Sammy Phillips with Haidee Bale. Photo supplied
Foxton trainer Sammy Phillips was watching the Cambridge races last Thursday on television with bated breath.
Going into the day, she held a slender lead over Karen Walsh on the Strike-Rate Trainer Premiership. Walsh had three runners lining up at Cambridge, who finished first, second and third.
“It would be awesome to win, but coming second to the Queen would still be bloody amazing,” said 22-year-old Phillips as she waited to hear the outcome on TAB Trackside. “I’ll be rapt either way.”
When the news came through that she had held onto the coveted Strike-Rate Trainer of the Year title, she could scarcely believe it.
Two days later, that feeling hadn’t worn off.
“It still hasn’t sunken in yet!” said Phillips on Saturday. “It’s still a bit hard to believe. My family came down to visit today and we went out to lunch with Gary and Sandra (Fredrickson).
“I started the season with three starts for three wins, so then it became a little personal goal of mine to make it onto the Strike-Rate Table. Then, I started to stress about it later in the season, and Gary told me to put it out of my mind.
“The whole thing is pretty unbelievable and awesome!”
Phillips grew up in Hawera and was introduced to greyhound racing at an early age.
“My love for greyhounds came from my Granddad, Kevin Hanover, who trained in the past. I was always seen with a greyhound in tow as a child, so naturally I followed in his footsteps in becoming a trainer.”
It was actually through her grandfather that she met the Fredricksons, for whom she currently works.
“Granddad actually helped to get Gary into the game,” she explained. “Gary came to him and asked about greyhound racing and Granddad suggested he have a chat to Brendon Cole.
“So, Gary always kind of had him in the back of his mind, and one day he asked me if I wanted to come to the races in the school holidays, and I started going to race meetings with the Fredricksons. After I finished high school, I handled every Friday night.”
While working in greyhound racing was always a future ambition for Phillips, she went down a different path first – and remarkably, that was owning and operating her own business straight out of high school.
“I used to work part-time at a dog grooming business, and the business owner fell pregnant around the time that I finished high school. At the time, I didn’t have the money to buy dogs and train straight out of high school , so when she asked me if I’d like to buy the dog grooming business, I did.
“I paid off the business over a few years and trained a couple of greyhounds on the side.”
Phillips is incredibly modest about her achievements – the business had between 180 and 200 clients – and acknowledges she was nervous when she first bought into the business.
“I had about five months of training before I took over, and then I was on my own which was nerve-wracking. But I was really lucky to have my family supporting me, and slowly I learned everything.”
Earlier this year, she made the decision to move to the Fredricksons’ Foxton property to focus on greyhound racing full-time, which precipitated her decision to sell the business.
“I do miss it a little bit,” she admitted. “But I sold it to a lovely lady, so I was happy to let it go to someone I trusted.
“I absolutely love living with Gary and Sandra in Foxton. It doesn’t feel like I’m working; it feels like a permanent holiday. We get on really well – they’re like a second set of parents to me and are so supportive.”
Phillips was quick to add that Tirau trainer Karen Walsh has played a large role in her success.
“Without her, I couldn’t be where I am today. Being a young trainer, it is hard enough to buy a dog, and to buy some dogs off Karen of such class and in such pristine condition is beyond amazing. I am very thankful to her.”
Last month, Phillips was named the July winner of the GRNZ Board Award in recognition of her stellar season of training. She will now be considered for the $5,000 main prize, which will be announced at the GRNZ Annual Awards night on 17 September in Christchurch.
“If I won the main award, I would save the money to put back into my small team to provide them with the best they deserve – starting with cheeseburgers!
“What I love about the industry is the bond I have created with my dogs. It is my purpose to care for these animals every day. I love discovering each of their little quirks and personalities, and letting them shine through at home, then taking them to the races confident, happy and sound.
“It makes me very proud to be a trainer. It definitely isn’t an easy career, but the dogs are my passion and the industry has made me a better person both in the industry and out of it. This is why I love it so much.”