Jim O'Sullivan named 2017 Gordon Rothacker Medallist

23 October 2017 | Trots Media - Cody Winnell
2017 Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient Jim O'Sullivan with family at Crown Palladium.

2017 Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient Jim O'Sullivan with family at Crown Palladium.

Jim O’Sullivan is the toast of Victorian trots after last night becoming the 17th Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient.

The popular horseman had his name immortalised, etched alongside an illustrious list of legendary harness luminaries at a gala function at Crown’s Palladium room.

The chorus of congratulatory messages for O'Sullivan was unsurprising. He is as famous for his willingness to provide advice and assistance to fellow participants as he is for his association with My Lightning Blue and a cavalcade of other stars.

“I love this game,” O’Sullivan said. “My dad was in it – he ran second in a Harold Park premiership in 1941 or something. I was about five when dad gave it away … then when I got older I’d work a horse before school … it’s been a magic ride.”

O’Sullivan was 15 when he started working horses, and today at 71 he’s still training and driving.

“People say ‘when’s the next champion coming along’, and I tell them she’s right here,” O’Sullivan said, pointing at daughter Shannon, who only recently made her debut in the sulky. “She’s driving exceptionally well … and if you’ve got a horse you should put her on."

He also sang the praises of daughter Tracey, who, notably in 1990, won a Hunter Memorial aboard Our Brenray (which Jim trained). “I remember that well because she beat me,” he recalled (Jim was driving Its Motor Power, which finished a half-head in second).

The 1987 Inter Dominion Grand Final win of My Lightning Blue at Christchurch remains O’Sullivan’s most famous triumph, but Quite Famous won 22 cups himself and holds a special place in the horseman’s heart.

“There wasn’t much between them actually,” he said comparing Quite Famous with My Lightning Blue.

“Quite Famous was a magnificent looking horse. He was beautiful. If you could pick a horse on looks he’d be the perfect racehorse.”

O’Sullivan and My Lightning Blue also won the New Zealand Trotting Cup in 1987, and it took until 2015 for another Australian driver to capture that race. It was Rothacker medallist Kerryn Manning who broke O’Sullivan’s title as ‘last Aussie NZ Cup winner’ when she guided Arden Rooney to victory.

O’Sullivan’s association with owner Alan Hunter served him extremely well in the heady trots days of the 1980s and 90s. Hunter’s willingness to tip in good money to ensure O’Sullivan had quality stock ensured a steady stream of talented racehorses in the stable. “Alan was a great winner but he was an equally great loser, too, and you have got to be able to take the good with the bad in racing,” O’Sullivan said.

In 1991, O’Sullivan combined with trotter Yankee Loch to win the Trotters Inter Dominion at Moonee Valley, another career highlight. But there have been many, with other top horses like Its Motor Power, Margaret Shannon and Our Brenray (who won three Terang Cups and is the only horse to have done so) also providing fantastic memories, silverware and photos on the wall.

Stormy Morn’s win in the 1981 Australasian Trotting Championship Final at Moonee Valley too holds a special place in O’Sullivan’s heart.

His deeds on the racetrack are well-known to long-time trots fans, but the Rothacker Medal is never awarded for that alone, and O’Sullivan’s model integrity record and willingness to volunteer his time (in addition to helping anyone who asks, O’Sullivan spent 15 years on the Victorian Trainers and Drivers Association executive, two as Vice-President) certainly carried weight.

Like Carl O’Dwyer (2016 Rothacker Medal recipient), O’Sullivan is also a trusted farrier for many stables. In fact, his trots knowledge across just about all facets of the industry would be as close to encyclopaedic as we have.

“It’s funny, when I was in Brisbane I won the Australian trainer’s title twice … and I trained no more than 25. I drove them all myself,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a little bit different. People now train 60-odd horses … I don’t know how they do it.”

O’Sullivan is based in Heathcote and continues to train a team of horses.

Find out more about Harness Racing Victoria's Gordon Rothacker Medal



Media enquiries to:

Cody Winnell (HRV Media/Communications Manager)
t: 03 8378 0288 | e: cwinnell@hrv.org.au | tw: @codywinnell