The new season will welcome in a new era for Mike Berger as he gets set to join forces with talented young horseman Matthew White.
It will be the third training partnership for the veteran Cambridge conditioner, who had previous stints with Simon Pavlovich and Warren Rich, with the latter partnership producing the quinella in the 2002 Gr.1 New Zealand Trotting Cup (3200m) with Gracious Knight and Facta Non Verba.
Berger collected his gold card earlier this season and while he is not retiring, he is looking forward to easing back a little bit with White taking on the primary role in the imminent partnership.
“We’ll be in partnership, but he will be the primary partner,” Berger said. “I’ll take a little bit of a back step.
“He’s a young fella coming along and the industry needs him, hopefully it will work out well for both of us.”
Berger and White have had a long association, with White previously working for the Cambridge horseman and they have gone on to develop a strong friendship.
“Matty worked for me about 15-odd years ago,” Berger said. “We have always kept in touch, we get on well and are likeminded when it comes to the horses. It should work well.”
For the past decade White has been living in Australia, initially working for Andrew De Campo in Western Australia for four years before training on his own account.
He had plenty of success in Western Australia but highlights winning the Gr.1 Western Australian Derby (2536m) behind New Zealand-bred pacer Three Blind Mice as his biggest achievement.
“I was the unofficial trainer of him at the time. (Unofficially) training and driving him was probably the highlight,” White said.
After seven and a half years in the Golden State, White and his wife Brigette moved to New South Wales to take up opportunities with global thoroughbred giant Darley.
“We were looking for a change and to move closer to home. My wife was pre-training and breaking-in gallopers and this job at Godolphin came up to break in their yearlings,” White said.
“We were there for a couple of years. I was working with the stallions, it was a great experience.”
While working for Darley, White discussed the idea of moving back to New Zealand with Berger and that is where the idea of a partnership between the pair began.
“At some stage they were always coming home,” Berger said.
“They were thinking Christchurch because Brigette is a South Island girl. I said to him I’m getting on a bit and am looking at cutting back, so I mentioned to him about giving it a go up here.”
White subsequently moved home to Cambridge in May and he wasted no time getting back to his winning ways in the sulky, taking home a double at his first meeting.
Berger has been impressed with White’s return and is looking forward to the new partnership and continuing to utilise White’s talents in the sulky.
“Even though he has been off the scene for a few years he has always had a good name and he is well respected by most people in the industry that have been around for a while,” Berger said.
“Before he even left here he won a Jewels (with Safin in 2008). His (driving) record (in New Zealand) was really good and his record was terrific over there in Australia.
“He’s just a top all-round guy, is honest and straight-up.”
In what could be his last season training in a solo capacity, Berger has been pleased with his stable’s performance, winning 16 races and bringing up Berger’s 500thwin as an individual trainer.
“It’s been pretty cool,” he said. “I am pretty happy with our tally at the end of the day.
“We have mostly got young horses. I don’t think we have got horses that really suit the system, it suits more older horses.
“But I like to get nice two and three-year-olds more so than running around with six and seven-year-olds.
“You have just got to do the best with what you have got.”
Berger nearly ended the season on a high note at Alexandra Park on Friday night when All Yours finished runner-up to Perfect Stride in the Downbytheseaside At Woodlands Stud Mobile Pace (1609m) under the guidance of White.
“He’s quite a big horse and I think he’ll just get better with a bit more time,” Berger said.
Berger and White are excited for the new season and believe they have got a few useful horses in their barn to kick-off what is hopefully a fruitful partnership.
“I think we will have a handy little team without having a top horse here,” Berger said.
“I am hoping Eagle Watch (Gr.1 Cardigan Bay Stakes placegetter) comes back and does a good job for us. He’s had about a month off and he’s back in work now.” – Cambridge Raceway