INDUCTEE 2019: JACK MORRIS
12 February, 2019
Hall of Fame
In the story of Jack Morris lies all the joy and glory and all the grief and heartache that horse sports can manifest. It is also a story of fabled talent and fearless bravado, counterbalanced by calamity as harrowing as the light harness fraternity has ever endured.
The tale begins in the early 1990s with an ebullient, twinkle-in-his-eye, likeable, cocky, Irish-Australian horse trainer named Sean Harney. In his late thirties, Harney was a battler amongst trainer-drivers, who worked odd jobs outside the industry and had yet to get a full-time training licence.
His one claim to fame was that in 1990 he had taken a catch drive on 33/1 outsider, Tarport Sox, in the WA Pacing Cup and won, when the odds-on front-running champion, Westburn Grant, had choked down.
Harney, however, possessed a vast hunger to learn and was fascinated by American interval training techniques and keen to apply them to the right horse in Australia. In Jack Morris he would find his muse.
Harney acquired the muscular bay gelding in New Zealand for $30,000 on behalf of Jeans West owner, Peter Volk, whom he had talked into the purchase. Volk knew little of harness racing and even less of Sean Harney, but Harney was nothing if not a gifted salesman and he bagged an elephant in Volk.
Jack Morris had won just three of seventeen starts in the Shaky Isles, but under Harney’s aegis would miraculously transform into the greatest pacer in Australasia.
It didn’t commence well, however.
At his WA debut, as a four-year-old in February 1992, Jack Morris, who had been revelling under Harney’s training, galloped hopelessly and ran last. On top of that, Harney was booked that night for running a red light towing his horse float.
It was a lousy day all round, not that it really mattered in the long run.
Over the next twenty months Jack Morris won twenty-five of his thirty-seven starts and never missed a place, advancing from unknown to unforgettable in the process.
It was something to behold in this period, as the explosive talent gradually gave way to a controlled, professional racehorse with an increasingly big engine. The colourful and sometimes rogueish Harney, though, having finally captured the horse of his dreams, would miss about half of the future drives due to his own run-ins with stewards, featuring an all-too-common association with suspension and disqualification.
But it was hard not to love him, for he was the most entertaining, outspoken, witty, exciting breath of fresh air in the game and for the media the best and most willing interview participant there’d ever been.
So it was the great Fred Kersley in the sulky, when, having won a dozen races and just arrived in fast class, the now five-year-old Jack Morris blitzed the field in the Fremantle Members Sprint, in November 1992. The win prompted Sean Harney to phone N.S.W. Board chief, Peter V’landys, to demand a start in the upcoming Miracle Mile.
In those days, before Sky Channel coverage from the west, little was seen in the east of WA harness racing and V’landys, like Peter Volk before him, knew nothing of either Harney or Jack Morris. Yet he was so impressed with the trainer’s gumption, if not his bluntness, he granted him his wish.
Greeted with the banner newspaper headline, “Jack Who?”, when he arrived in Sydney a fortnight later, Jack Morris, with Harney now back driving, nevertheless ran a creditable third to the Victorian star, Franco Tiger.
Harney then landed a massive plunge in the Treuer Memorial, as Jack Morris exploded to a four lengths victory in an elite field and was suddenly Jack Who, no longer.
Returning to Perth, the WA Pacing Cup clash between Jack Morris and Franco Tiger proved to be a classic, but it was 66/1 shot, The Harlem Boy, that lipped them both out on the line after one of the most gruelling, incident-packed features ever run in Perth.
Soon after this race, Sean Harney pulled the wrong rein on Jack Morris in a minor race and embarked on another lengthy stint on the sidelines.
Good friend and nerveless trainer-reinsman, Rod Chambers, then took over the driving of the rising star.
A brave second in the Victoria Cup followed, before Jack was brought back to Perth to be readied for the 1993 Inter Dominion Championships, scheduled for the autumn in Brisbane.
Part of that preparation was a trial at Byford, but so newsworthy was his win in that trial, that Jack Morris firmed into pre-post favouritism for the Inters series. He won the trial by three hundred and fifty metres - literally - in a full twelve-horse field, smashing the track record to smithereens in the act.
And he didn’t disappoint in Queensland either.
After two wins and a second in the heats, he thrashed the field in the Inters final, despite working outside the leader, and left the likes of superstar pacers, Warrior Khan, Blossom Lady, Christopher Vance, Westburn Grant and Franco Tiger in his wake.
Following a spell, Jack Morris returned as a six-year-old and with Harney now back holding the reins was nosed out by Warrior Khan in the Queensland Pacing Championship, then in quick succession eclipsed the Australian Pacing Championship at Moonee Valley, the Moonee Valley Legends Mile and the Tasmanian Pacing Championship in Hobart by a widening three lengths and in track record time.
Now Sean Harney publicly declared that Jack Morris would not only win the Miracle Mile, coming up next in Sydney, but would do so by the biggest margin in history and in the fastest time.
As it turned out, only devastation awaited the charismatic horseman.
An odds-on favourite in a record T.A.B. pool, Jack Morris was sensationally scratched at the barrier when the course vet spotted a trickle of blood coming from the nose of the champion. Harney tried to plead his case to the chairman of stewards in the trackside tower above him as he sat in the sulky, however in harrowing scenes that are etched in the collective memory of harness racing, he was ordered to leave the circuit.
In the aftermath, Harney claimed the horse was scoped and cleared the next day and that he had merely banged his nose in the stalls.
Whatever the truth, Jack Morris raced only a few weeks later, winning a WA Pacing Cup prelude, but that was immediately followed by a poor fifth in the next prelude and a way-under-par fourth as a short-priced favourite in the final.
All of this paled, however, against Sean Harney’s announcement that he was suffering from cancer.
He had been constantly dropping a leg from the sulky in races, due to what he thought was sciatic back pain.
Eventually stewards stood him down from driving pending a medical certificate clearance, which was how Sean’s true condition was discovered.
Sean was not quite forty when he passed away, soon after the end of the 1993/94 season, in which he finished an amazing third in the trainers’ premiership. Tragic to relate, Peter Volk would also succumb to cancer at the age of sixty-eight in 2012.
As for Jack Morris, he would not be seen again for two years due to tendon and suspensory ligament problems and when he resumed in Melbourne for his new stable was never the same and soon retired.
There is no escaping the sadness of the Jack Morris story, yet for a brief shining moment he and his enchanting friend lit up harness racing like few before.
In total, Jack Morris had 70 starts for 31 wins, 25 placings and stake earnings of $827, 754.
Treuer Memorial (G1)
FHRC Members Sprint (G3)
J.P. Stratton Cup (G3)
WA Pacing Cup (Prelude)
3rd Miracle Mile (G1)
Inter Dominion Final (G1)
Inter Dominion Heat (G3)
Inter Dominion Heat (G3)
Australian Pacing Championship (G1)
Tasmanian Pacing Championship (G1)
Moonee Valley Legends (G2)
James Brennan Cup (G3)
WA Pacing Cup (Prelude)
Victorian Cup (Prelude)
2nd WA Pacing Cup Final (G1)
2nd Victorian Cup Final (G1)
2nd Queensland Pacing