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Brian Gath: A birthday celebration for a life in harness racing

There might not be a more synonymous name In harness racing then the champion that is, Brian Gath.

Brian Gath
Brian Gath Picture: HRV

The legendary reinsman turns 80 today, If harness racing was the stage then Gath was, Laurence Olivier with his timeless performance and trademark flamboyance in the sulky, "The Little Master" sits in a class of his own.

Gath's world suffered an unexpected road bump, when he broke his leg in three places on a routine walk out the back door on a frosty Melbourne morning.

The reinsman had a plate and screws inserted into his leg and is making a steadfast recovery less than a fortnight since the accident.

"I am healing quite good and I am on crutches, but I am feeling good," Gath said.

"I think you might see me at the races very soon."

The winner of the 2022 Gordon Rothacker medal has had a whirlwind couple of days celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss to wife, Denise.

"It was my anniversary yesterday (July 4), without her I don't think I would have got half way to where I did, "he said. "She has been a wonderful wife and she use to look after the kids, while I drove around the world.

"She kept everything going while I was off to the World Drivers Championship in 77'. She has always had my boots nice and clean and has always had tea ready for me at 1 or 2 am or whenever I got home.

"I wouldn't have kept going if it wasn't for her."

Gath has had a career dating back to his first win in 1960 piloting Tobacco Smoke at the Royal Melbourne Show, but still looks at the 1978 Inter Dominion success with Markovina as his crowning moment.

"My father and uncles drove in the Inter Dominion, but could never win it, Dad (George Gath) ran second and my brother (Neville Gath) also came second, one Gath won it and that was me," he said.

"The highlight was definitely the Inter Dominion, I hoped one day I would be a leading driver in Melbourne cause my father and my brother were.

"I hoped I could hope to do what they did, I ended up winning it three or four times.

"I always wanted to win a Miracle Mile, I sort of half reckoned it wouldn't happen, because it was hard to get a run in it, let alone a drive.

 

"I drove Franco Tiger one year and the next year he came out and won it, I achieved everything I set out to do.

"I always wanted to drive 100 winners (in a season), and I did that a few times."

"The Little Master" reflects on the changes to the sport dating back 65 years.

"It has always been tough, I grew up in the era of the Showgrounds and you had to be tough and you had to learn your trade quick over a three-furlong track," he said.

Gath's relationship with the larger-than-life figure of, Vin Knight is something that the 80-year-old reflects on fondly.

"I loved Vinny Knight, we were chalk and cheese, but for some reason we were good friends," he said. "Vinny was very flamboyant and I was the other way. We use to travel together and go on trip together"

In a lifetime spent in the caper the Longlea champion has one horse above all else.

"Cardigan Bay, I was only a young little boy and I saw him win the Inter Dominion in 1963 and he made three runs in that race and he was too good," he said.

"Cardigan Bay was my favourite horse; I had ever seen."