Australia’s oldest trainer Shirley Batten triumphs at Ballina

Shirley Batten is still training winners at 91 years of age. Image: Gold Coast Turf Club.

Shirley Batten is Australia’s oldest active racehorse trainer, and she’s been enjoying a winning run with in-form mare Top Bird. 

A dominant winner in the 1100m Benchmark 58 Handicap at Murwillumbah in February, the five-year-old was ridden to another comfortable victory in the 1000m Benchmark 58 Handicap at Ballina on Friday. 

The Top Echelon mare has now started 36 times for five wins, and Batten believes jockey Nozi Tomizawa has been the secret Top Bird’s success and career-best form.

In both wins, Tomizawa has bounced out in front on the Gold Coast galloper before making every post a winner. 

“The chap riding her at the moment seems to understand her better,” Batten told NSW Country and Picnic Racing.

“She can be a funny little thing and doesn’t like being annoyed, and if the rider pushes her out and doesn’t get balanced, she doesn’t go as well; she likes to do her thing. 

“She is a dear little thing, but you can’t boss her around, and she’s got to do it herself, and Nozi seems to get the best out of her.”

Top Bird has thrived on rain-affected tracks in recent times, which is another reason why she is racing so well. 

“We’ve never wanted to run her on a heavy track, and at Murwillumbah, we got to the races, and it turned into a heavy track, and she is only a little thing and doesn’t get into it too much,” Batten said.

The veteran trainer wasn’t sure if she would race Top Bird in NSW at her next start, suggesting that it might be a few weeks before she starts again.

“She has been a good earner,” Batten said. 

“We’ll wait and see where we go next, she likes to space her races, and we’ll see what comes up.

“She doesn’t do a lot and swims and goes for walks, and she might have the saddle on one or two times a week, but she doesn’t need a lot.”

Based on the Gold Coast, the former Victorian who was a public trainer, loves being a hobby trainer with just three horses in work.

She races Top Bird and her full sister Coco Jewel (x Top Echelon) and half-brother Eagle’s Fire (x Dracary’s). 

“I used to train in Victoria for other people, but when I came up here, the horses we bred, we brought three with us, and when they retired, we bought this little one and her mother, who unfortunately died last year,” Batten said. 

“We ended up with three foals, which are the horses we’re racing, and it’s better now because it’s really enjoyable.”

While Batten is 91 years young, she is still up and about at 2.30 am every morning to get the jobs done around the stable.

“It makes me get out of bed and go to the horses; I couldn’t not train,” Batten said.  

“I just have the three in work, and we’re at the Gold Coast track, and I’ve always been a morning person.

“When I was in Victoria, I used to milk a lot of cows, and so I’m up at half-past two every morning.”

Batten does have the support of her son, David, and she is very grateful.

“I’m still enjoying it and my son is going to Eagle Farm this afternoon and he takes them to the track and swims them,” Batten said. 

“I would soon enough be in the pool if I tried to do it, so it’s really good to have that help.”