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Alan Parker | Reprinted with permission of Harness Xpress

On Tuesday evening at Gloucester Park Emily Suvaljko won a double to take her to 100 Gloucester Park wins and past Kellie Kersley as the most successful reinswoman in the 92 year history of the track.

Suvaljko is the third generation of her family to drive winners at Gloucester Park and Kersley was the fourth generation of her family to achieve the feat.

That, and the fact that it came just a couple of days after Father’s Day and in the week leading up to the running of the Brennan Memorial,  prompted an investigation into the massive contribution made to harness racing in Perth by seven of our leading trotting families.

These seven families have each had four generations drive winners in Western Australia and six of them winners in Perth.

The year 1929 was especially significant in that it was the year that James Brennan and his fellow committeemen celebrated the completion of the Gloucester Park track.

It was also the year that the Kersley and Suvaljko family names first appeared in the local press.

F J (Pop) Kersley and his son Frank, with the personal support of James Brennan, were granted licences by the WA Trotting Associatio in May 1929 and it affirmed their move to Western Australia from their home in South Australia.

Ivan (Jack) Suvaljko, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, made the decision after some 15 years on the WA Goldfields to advertise in the Western Argus in May 1929 that he intended making application for naturalization under the Commonwealth Nationality Act.

His son Joe, Emily Suvaljko’s grandfather, was born in 1933 and after success as a cyclist in his youth turned to trotting in his thirties.

Brennan had personally vouched for Kersley’s integrity despite the NSW Trotting Club claiming that he had been disqualified in 1924.

Brennan quite rightly pointed out that Kersley had been cleared by the South Australian Trotting Board to race in Western Australia and had never actually been charged by NSW authorities.

Later Brennan’s committee, while Brennan was absent on business, took away Pop Kersley’s licence and James Brennan promptly resigned as President of the WATA and control passed to J P Stratton.

The Kersley family has had no fewer than 12 members across four generations drive winners in Perth courtesy of F J (Pop) Kersley, his sons Fred, Frank, Ron and Keith. Fred Kersley’s son F R (Fred) Kersley and Bill Kersley were the third generation while F R Kersley Jnr’s son Greg and daughters Kellie, Kathryn and Karen were the fourth generation along with Bill Kersley’s son Brian.

Unfortunately there are no members of the Kersley family still involved in trotting in Perth although they are still active in thoroughbred racing.

F J (Pop) Kersley switched codes in the 1930’s and in the 1941/42 season he was the leading galloping trainer in Perth while his son Frank was the leading trotting trainer in Perth that season. It is a family double which is unlikely to ever be equalled.

Frank Kersley is still regarded by many old-timers as the doyen of Australian reinsmen and he won the 1954 Inter Dominion in Adelaide with Tennessee Sky and won a total of five Inter Dominion heats in 1957 and 1979 driving Caduceus for New Zealand trainer Jack Litten.

As the Kersley/Brennan drama was unfolding and J P Stratton assumed the mantle as WATA President, Jack Keys, one of the more prominent trainer/drivers in Sydney moved to Western Australia.

Stakes in Perth were the highest in Australia and Keys initially brought a team of four horses and was later joined in Perth by his son Leo.

Jack Keys won the 1934 Perth Drivers Premiership and the quality of his team was such that he took out the 1931 WA Pacing Cup with Royal Again and then drove a second winner of the race in 1934 with the Jim Hand trained Solvista.

Jack Keys made regular visits to Sydney to bolster his team and his son Leo rose through the ranks to become one of Western Australia’s most prominent drivers regularly finishing in the top five on the Perth Premiership at a time when the likes of Frank Kersley, Fred Kersley, Cliff Clarke, Andy Sheahan and Charlie Thomas were household names in local driving ranks.

Leo’s son Brian enjoyed success as both a trainer and driver and then his twin sons Kevin and Ross Keys kept up the family tradition with visits to the Eastern States.

Kevin drove a number of winners in Sydney between 1973 and 1975 for the Glendinning family while Ross Keys pulled off one of the legendary plunges at Moonee Valley in 1985.

After the 1985 Golden Nugget where Justaking finished ahead of Village Kid, Keys spelled the 4yo and gave him one quiet start in Perth and the next time anybody saw the horse’s name was in a field at Moonee Valley.

It is history now that Justaking was plunged with bookmakers from 7/1 into 6/4 across the country and while there are various reports of just how much more than $100,000 the stable won – it matters little.

His drive was superb and Ross Keys entered Australian harness racing folklore as the man behind one of the biggest plunges in Australian history and he captured racing headlines across the country including the Melbourne Age which never publishes harness stories let alone a headline.

It was a plunge that Ross’s father and grand-father would have been proud to have thought of – let alone successfully pull off.

Kevin Keys’s son Jason was also a successful driver and he too went East where he drove a number of winners in South Australia for Lance Justice.

Tuesday night this week saw trainer/driver Brett Smith land Sidstrepo a winner at Gloucester Park.

Brett is another of the fourth generation group following in the footsteps of his father Colin, grand-father Lindsay and great-grandfather Fred.

Fred Smith won a string of races in the 1920’s when Perth trots were held at the WACA Ground track with a mare called Thecla Wood which also won at Gloucester Park not long after the track was opened under the name of Brennan Park.

Fred’s son Lindsay Smith was the leading driver in Perth in 1964 when he took out that season’s Premiership at a time when his star pacer Murella Lad was among the best horses going around and won the 1964 Fremantle Cup.

