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Master Trainer: Leon Macdonald

It's a huge testament to Leon Macdonald that the veteran trainer has competed favourably with the greats, seen them come and go, and remains a major force in Adelaide racing after more than 40 years.

When Colin Hayes had a mortgage on the trainers' premiership through innovation and sheer weight of numbers, Macdonald was one of the few who could match it with the late great trainer. He was there training winners when Bart Cummings, Graeme Heagney and John Hawkes were part of the Morphettville landscape and he's still there showing some of the rising young stars how to get a winner.

While the great trainer was winning some of Australia's best races with champions Gold Guru and Umrum and later when Rebel Raider caused a massive boilover in the Victoria Derby and Southern Speed claimed the Caulfield Cup, Leon Macdonald Racing was changing with the times and staying ahead of the curve.

Training these days in partnership with son-in-law Andrew Gluyas, Macdonald continues to chalk up the winners locally while keeping one eye on the feature races for which he has become renowned. He still works out of French Cotton Lodge, named after his first Group 1 winner who defied the odds and pedigree to win the 1986 South Australian Derby. It wasn't always that way...

"I had four or five horses when I started and rode them all in work myself and did all the boxes," Macdonald recalls. "I did everything. My father had a horse or two at Port Augusta as a hobby trainer while working at Elders. I had two uncles, Ab and George, who were pretty successful trainers. So I took it on while I worked at ETSA.

"The first fair horse I had was Taminor, who won a Sires in the early 1980s. Then French Cotton came along and that set me on my way. The stable really came of age in the 90s, when Gold Guru and Umrum won Group 1 races against the best in the country."

The run of Gold Guru in the Autumn of 1998 was the stuff of racing dreams. He beat New Zealand champion Zonda in the Australian Guineas before heading to Sydney and downing legendary stayer Might And Power in the Ranvet Stakes. The superstar reversed the placings in the Mercedes Classic at his next start before Gold Guru capped a remarkable campaign with victory over 12-time Group 1 winner Tie The Knot in the AJC Derby. At the same time, Umrum was building a repuation as one of Australia's best milers, with back-to-back wins in the G1 Toorak, a Craiglee Stakes (now Makybe Diva) and a SA Sires Produce.

"Gold Guru only won one race after his three-year-old days because of joint problems but Umrum raced until he was eight," Macdonald recalls. "But I had a remarkable run with them from their first starts in the Fulham Park Plate, where Umrum beat Gold Guru a head with 10 lengths to third. They were amazing horses."

Macdonald has rarely been without a very good horse in his stable. He's also won Group 1 races with Serious Speed and Dilly Dally while Augusta Proud won a string of juvenile races including the Queensland and SA Magic Millions as she banked more than $1.7 million.

That sort of success is a lot of hard work and, by 2010, it was time to go into partnership and share the workload. With the stable numbering more than 35 horses, Gluyas has been an essential addition to the team.

"I thought the time was right to give Andrew the chance," Macdonald says. "The partnership has been tremendous. He's a great worker and he takes a lot of the physical load off me. It's probably been a bit of a family show. Pam (Macdonald's wife) has been there right from day one, doing all the books and trying to make ends meet 40 years ago."

Both of the Macdonald daughters, Christine and Sue, have had involvement in the stable at one time or another. He's also had a remarkable connection with female jockeys over the years - from Ruth MacMillan to Clare Lindop and Raquel Clark. His partnership with Lindop has become local racing legend, winning premierships together, and partnering for that massive Victoria Derby upset.

"Clare's done a mighty job, an unbelievable job, since coming over about 15 years ago," he says. "She joined the stable when Jason Holder went overseas. I liked her attitude and said to her if you work hard, I'll put you on. You just have to look at Clare's record. She fought out the premiership this year and she hardly gets an outside ride. There's no reason not to use these women. They're very good riders. Ruth was a trailblazer, ahead of her time, Raquel came here with a proven record of more than a hundred winners in Tasmania."

Just as Macdonald has welcomed change with the training partnership and his support of women riders, he says the stable itself is in constant motion. There are regular rebuilding phases as the master trainer seeks younger additions to the team and the stable is going through one now.

"I don't want old horses that can't win but I respect the older horses that give their best and pay their way - horses like Daytona Grey, who's won more than $500,000 racing in Adelaide and Counter Spin, who's a seven-year-old and continues to win races," he says. "It's a normal cycle. We have a lot of talented young horses coming through this year.

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