Tragic loss of ‘larger-than-life’ racing identity

The recent passing (April 11) of John Cooney 82, one of Rockhampton's most successful racehorse trainers over the past three decades has evoked countless memories.

John Cooney was one of those larger-than-life racecourse characters, a graduate of the old school of horse trainers, horsemen and cattlemen.

Mention of his name and immediately a dossier of top-class racehorses that he trained so successfully spring to mind.

Such names as the prolific, and I mean prolific, winning sprinters Bay Poet and Go Garla are just a few.

John, ably assisted by his late wife Margaret, won 26 races with Bay Poet in distances ranging from 800m to 1200m.

In the main the Raise A Stanza - All About gelding foaled in 1995 and raced by one of Johns loyal clients Bill Stark, defied crushing weights to win in and around Callaghan Park, Rockhampton.

It was a similar scenario with handsome Garlander gelding Go Garla which made the Yeppoon Newmarket (1200m) his very own with multiple wins.

During the late 80s, 90s and the early part of the 2000s, I enjoyed the pleasure of calling countess winners in the Cooney silks of tangerine (orange) and black.

Of course, there were many other Cooney colour-bearers that saluted with almost regular monotony including Stylish Time and Dule of Rutland.

John Cooney was a premiership winning trainer in Rockhampton but decades earlier he had made a successful fist of racehorse training at various centres in New South Wales as well as Mt Isa in Queensland.

It seems training prolific race winners was John's speciality as his family relate, he won 20 races with Easy Vision and a huge number with Prince Caynham in the North-West long before moving to Rockhampton.

As well John trained abundant winners from a base at Glen Innes in the New England Tablelands of NSW while dabbling in selling untried horses throughout the Eastern Starboard.

His move to a property on McKenzie Road, Alton Downs in 1984 was prophetic as it was to be the launching pad for some of his greatest successes with the earlier forenamed classy sprinters in CQ.

Somewhat a superstitious character, John had a particular disdain for racing silks sporting the colour green.

He deemed "green" to be an unlucky colour on horses and had a way of getting his message through.

I can still hear him regularly telling me at early morning trackwork sessions at Callaghan Park to "get rid of those green colours your horses wear".

To which I would reply - "they haven't stopped Bart Cummings winning Melbourne Cups with green on his silks" to which John would walk away muttering something uncomplimentary.

Another one of John Cooney's tools of trade was a transistor radio which he would have turned on around his horses most early mornings at the track.

To this day I don't know the theory there as to whether it was to get them accustomed to race day noise or just to keep trainer Cooney updated with the news.

Actually, John was never backwards in making his opinions known and he wasn't a fan of racing handicappers given he had so many top performers which they inflicted with high weights.

It was as if John took it to be a personal affront instead, I suppose of a backhanded compliment but as he would say "you can't eat compliments".

Cooney's vast experience from his travels and dealings with horses and cattle throughout his life made him a grand storyteller of all things country and of course, racing.

While he always had a top horse around him, John was blessed with a loving family and wonderful wife in Margaret (nee Wearing) who he met on a Melbourne Cup tour emanating from Mt Isa in 1961.

John saw Lord Fury (Ray Selkrig) win that coveted Cup and lone behold he sported "green" as part of his racing colours.

Seems that John chose not to mention that in the ensuing years.

John and Margaret Cooney forged a loving life together comprising family, friends and of course winning thoroughbreds.

Vale John Cooney. (13/3/1939-11/4/2021).

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