Minden’s Tim Gillespie ready to take on the trotting world

From a kid running around on the show racing scene in Queensland to competing on the world stage of trotting.

The harness racing game – and in particular the trotters – are this month set to take Minden participant Tim Gillespie to heights in the sport that he would never have dreamed about.

The 57-year-old will this month travel to Italy and represent Australia at the 2022 World Championship for amateur drivers.

The competition will this year celebrate their centennial races, recognising 100 years of Italian amateur drivers.

All up, Gillespie will compete in three separate races in three different cities across Italy.

The competition is for amateur only drivers, which is defined by a driver not having harness racing as their major source of income.

At times in Gillespie’s life, he was full-time with the pacers and trotters, but in recent years he has focussed his attention on his trucking business, while also poking around with a few horses.

A proud Gillespie will travel with his wife Debbie – who often helps around the stable and used to drive track work – and is eager for the experience.

“I never thought I would get to see the world, I was happy to stay in Australia but here we are,” Gillespie said.

“It will be a fantastic opportunity; it will be really unbelievable.

“At the same time, it is a little bit daunting but I am sure I will handle it well.”

The opportunity for Gillespie to pull on the green and gold in the prestigious competition came by chance.

Denis Smith – who is the Marburg Pacing Association secretary – competed in the event back in 2005 and has since been the contact for the Federation of European Gentleman Amateur Trot Drivers since.

And, when the Federation was searching for an “Aussie” to make the journey this year, Smith turned to his mate, who also loves the Marburg track.

“Tim is a very efficient and successful trainer as well as being a calculated driver,” Smith said.

“The way that he looks after his horses, he obviously does not cut any corners whatsoever.

“He will give a terribly good account of himself in Italy.

“He is a confident driver and that will stand him in good stead for this competition, he will give them every chance and I expect him to go very well.”

The father of two has been around the harness code for much of his life and was first introduced to it by his uncle Kevin O’Neill the best part of four decades ago.

The humble Gillespie is blown away by what the sport of harness racing in the Sunshine State has been able to provide his family.

While this European adventure will be an obvious high point, Gillespie says the sport has given his family much more than he ever expected.

“I was a kid around the show circuit, my uncle first introduced me to it as he had a couple of pacers,” he remembers.

“I always loved it, Rocklea, Toowoomba and the show circuit, that was where I cut my teeth and I have always loved it.

“It is a really good industry, especially to bring children up in, which our family did. I have been very lucky to bring my family up in this industry.”

The Gillespies trip has been the talk of Marburg in recent weeks.

“We are extremely proud as a club,” Smith said.

“It is one of our high point’s this year and when they do return, we will obviously celebrate the achievement and name a few races after them.

“It is a big thing what Tim is doing.

“All in all, it will be a fabulous experience for Tim.”

While the Gillespies are heading to Italy for the horses, Tim and Debbie are ensuring they see the world, as well.

They will spend time in Paris as well as Vienna, which is where Debbie’s family hails from.

The three-day competition will start in Rome, before heading to Torino and then on to Florence.

The horse that Gillespie drives in each event will be selected in the lead-up to the race.

He is set to compete against other amateur drivers from the USA, New Zealand and France, among other countries, with 16 nations to be represented.

As well as the racing, Smith believes Gillespie will feel a great comradery with his fellow drivers at the competition.

Smith still trades emails with drivers he met when he represented Australia over a decade ago.

“Tim will be a great ambassador for Australia,” Smith said.

While Gillespie has raced pacers and trotters throughout his tenure in the sport, he has a special affinity with the square gait.

Back in the middle of 2019, Gillespie and his trotting filly Shegotsass created Queensland racing history by winning the first ever two-year-old trotters race to be staged in the state.

And, as they predominantly race with only trotters in Europe – where there is barely any pacing – then he believes he will fit right in with his northern hemisphere counterparts.

“I love the Trotters, they are just so different to drive,” he said.

“When you get a nice one, a smooth one, they are just so different to drive.

“It was just something I got into when Queensland started having trotting races all those years ago.

“I liked them from the word go, they were harder to get going compared to pacers in the early days, but they are pretty good now.”

Gillespie says the level of the Queensland trotting ranks has risen in recent years and now believes it is as good as anywhere in the country for quality.

As drivers need to be amateur to compete in Italy, Gillespie has been classified as such since 2011.

He was full-time in the sport in the years prior to that.

That was before the floods impacted his Minden property.

He loved driving at tracks such as Rocklea and Toowoomba in those days but eventually made the call to focus in on his family and put more time into their trucking business interests.

While working long hours with his business, he still held on to a few mares and that led to continuing to have a handful of horses in work over the years.

He has had some nice standardbred’s over the years, including Shegotsass, Freckles, Jazz Legend and I Like To Dance, among others.

Gillespie is also a dual-licensed harness and thoroughbred trainer, regularly having one or two from either code of racing in work at a time. 

By Jordan Gerrans