As a third-generation harness racing participant, Redcliffe’s Aaron Smith has not always found it easy to navigate his path in the sport.
The son of Aileen Smith and the grandson of Cliff Gassman has on a number of occasions considered stepping away from training and driving, despite his family being entrenched in the game for decades.
All the years of blood, sweat and tears were finally worth it at The Triangle on Monday night when mare Floorless provided the 38-year-old Aaron his first victory as a trainer.
He had collected 15 victories in the sulky as a reinsman in years gone by – driving for other trainers – but never before with one he had prepared himself.
Smith has been training since the 2006-07 campaign – with a few breaks along the way – and was filled with emotion as Floorless flew down the outside of the Redcliffe track to nab the last race under lights on Monday evening.
“It was a huge thrill to cross that line first,” he reflected a few days after the milestone.
“I was very emotional.
“I have dreamt of this day since I got my licence back in 2006-07, over the years I have thought about pulling the pin a few times myself because you feel like that you are not sure if that first winner is going to come.
“There was quite a long time between drinks, I had a few horses when I first jumped in to it but I went into it not knowing a huge amount of being a trainer.”
While it was a monumental occasion for Smith himself, it was also a red letter day for his mare, Floorless breaking her maiden status after 52 attempts.
The four-year-old had more than 30 starts interstate before eventually relocating to Queensland, where she ran into the minor money on half a dozen occasions in 2022 to convince Smith to press on with her.
To go so long with a training licence without breaking through for a maiden triumph, Smith began to doubt his abilities - at times - and wondered if he would ever get there.
Smith’s mother Aileen is a renowned horsewomen, preparing Jiggle And Jive to the $100,000 Triad Group 1 for two-year-old fillies back in 2019.
Aileen paid tribute to Aaron’s work ethic when she won her first Group 1 title at Albion Park.
“My son Aaron has been a great help,” Aileen said at the time.
“We came to Redcliffe in 1970 and I’ve been doing the horses here since 1978. It’s in my blood now and I don’t think it will ever leave me.”
And, it was Aileen, who convinced her son to stick with the horses when he considered pulling stumps at times over the journey.
“After my first couple of horses, I stepped away a little bit to help my mum to keep me in the game and keep the interest there,” Aaron remembers.
“I considered giving up a number of times, especially back in 2013 when I had my last horse myself.
“I was about to give it away, I told mum that as I had no success and I did not want to waste peoples time, the people that were teaching me, if I did not have what it took.
“Mum talked me into getting a new horse that we could work on together and we went from there.
“I got tipped out in track work one day, that was some time after, and that made me wonder if I could bounce back from that as it hurt me pretty bad.
“There was probably four or five times I thought about pulling the pin and that was right up until I got this mare, Floorless.
“We have not looked back since with Floorless.”
Despite being born into the sport, Aaron did not feel like he had a direct path when he was a teenager.
Grandfather Cliff had stepped away from training after being in the code from the 1960’s all the way through to the 80’s and his mother was just an off and on again trainer.
He did not compete in mini-trotters as a youngster, which others his age did, and therefore provided direct entry into the industry and a clear route.
“I always wanted to have an interest in the horses and wanted to be involved since I was a young kid,” he said.
“But, we had no one in our family in the game at the time, it was hard to progress into it.
“There is heaps of people in the industry now who have followed their parents or other family members into it.
“I would have liked to do mini trotters."
Redcliffe participants such as Doug and Keith Schmidt, who leased stables from Aaron’s grandparents, as well as Tracey O’Sullivan helped guide him at times in his younger years as he gained knowledge.
Eventually, when Aaron was 24 years of age, Aileen made the call to get back into the pacers and it progressed from there.
“I learnt the ropes from her as I kept going along,” he said.
“My mum over the last few years has started to wind down a little bit and suggested to me that I would need to jump back in if I wanted to give it a crack.
“We found this horse at the right time and it was the knock on the door to get back into the training game.”
Aileen still has a few horses in work up on the Redcliffe Peninsula.
Aaron is hopeful that his family might just produce a fourth-generation harness racing participant in the coming years.
All three of his sons - Zac, Connor and Daniel – compete in mini trotters and help wash gear or help out with those odd jobs around the stables.
Busy with work and family commitments, Aaron does not think he will get a bigger team of horses in the near future but would like to consider it later in life when he has a bit more time on his hands.
“I wouldn’t be able to still do the horses without the support of my family including my wife Michelle, mum Aileen and kids Zac, Connor and Daniel,” he said.
“Even my grandad Cliff, who part owns Floorless, with myself and my wife Michelle never misses a meeting.
“Unfortunately, my nan Joyce and dad Greg both passed away a couple of years ago and they were both big supporters and they were both on my mind when I crossed that finish line."