A decade earlier and Lindsay Smith was renowned for his skill in landing a plunge and none more famous than the 25/1 to 2/1 success with Dark Water in March 1954 a week before Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Gloucester Park.

Colin Smith was also an astute judge as both a trainer and driver before becoming the WA Trotting Association’s Handicapper for a period. The M0/C0 handicapping system he introduced worked well until it was undermined by vested interests and was eventually replaced some five years ago.

Also winning a race at Gloucester Park on Tuesday night was the New Zealand bred Bettorstartdreaming trained by Lindsay Harper and driven by his son Donald. It was Donald’s 99th win at the track.

Six members of the Harper family have driven winners in Western Australia although patriarch Colin Harper never managed to win one at Gloucester Park and in fact hardly ever drove at the track.

The family came from the North Eastern Districts and it was Don Harper who first came to prominence in the late fifties through the deeds of star colt Paul’s Gift.

Paul’s Gift, raced by Colin and Don, won a Country Derby for Don but Lindsay Smith was in the cart when the colt took out the prized WA Derby/Sires Produce Stakes double in 1959.

Don’s sons Lindsay and Greg were both prominent as trainers and drivers in the nineties and early part of this century and both enjoyed multiple Group One success.

Kyle Harper won a somewhat unique treble last Friday with a winner at Gloucester Park in the early afternoon and a double at Narrogin that night.

Although he hasn’t driven for some years now, Jason Woodworth has been enjoying a good run in the past month as a trainer with the ex Kiwi pacer Hotfoot It which has won four of its past five starts.

Jason and his brother Luke have both enjoyed success as drivers as did their father Cilff some 30 years ago.

Stan Woodworth, their great-grandfather, was one of the pioneers of trotting in Perth and drove his first winner at the WACA Ground track in May 1916 to give the Woodworth family the longest run of winners in Perth – 105 years.

Stan Woodworth was leading trainer in Perth in 1955 and with his former-jockey son Alan formed one of the leading combinations in the country.

In keeping with the significance of the year 1929, Alan Woodworth was born on 10th March that year and he was for a long period the youngest driver to win a WA Pacing Cup when he won behind his father’s horse Bintravis in 1949 at the age of 20 years 296 days.

He won three Perth Driver’s Premierships and as a freelance reinsman he had no peer.

The halcyon days of trotting in Perth was between 1955 and 1970 when liquor licensing laws saw Gloucester Park the only venue in Perth when alcohol was available at night.

Crowds boomed and there were regularly more punters in attendance on a Saturday night than at the gallops meeting at Ascot or Belmont Park that afternoon.

Drivers like Woodworth, Coulson, Johnson, Lindau, Cushing and Kersley were household names and dominated newspaper headlines but there was none bigger than Jim Schrader.

His father Harry Schrader was an ex-jockey who switched to trots after the Second World War and a young Jim worked in the stables of Frank Kersley alongside the likes of Kevin Newman, Bernie Cushing and Alan Woodworth.

In 1968 Jim Schrader drove 99 winners to narrowly miss becoming the first Australian to drive 100 winners in a season and he was the country’s leading driver again in 1969 with 93 winners.

To put this into perspective, there was only trots in Western Australia on Saturdays and Wednesdays and Gloucester Park raced only on Saturday nights with a five or six week break between seasons with no racing in the State.

Jim Schrader’s son Peter was equally outstanding as a driver in spite of the pressure associated with being the son of a legend.

Peter’s son James has only ever been involved on a hobby basis and drove his 50th winner last November.

Another to come through the golden era was Laurie Robinson whose father Les Robinson had started driving just as war clouds were gathering in Europe in 1939.

Laurie Robinson was also born in 1929 and began driving in 1947 whilst in the midst of an apprenticeship as a farrier.

He became one of the State’s outstanding farriers and a highly sought-after freelance driver whose 206 Perth wins included the 1965 WA Pacing Cup for trainer Phil Coulson.

Robinson shod the 1967 Inter Dominion winner Binshaw and was the regular farrier for Pure Steel.

His son Warren, who trained a double at Central Wheatbelt a fortnight ago, is currently President of the WA B.O.T.R.A..

Warren’s son Michael has also enjoyed success as a trainer and driver.

In total these seven families have won a remarkable 14287 races including 8067 at Gloucester Park and we are still counting.

1F J (Pop) Kersley2929
2F (Fred) Kersley Snr584533
2F E (Frank) Kersley562533
2R G (Ron) Kersley11375
2K R (Keith) Kersley2720
3F R (Fred) Kersley23781735
3W J (Bill) Kersley408151
4B W (Brian) Kersley10932
4G J (Greg) Kersley323123
4K L (Kellie) Kersley19495
4K N (Kathryn) Kersley17994
4K M (Karen) Kersley63
1B J (Jack) Keys180111
2L J (Leo) Keys525399
3K F (Kevin) Keys745217
4R W (Ross) Keys19545
5J L (Jason) Keys669
1H T (Harry) Schrader1412
2J H (Jim) Schrader1202678
3P J (Peter) Schrader662359
4J B (James) Schrader5013
1L B (Les) Robinson2622
2L J (Laurie) Robinson340206
2L (Les) Robinson2411
3W J (Warren) Robinson8825
4M J (Michael) Robinson667
1S (Stan) Woodworth206183
2A S (Alan) Woodworth915561
3C S (Cliff) Woodworth8013
4L K (Luke) Woodworth8342
4J C (Jason) Woodworth122
1F W (Fred) Smith1717
2L F W (Lindsay) Smith302162
3C L (Colin) Smith8617
4B C (Brett) Smith5931