerryn takes after her mother," says husband Grant.
 
Over the evening dinner table, Peter Manning tells stories, none of which are about the Mannings' successes.
 
When asked about Kerryn's achievements, he nods once. "Yep. She's good," he says, and returns to his apple pie.
 
From 6.30am to noon, at the stables, Manning, Campbell, Wade and another stablehand, Mick Faneco, 62, exercise, shampoo, feed and dress the horses. The horses drink electrolytes and  eat chia seeds daily. They have acupuncture to reduce swelling.
 
The stablehands laugh and chat as they work, rubbing completed tasks off a whiteboard. Manning showers another horse, squirting water over its face. It shakes it off and nibbles her shoulder. She squats down, child-sized, under the powerful legs of a horse almost twice her size, scraping bot-fly eggs from its fetlocks. The horse licks the metal bar it's tethered to.
 
"They get treated like big babies," she laughs, "like they're our kids." Manning doesn't have any children of her own.
There is a calm here that rarely exists on farms. Manning might not talk about her success, but what she admires about her horses says a lot. Like her champion, Knight Pistol, who died in 2012 of old age as one of the trotting world's most admired and beloved horses.
 
"He had a will to win, basically. He never gave up. He wasn't the fastest horse I've ever driven, but he tried the hardest. Sometimes that's what it takes – a will to win."
 
Harness racing in Australia
 
 - Harness racing is conducted with standardbred horses racing around a track while pulling a driver in a two-wheeled cart called a "sulky", "gig" or "bike".
 
  - The sport was introduced to Australia from America in the 1850s gold rush era.
 
  - There are two categories of harness racers. "Trotters" move their legs in diagonal pairs, while "pacers" move their legs in lateral pairs (both legs on one side moving together).
   
  -  The speed of a harness racing trot is generally faster than the gallop of a non-racing horse.
   
  - Australia has 117 racing clubs (six metro, 111 regional), which hold more than 1900 meetings annually, running  more than 143,000 races.
   
  - There are about 1184 drivers and more than 4700 trainers with about 12,000 horses in training and almost 5500 foals produced each year.
 
Photos: Pat Scala; some supplied.
The world's No. 1 female harness racing driver is an Australian you've probably never heard of
 
Rebecca Butterworth
April 19, 2015