Scott Phelan reached a massive milestone at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday night when he recorded his 500th driving win.
The South Auckland horseman steered home the Arna Donnelly-trained Bella Roza to win the Liquor Academy Mobile Pace (2200m) and he was delighted to get the victory for one of his biggest supporters.
“To reach 500 wins is great,” he said. “It’s a privilege to drive for Arna, so to reach it with one of hers was great.”
While Phelan was aware he was nearing the milestone, he said it slipped his mind on the night he reached it.
“My girlfriend had made me aware of it, but I had forgotten all about it last night until Arna said something about it afterwards.”
Phelan has devoted his entire working life to the industry and he said he became hooked on the sport through his father Frank Phelan, who has been training since 1990.
“I got into racing through my father Frank Phelan, he got me into it when I was a kid and I have been hooked ever since,” he said.
“I knew I wanted a career in the industry pretty early on, I was pretty hard to keep focused at school. It’s all I have wanted to do.”
As a result, Phelan left school as a 15-year-old and entered the employ of legendary trainer and mentor Barry Purdon.
“He’s been the biggest part of my career, not just driving-wise, but learning-wise and how to be a person too,” Phelan said.
“Barry and Katrina (Purdon, wife) have been the biggest part of my career that’s for sure.”
Phelan eventually ended up entering into a training partnership with Purdon in 2008, and the duo recorded 122 wins in four years, before Phelan left to gain experience further afield.
“I did train in partnership with him for awhile and then I went away and tried a couple of other things and now I have ended up back there,” he said.
“I worked for Craig Demmler in Australia and when I came back to New Zealand I worked for Stonewall Stud before returning to Barry’s.”
After 20 years in the sulky, Phelan has experienced a lot of success, but highlights his win behind Holmes DG in an Inter Dominion Pacers Heat (1950m) at Addington in 2003 as one of the biggest moments in his driving career.
“I drove Holmes DG to win early on in my career, which was a pretty big thing for me because he was such a great horse,” he said.
Phelan is now helping out the next generation of drivers as the Northern junior driver mentor.
“It was Peter Blanchard’s idea, he wanted to find someone to help out the juniors as much as possible,” he said.
“They asked if I was interested and I was and I still like helping them out now. As long as they are willing to listen, you don’t mind helping anybody out.”
Phelan also works his own small team in the afternoons and he has amassed a great strike-rate as a trainer, winning 13 of 59 starts in the past three seasons.
“I just get one or so up from down south and try a few different things and see how we go and we have had a bit of success, so hopefully that can keep continuing,” he said.
Although he is having plenty of success as a trainer, Phelan doesn’t have any immediate plans to extend his training operation.
“Not at this stage, but if you get a few decent horses around you, that can change your mind,” he said.
“We’ll just see how we go, I still enjoy working for Barry in the mornings. He has got some good stock there. It’s always enjoyable driving decent horses.”
With less than two months to go in the season, Phelan sits on 47 wins and he is hoping he can surpass his previous season’s best of 53, recorded in 2014.
“It would be nice (to better that),” he said. “My target for the season was to average one (win) a week, so I am not far off it. It would be good to get past it.” – Cambridge Raceway
Replay: Scott Phelan brining up win 500 with Bella Roza
Replay: Scott Phelan driving Holmes DG to win the Inter Dominion Pacers Heat (1950m) at Addington in 2003.