Canberra Track Memories

One might assume that Canberra racehorse trainers somehow reflect the people themselves. Staid, comfortable, educated and well travelled. That assumption would be well wide of the mark. I have owned numerous horses over the past 10 or 12 years and been involved with numerous trainers.  As in other parts of the country Canberra trainers are generally  part used car salesman, part  small businessman, part Pub/Tab knockabout, and part hard grinding blue collar worker.

Johnny Nisbet is not your average trainer.

I first met Johnny when he was riding a horse called Touch Move which I part owned with Mick ( aka Mickey Moose  ) Miladinovic. Mickey Moose also trained Touch Move as he had recently acquired a training license after vowing to  never again  trust trainers with  horses in his name. Mick was obviously a bit green in the training department having never actually been on a horse himself. We therefore relied heavily on Johnny Nisbet in riding trackwork and in helping to map out a program for the horse.

Eventually the horse was ready to run first up over 1000 metres at Canberra. The horse had raced a few times in its initial preparation and whilst showing flashes of ability had been inclined to get back in her races. I asked John in the mounting yard for his assessment of the filly’s chances. I was advised that the 1000 metres was too short but that she was working “enormous” and might sneak into a place. She was 33 to 1 but John instilled no confidence so I did not bet.  Of course the horse was held up for a run until the furlong pole but still managed to win by a length.

I was entitled to expect a sheepish response from John on his return to scale, but clearly I was thinking about the wrong bloke. John burst through the gate at a brisk trot and upon spotting me yelled in his mellifluous jockey voice, “she should have won by 6 “. As I was to later learn J Nisbet was known more for his ‘blurt it out’ honest assessment than for politics, cunning or guile.

A year or so later Johnny decided to hang up his saddle and commenced to work as a trainer in Canberra. He had tasted some success in his career having recently won the Canberra jockey’s premiership whilst riding for John Morrisey’s cashed up stable. As an apprentice to boom Sydney trainer Paul Sutherland he had won the Sydney apprentice’s title. I had bred a Beautiful Crown colt which I named Cresswell and I was very keen to support John in his endeavours so I gave it to Johnny to train as soon as he got his license. Being a big Swannie’s fan I named the horse after Darryn Cresswell when they wouldn’t let me call him Mickey O.

The horse showed us that he had some ability and at his third and ninth starts at Wagga and Goulburn respectively we went the plonk and left the money in the bookmaker’s bag. After the Goulburn start  jockey Peter Robl advised us that the horse would never win a race and that we should get rid of him.

The horse broke his maiden over 1200 metres at Queanbeyan at his very next start ridden by rabid St George Dragons fan ‘old man’ Kevin Sweeney.

Thereafter the horse regularly rattled home in races, often placing without winning. There were many people in and around Canberra who knew I was involved with the horse and would always pass unsolicited comment on his runs.  After his maiden win we left the money in the bag on two or three more occasions.

Johnny Nisbet was as frustrated as anybody. Johnny lamented the lack of speed in races and how it didn’t suit a backmarker. Johnny had 6 daughters, the eldest in Year 6, but the horse caused him greater angst. The horse won 5 races but Johnny struggled to catch him.

We caught him once as a forty to one shot on a Sunday at Queanbeyan, first up over 1200 metres drawn the carpark. The horse got pratted and sat four deep for the journey but fell in by a lip. Johnny won big and in a moment of madness promised the rider Richie Bensley a 10% sling instead of the usual 5. By  Monday , after declaring the winnings to his wife, Johnny had regretted his lapse in judgment in giving Richie the extra 5.

Darryn Cresswell was slow of feet and fast of mind on the paddock. The horse Cresswell was fleet of foot and  a trier but dumb as a Penthouse Pet. Darryn tried as hard  on the punt as he did on the field. In punting there is often little reward for effort.

Darryn got charged with fraud and my mate Timmy, (who has appeared on behalf of many fraudsters), said the horse was a fraud. Truth be known Darryn and the horse were good honest pluggers who were shy of luck. I often wondered if Darryn backing the horse may have contributed to his problems.

According to the press, Darryn  Cresswell is doing a 10 month lag in a Queensland jail.

The horse Cresswell got sold to a trainer in Narromine when we got sick of backing him after yet another race not run to suit.

Johnny Nisbet still trains in Canberra. His daughter Kayla is apprenticed to him and has ridden a number of winners.

Mickey Moose still trains and is credited with the largest priced winner on the NSW TAB when he won the Canberra Cup at 330 to 1 with a horse called Beat the Tide.


  1. johnharms says:

    Ripper yarn Dave. I love the detail on the characters, and the left-the-money-in-the-bag laments. Keep us posted on the fortunes of your horses, amd of J. Nisbett.

  2. david butler says:

    I have only scratched the surface of Johnny Nisbet. A champion bloke and his humour can bring on dehydration from crying with laughter. Tells great yarns about Sydney racing in the 80’s. It was not as clean as it is today!

    Mickey Moose had a winner last Wednesday in Sydney with Ravna Gora. His city class sprinter Century Serb broke its leg a month ago at Canberra whilst 2 lengths in front with 50 metres to go. Mick was offered $600k for Century Serb by asian interests after he won at Randwick at his second race start. As with all of these things he should have taken the money !

    I am headed to the stables on Easter Saturday and will speak with John and Mick.

    I have a trotter having its first start at Canberra imminently. I am waiting for a call. It is called Sir Alcatraz.

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