‘Andrew Dale……A Fortunate Life……’ by KB Hill

Calm has been restored to the Wangaratta Racecourse Complex on this balmy mid-March morning……. I chug down Cruise Street, wind around the Three Mile Creek …..past the planked white fences which delineate the Stables of local trainers……past the flash new Grandstand …….towards the entrance……


The swish..swish..swishing of sprays freshens a track which, hours earlier, had been a hive of activity with the thundering hooves of close on 200 thoroughbreds striding out on its lush surface.




Trainers, owners, jockeys, stable-hands and hangers-on converge here, daily at dawn….Numbered among them is an athletic-looking fellah in his late-fifties, sporting a neatly-trimmed grey beard……….

He’s Andrew Dale……….


It’s a bit over four years since I last spotted him……..waving animatedly from the boundary-line at the Findlay Oval, as Myrtleford desperately tried to hang on in a goal-for-goal Elimination Final thriller against Wodonga Raiders. It was to no avail. The Saints went down by a couple of kicks. But his passion was obvious…….understandable too, given that his sons, Frazer and Lachlan were playing starring roles………..

As with most things in his life, he moved on quickly, but I’m keen to coax the now-Principal of Andrew Dale Racing to reflect on a colourful sporting career…………


He was born in Stawell almost 59 years ago. His parents, both school-teachers, transferred to the ‘big smoke’ when he was 7 or 8, but his infatuation with football was already deeply-entrenched.

Eltham became Andrew’s home club. He graduated from junior ranks to play well over 150 senior games with the Panthers, including a 1982 Diamond Valley League flag under the coaching of Melbourne great ‘Hassa’ Mann.

Interspersed with this were a couple of pre-seasons at Collingwood and several Reserves appearances on match permits. But his bid to crack the ‘Pies final list fell short.

Instead, he headed off to North Adelaide for a year and returned home to find that his luck had turned. Melbourne were keenly interested, and recruited him in 1986.

It was a brief sojourn at the top…….After some consistent Reserves performances, his senior opportunity came late in the season, lining up in defence against a rampaging Hawthorn at Waverley Park.

I’d already checked the stats he accumulated that day – 11 kicks, 6 marks, 12 handballs……A more than handy debut, I would suggest:

“Yeah, but the Hawks were all over us, and the ball was down my way a fair bit (across half back),” Andrew recalls. “At different stages during the game I had to look after Brereton, Lester-Smith, Curran and Judge. The game was over at half-time, but I remember one of our blokes saying: ‘Just run on and keep trying….You’ll be okay.’ “

“Next game we played the Swans at the SCG…..It was the height of the Edelsten Era, and they were really flying. We got pumped. I was in the back half…..picked up Anthony Daniher and played on Capper for a while.”

“They took me off, and I spent a fair bit of the game on the bench…….I might have looked out of my depth…I dunno……Maybe our coach John Northey thought so, too…..Anyway, I came back on for a while in the last quarter, but that was it……It was all over……”

Andrew participated in the finals series for the Demons Reserves, then returned home to Eltham as coach, leading them to the finals. He stayed on as captain when his friend – and Melbourne team-mate – Peter Moore, succeeded him as non-playing coach in 1989.

“It was the right thing to do,” he says. “Pete had a high profile, and was returning to his home club. He generated great interest and we went on to win the flag that year………”


He had done a bit of everything, work-wise, whilst pursuing his footy dream. In his late twenties he studied teaching, which added another string to his bow.

Whilst he was still capable of picking up a few kicks, he and his wife Heather decided on a lifestyle change. Struggling Benalla appointed him playing-coach in 1993.



“During the interview process they were pretty upfront,” he explained. “They said: ‘Look, we don’t have any money; we can’t chase players. You’re going to have to go with what you’ve got.”


But the Demons couldn’t complain about the coach’s contribution. He finished joint runner-up in the Morris Medal, represented the O & M as a dynamic mid-fielder, and oversaw strong development in a group of youngsters.

He missed almost three-quarters of the following season with a succession of soft-tissue injuries. Benalla remained near the foot of the ladder and some officials were beginning to become impatient. They advised him that his position was going to be advertised.

“That basically means you’re gone. A few clubs showed interest and I thought I still had a bit of footy left in me.”

Myrtleford snapped him up in 1995, appointing him playing-coach and part-time Administration Officer.





“It’s a tough gig coaching Myrtleford, with its small population, geographic location and reduced talent pool…But it was great to have the time and opportunity to put some strategies in place to improve the Club.”




The Saints won 13 and a half games the following season, returning to the finals for the first time in 12 years. Andrew was still making a solid contribution despite approaching the mid-thirties. He had worn the Black and Gold of the O & M on four occasions.

“We had two lads, Guy Rigoni and Steve McKee move on to the AFL. I felt we had a good footy Club and were engaging with the community. The Saints, as you know, can get on a roll when that happens,” he says.

