In the hot seat this week is Victorian trainer Enver Jusufovic, who’s got a different training philosophy to most in the game and an interesting backstory.
By Luke Sheehan.
(Full credit to Punters.com.au)
How did you get involved in racing?
As a kid growing up in Footscray, Dad used to have a punt. I’d go to the TAB with him, and occasionally went to the races with him. With my brother and cousin, we’d ride our bikes to Moonee Valley, Flemington and the Showgrounds, we just had a real passion or an affiliation with the thoroughbred.
Did you always want to be a trainer?
To be honest, I never knew what I wanted to do growing up. You sort of aim to choose a career that’s got a bit of prestige, like an architect, a doctor or something like that, but it’s beyond your realms! I was always keen at sport, but never much good at it until I got to about 17 and I really started to develop, I suppose I was a late maturer.
I left school just before Year 12 exams and I chose volleyball, although I was starting to get good at cricket and football. I represented the Victorian schoolboys, got in the Victorian U20 side. That year they said whoever wins the tournament would represent Australia and that was my only opportunity to play for Australia – we were undefeated, we won, we were supposed to go to Denver, Colorado and unfortunately it got cancelled in the end.
I played for a real powerhouse side, Heidelberg, and we played national league and won that. I represented Victoria, I wasn’t the greatest player but I probably used my attributes, and was a real thinker. There were a lot more highly talented players than me, but I loved to train – I had a Korean coach and a Filipino coach, and I just loved it.
I was working at Four ‘N’ Twenty at the time as an owner/driver, because Dad worked there. I got a personal loan and bought a small truck. As soon as I purchased the truck, I got asked to go to Korea to play for a company side for 12 months, it was something I really wanted to do, but I couldn’t let Dad down with the personal loan. I didn’t go, and by the time I was 25, the body was starting to feel it with the hard work I put in.
I still loved the horses and loved to have a punt. My run was at Ferntree Gully, I did a shop and met a Tip Top driver whose name was Mick Bell, of Jungle Edge fame. He was an owner/trainer at the time, he said to me, ‘come out to my property at Tooradin, just have a look at the horses’. And I did, and that was it, I gave notice at Four ‘N’ Twenty and left a very good job, a very well-paid job – I was getting more then than I am now! – and started working full-time for Greg Eurell, who probably only had 12 horses at that time.
They were mainly breakers and pre-trainers, too. We broke in for Lee Freedman, Brian Ralph, John Hawkes, some notable trainers, and I progressed from there.
What’s the best thing about training horses?
Watching them progress. I sort of treat it a lot like myself, they’ve got to have a good work ethic. I really give them time to develop, as I did as an athlete. Then I think you can really assess them properly and give them every conceivable chance, and that’s why I hardly have a 2YO runner, they’re normally three, sometimes four when they kick off. And when they’re ready, you haven’t wasted any time, they can reach their heights fairly quickly and excitingly.
The stats say you’re quite an effective first-up trainer, do you feel that?
It’s because I’ve given them the foundation and the education. I’ve got horses there that are limited in ability, but because they’ve had the foundation and the time, they sometimes exceed expectations. Going into races, even with these notable trainers, I’m confident with what I’ve got. I had a horse a while ago, called Cellar … very average horse, but gave him the proper education. At his first start, he sat 4-5 wide the whole way, drew an outside barrier and ran second to a horse called Rainbow Thief. I’m sure if another trainer had that horse, because he was very quirky, he wouldn’t have done that at his first appearance. (Cellar has since been exported to Macau, where he’s known as Garlic And Cayenne … and he’s still a maiden.)
Pretty much, I base it on what I was as an athlete. I use the facilities I’ve got and my knowledge and just have a plan to say, ‘How can I use this to the fullest with what I’ve got?’ I don’t go to the beach, I don’t go to the pool, so I do basic stuff but obviously I think what I’m doing is fairly right for the development of the horse.
Least favourite aspect of the game?
Probably when things aren’t going right. You’d love the industry to shut down for a month and have a break, where you didn’t have to go to work for a month. All the staff, they work extremely hard for minimal money, and don’t get the recognition they should. I’m sure they work harder than tradies, and they [tradies] get four times as much money. They have a passion for the horses, as do I, and they’re certainly not appreciated or recognised as much as they should be.
Most memorable win?
O’Malley at Moonee Valley over 1000m, when he was 15-20L off them and won. Just Hifalutin was similar, horses with powerful finishes. That’s how I train. Unless they’re a natural speed horse, I think it’s important they’re doing their best work at the end of a race, it certainly looks a lot better than peaking on the corner or at the 200m.
I don’t really have a bet these days, but when I set them up, I don’t think I ever really get them wrong. I couldn’t tell you that I’ve been wrong when I’ve set one up, they’ve always delivered.
Best horse you’ve had anything to do with?
Princess D’or. She had exceptional talent, but she didn’t have the constitution, very lightly framed horse. I remember Greg sent me to Sydney, we won the Group Two Surround Stakes [in 1995]. Then she ran in the Coolmore, she didn’t have the constitution, was given a horrendous ride, she led from the outside barrier, and that was pretty much the end of her – it ruined her career. Next prep, I remember the track rider, we had a new fella, he didn’t know the horse, and he said, ‘You’ll struggle to win a maiden with this horse, she’s totally switched off’.
