Trophy honours best mate of all

By Justin Robertson
PAKENHAM racing legend Herb O’Neill was part of the furniture.
Close mate and trainer John Gunning spent 20 years with Herb and watched him entertain people with his wit, whistling and bright persona.
When Herb passed away earlier this year, Gunning decided to put his metal spinning craft to the test.
He has just spun a new Pakenham Trainer’s award, to be the official trophy for the leading trainer each year.
And, it will be something to honour the “ripper bloke”.
“I thought why don’t I make a trophy and each year it can be engraved with the name of the leading trainer and be something for people to aspire to win,” Gunning said.
“Wherever Herb went, he had an audience and was full of a million stories.
“Herb got on with everyone from every age.”
Pakenham Trainers Association president, Miranda Cox, said the renaming of the award will make it more coveted for the local trainers who win it.
“It’s a thrill for anyone to win the leading trainer, but to have this now and know it will stay within the club adds a special dimension to it,” she said.
“Everyone thought a lot of Herbie, and it’ll be another good way to honour his name.”
Cox said that with more than 80 trainers at Pakenham, the trainer’s award has started to build a prestigious reputation.
“People have always found it a prestigious award to win but to have the luncheon to formally celebrate it and having the award named after a legend, makes it a bit more prestigious for people,” she added.
The new trophy – now named the Herb O’Neill Trainers Award – is just one of the tributes the Pakenham Racing Club has for the legend.
Earlier this year, the 1400 metre Herb O’Neill Handicap was launched and will now be etched in the yearly calendar at Pakenham.
Gunning is chuffed he was able to find a way to honour his racing mate.
“I’ve been spinning metal for 45 years and Herb was a great mate to a lot of people in Pakenham,” he said.
“I think something like this, you think of him and remember him at least once each year with a race meeting or trophy. It’s a fitting way to honour Herb.”