Besides coaching and doing some part-time teaching, he penned a footy column in both the Border Mail and Myrtleford Times.



“It was pretty hectic, along with raising the four kids (Jaime, Frazer, Lachlan and Milly). But, after four years as coach of Myrtleford ( the last as non-playing leader), an opportunity came up to coach in Tasmania…………..”


He’d just finished an AFL Level-3 coaching course when he was approached by Michael Aird, a parliamentarian, and Chairman of State League Club, New Norfolk:

“I flew down to Tassie to meet with him.He laid it on the line, explaining that the Club was about to lose its Poker Machines and was in danger of closing its doors. He said: ‘We’re struggling in every aspect, on and off the field. But if you accept the non-playing coaching job, I guarantee you’ll get paid.’ “

Andrew coached the Club in the dying days of the financially-stricken State League competition, then transitioned to a post with AFL Tasmania. The role included coaching the State Under 16s and assisting the Tassie Mariners U18 team.

He spent another two years working on Special Events and Projects for the State Government after they consented to underwrite the costs of Hawthorn and North Melbourne playing their home games in Tasmania.


In the meantime, he and Heather had bought the Motel on Alpine in Myrtleford and settled back in town.

He says he’d always been fascinated by the racing game. His initial involvement came with having small shares in a few horses….: ”Then I caught the the training bug from there…..It was something that really interested me…..”

“As a consequence, I studied, and had the qualifications to go into training from a theory point of view.”

“I just needed to get some practical skills, so I went and worked with an Albury trainer, Rob Wellington, for a couple of years…..and got my Trainer’s licence in 2013.”

Eight years later, he’s well settled in an excellent facility on the perimeter of the Wangaratta Racecourse complex, which was built in conjunction with the Turf Club and Racing Victoria.

“It’s fantastic here,” Andrew says. “We’ve built a good training operation with 40 horses on our books and about 25 in work. Of that 40 there might be 4-5 getting broken in. We’re looking to expand, and possibly have 25-30 here.”

“Frazer (son) is hopefully going to take over one day. Ideally, he’ll want to grow the business to the next level; maybe buy a small farm and do some pre-training and spelling as well…….But, of course, he’s got to have the desire to do it.”


Andrew and Frazer share the early starts, which means leaving Myrtleford at 4am, and getting to the course at 4.40. The early morning session goes through until 8.30 am.





Then they settle into administrative duties……Nominations, Acceptances, Jockeys, Race selection…..

The afternoon shift starts at around 2pm and the day’s work concludes at roughly 4.30pm.

“The whole day moves into different areas. We’re always talking to people about becoming involved in new horses.”

“As with all trainers we’re into buying yearlings. You syndicate them and keep a share yourself. So you’ve got that constant evolvement of horses coming into your Barn.”

“When you sell a horse to a client, they’ll hopefully stay with you for a fair period, because they go through the whole education – the breaking-in process… racing…spelling…racing….”

“Syndicating is a fine art. You have to pitch at the right price-point. Frazer does it well through Facebook and Twitter……We bought a cheap one the other day and sold it within 48 hours. Yet we bought three at the Classic Sale…..We sold one, a well-priced, well-bred filly, but haven’t done much with the other two yet…….”


Andrew sees a correlation between coaching footballers and training horses.




“If you think about it, in footy you have the pre-season, pre-season games, Finals, have a break, then start that cycle all over again.”

“The same principles apply to horse-racing…..A horse works up in its preparation, gets fit, has a couple of jump-outs or trials, then goes into races……..Management, maintenance, well-being, diet……It’s the same with any athlete, human or equine……”


Andrew and Heather’s family circumstances changed two years ago when they took three of their grand-children into their care.

“Your whole life changes again, when you go back to parenting at our age,” he says. “They’re beautiful kids…One is on the Autism spectrum, another has ADHD….so there’s a lot of management with them. They were born in fairly harsh circumstances……”

“Spending time with them, though, reminds me that I didn’t do enough of that with our first four. I’m looking forward to helping out this time around.”

He remains vitally interested in footy – and naturally, Myrtleford, where his sons are key components of the Saints’ bid to snare their first flag in 51 years. Frazer, who played two games with Carlton as an 18 year-old in 2012, memorably kicked a goal after the siren to give the Blues victory in his debut appearance.

Lachie confirmed his status as an O & M top-liner in 2019 by representing the League, polling strongly in the Morris Medal and booting 59 goals to win the Doug Strang Medal.


Andrew Dale reckons he’s had a fortunate life: “I’ve played some alright footy…. coached….seen some good and bad things happen with my family…..I’ve got involved in the racehorse industry….trained 90-odd winners so far…..”

“Maybe, when I die, my epitaph might read: ‘He achieved everything he wanted to do.’ “



This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources.


To read more of KB Hill’s great stories, click HERE.

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