Other than that, O’Malley and Just Hifalutin … and Neighbourhood, she’s got plenty of upside there.
Most exciting horse in the stable at the moment?
Now, the horse with the biggest X-factor that I have is one I bred on my own, wasn’t able to syndicate and that’s Lindhout, who won impressively on Bendigo Cup day.
Normally I give them a few jump-outs and put them out [for a spell], but she jumped out only this prep for the first time. She’s quite a hot filly, got a few quirky issues. She nearly got rid of Carleen [Hefel] at the start, missed it by 5L, still won by 2L in very good time. And it’s been a good form race, so I think there’s a lot of upside to her, she’s an exciting mare.
And she almost never eventuated, tell us her backstory.
I remember being at the June Magic Millions Sales, and there was this horse passed in [Lindhout’s dam My Ransom]. No-one knew me then, and they said, ‘Do you want to buy her?’ She was a powerful looking yearling, the mare. By Snippetson, but had terrible legs and shocking feet, so I said ‘not really’. They came back and said they want $5000, I said I’ll give you $2000. I gave them $5000, and it’s one of the few horses I could pay cash for.
Brought her home, broke her in, did a bit of three-quarter pace, she didn’t have the best action. Thought I’d spell her, the truck was supposed to come that day, it didn’t … they said they were coming the next day … she got cast in her box [in the meantime], fractured her hip socket, I thought ‘this is great’. The vet said – we can do two things – it’s quite bad so we could euthanise her, or box rest for 12 weeks.
I’ve got a passion for these horses, and I thought at that age, I’ve got to give them a chance in life. One of my owners had a share in Duporth [a stallion], so I sent her up to Kitchwin Hills, they looked closer in the breeding and said she’s too close to Red Ransom [so they can’t mate her with Duporth]. So they said we’ve got Time For War here.
I went from a free serve to paying $8000 for Time For War, then I got the mare Lindhout. There’s always a good story around them.
How do you celebrate a successful day at the races?
I don’t really, because tomorrow’s another day. It certainly brings a smile to your face, the next morning at the track everyone’s cheerful and got a spring in the step.
I’m not one to celebrate any more, I used to enjoy a drink and go out, but I’ve got a bit more of a boring life these days.
I enjoy a game of golf when I can, that makes me forget about the vigours of training and racing.
I’ve got a good record at the three city tracks – Moonee Valley, Flemington and Sandown. Caulfield, I’ve found difficult because my horses get back [in the run].
On the provincials, I’ve had a lot of winners at Pakenham and Cranbourne.
My favourite would be Moonee Valley.
And is there a track you steer clear of?
There’s a few – Mornington, I stay well clear of. It’s a hard track, it doesn’t suit my horses the way I train them. They go a bit early there down the back, that’s the main one I stay clear of.
Biggest plonk you’ve pulled off?
The first one was Briefed. I set him up, took him to Sale, Mark Flaherty had done all the work and rode him. We were up against Mick Price, Lee Freedman, David Hayes and that, but word was out that he’d gone alright. He opened up $5, and I had $5000 to put on him. There weren’t many bookmakers there, but I remember Tom Waterhouse was there – I had $5000 in cash, and I’m not the best poker player, I went to him and dropped all the money in front of him [on the ground].
In the end, I didn’t have the courage any more and put $2000 the win on him.
I did similar with O’Malley at his first start at Tatura, it was Cup day or Italian Plate day. They had about 20 bookmakers there. I couldn’t believe it, we got 10-1 so that was a good result.
Most fashionable trainer in the ranks?
Most fashionable by a country mile would be Greg Eurell. Immaculately dressed, not a hair out of place, always a very tidy person, clean and that’s a no-brainer, that one.
One race you’d love to win?
To me it’s obvious – the Melbourne Cup. It may be out of reach with these internationals. But that or the Cox Plate – I’m a parochial Victorian having represented Victoria, so there’s a rivalry between me and other states and that. And I always feel that when I’m racing against them in better races, I get a lot of pleasure if I beat them.
Best/worst training advice you’ve received?
That would come from owners. They give me the best advice, whether I ask for it or not – and it’s the worst advice ?
I don’t really mingle with other trainers, I watch what they do when I can, and judge accordingly. I rate Phillip Stokes as a trainer. Very good, not hard on his horses. He’s a fella I certainly look up to.
And the red, white and black silks are a homage to St Kilda – how does a Footscray boy called ‘EJ’ end up a Saints man?
A long time ago, in ’66 they won the premiership and I was around then. My cousin Dennis, we were very close, he supported St Kilda so my twin brother and I went down that path.
It was a great era growing up, we’d jump on the train, you’d go to Flinders Street, it’d be a sea of colour on all the platforms going to the suburban grounds.
We’d go to Moorabbin – Cowboy Neale, he was my favourite player, so my number plate is a St Kilda one with No.18.
With the silks, I wanted those colours and something to stand-out, so I’m happy with those colours, I think they look quite good.