By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk
A glazier by trade, a forklift driver by profession, and a harness racing trainer by choice Mark Heaton’s about as grassroots as it gets.
“I’m an amateur trainer and train other people’s cast offs.”
His working day starts at 5 am and it’s usually more than 12 hours later before he gets home.
The 61-year-old trains just two horses at Waterlea raceway in Blenheim after finishing his forklift shift at Pak’nSave.
While his wife Naomi was involved in equestrian and especially dressage events, Mark’s interest was confined to following the horses from afar, and going to the trots at Hutt Park. He was living in Wellington at the time.
That all changed in December 2007.
“We owned a small horse truck that we used for our hacks and we ended up at Westport racecourse. The kind gate assistant, thinking we had race horses, let us through to the stabling area. After watching a few races and losing our money I decided to get a Standardbred,” Mark said.
He was told, “you must have rocks in your head.” Naomi was also reluctant because she thought “it might lead to Mark finding out how much I spend on horses!”
Two months after going to the Westport races the Heatons had their first horse, Aveross Star. He was well bred, a son of Courage Under Fire, but had failed to fire for original trainer Andrew Faulks. He bought it for $250. He ended up earning more than $20,000.
“I was told he was a knee knocker so I said to Graham Neill (local trainer) – what’s a knee knocker and he said ‘you’ll find out’ “
The horse was nicknamed “Wobbly”, a nickname that has now transferred to Heaton himself.
“Everyone calls me ‘Wobbly’ now”
Under Heaton’s ownership Aveross Star was transferred to Blenheim trainer Mark Gill.
“He showed me how to gear up a horse, I didn’t even know how to do that.”
He had four starts for him including a second with driver Anthony Butt on June 13 2008.
By October Heaton had taken over the training of the horse and his first win came in Manawatu in November 2008 with driver Gavin Smith at odds of 54 to one after being three wide and then sitting parked.
The horse also won paid $38 in the Marlborough Harness Racing Club meeting in January 2010.
Longshot winners and Mark Heaton are not strangers. “My horses always pay good money ..and that’s fine by me.”
When Mister Mighty won in November 2019 he paid $97 and $9.40. “I am not a big gambler, but I had a reasonable bet. It was a good day.”
The Heatons own and train Mister Mighty and six-race winner Contractual Issues. Both came from North Canterbury trainer Robbie Holmes and both are out of one-win mare Gwyneth who raced for the Berger-Rich team (2000-2002).
“They are half brothers, and perfect mates.”
Contractual Issues is the best horse he’s trained. The now 8-year-old Elsu gelding last won in January this year in Nelson.
“He loves to race – you could not find a more honest horse.”
Having gone from a complete novice to a trainer who’s had nine wins, 11 seconds and 15 thirds. Heaton’s grateful for the all the help and advice he’s had over the years from the likes of Graham Neill, Mark Gill, Robbie Holmes, Dean Taylor and a lot more.
A “reluctant” driver he’s had 53 drives for a second and a third, but never saluted the judge. Right now the early starts and late finishes continue, with “Wobbly” looking forward to fronting up his pair of pacing siblings potentially at Kaikoura and Palmerston North in the new season.