• Racing Tips
    Ilsley family still icons in harness racing Ilsley family still icons in harness racing

    The great Joe Ilsley returns with Double Agent after their famous victory in the Miracle Mile in 1984.

    THERE have been few more popular horsemen in harness racing. Joe Ilsley was regarded as an icon in the sport and his son Michael... Ilsley family still icons in harness racing

    THERE have been few more popular horsemen in harness racing.

    Joe Ilsley was regarded as an icon in the sport and his son Michael was just as highly-regarded.

    These two marvellous horsemen will be honoured – as they are annually – tomorrow night at Tabcorp Park Menangle with the running of the annual Joe and Michael Ilsley Free-For-All.

    A large number of family and friends are expected to find their way to the track to honour the pair.

    Joe passed away in 2007 at the age of 83, while Michael tragically lost his life to illness at just 59-years-of age in 2010.

    While the family no longer train and drive horses, they still have harness racing coursing through their veins and will be keen observers and happy to receive the winners of this popular annual race.

    Joe was born in 1923 and found an interest in horses through his father, who was a jockey.

    Joe served in the army and when discharged took up the trade of carpentry.

    It was just after the war that Joe met his lovely wife, Isobel.

    At the age of 30, Joe, who had set-up home at Mona Vale, tried his hand at trotting and became successful at training horses on the sand and swimming them at nearby Bayview on Sydney’s northern beaches.

    Later, In the early 1980’s, he made the move to Morisset and continued his success from a property there.

    Joe had great success with restoring broken-down horses including his star and ‘mate’ Double Agent, who went on the win a memorable 1984 Miracle Mile as a veteran 12-year-old.

    He worked his magic on many horses including, star juvenile Rocket Glenfern, Michael Frost, Hard to Get, Nuts And Bolts, Steel Trader, Tricky One and many more.

    His other career feature wins were many and included heats and consolations of the Inter Dominion, three Newcastle Cups and the QLD Pacing Championship.

    Joe trained 673 winners in an illustrious career and drove 562 winners.

    Joe lived through a depression, a World War and raised 10 terrific children with Isobel.

    They were hard times but they helped forge this great character.

    He lived by a set of values that were old school and never wasted a cent on himself, but was immensely generous to others.

    Joe passed away on April 19, 2007. He was respected by one and all from every walk of life and will always be remembered as ‘Gentleman Joe’.

    Joe’s son Michael was born on March 3, 1951, the third child of Joe and Isobel.

    He was to inherit the ability of his legendary father . . . and his passion for horses.

    An accomplished motor mechanic, Michael drove his first winner aboard Hard to Get at Maitland on August 31, 1973.

    He would go on to drive more than 500 winners and also train 422 winners in his career.

    Michael once admitted in an interview that he ‘cried’ when his father and Double Agent narrowly staved off Bundanoon (Brian Hancock) to win the 1984 Miracle Mile.

    Just two years later, Michael would fail narrowly in emulating his father’s deeds in the Miracle Mile when third on Paleface Bubble behind West Australian star Village Kid.

    While ‘old Joe’ didn’t win an Inter Dominion, that is something that Mike nearly did on the same pacer, narrowly failing to overhaul My Lightning Blue in an ‘Aussie’ quinella at Addington in 1987.

    A year later, he would again fall short in the race, this time at Harold Park, when snaring the drive on Palimar, which finished second to Our Maestro (John Binskin).

    One of his career highlights was winning the 1987 SA Winfield Cup with Paleface Bubble.

    He was also the man in the sulky when San Simeon’s record 29-race winning sequence came to end in an Inter Dominion heat in Hobart in 1981.

    Mike partnered Michael Frost for his father that night, ending one of the most remarkable winning streaks in harness racing history.

    Through the years, Mike would enjoy fruitful associations with some fine pacers like Teramby Time, Kyalla Fling, Run The Risk, Bat Del, Earth Station and Warrior Khan.

    Mike was one of a strong contingent of trainers based on the northern beaches on the 1980s and 1990s, with the sandwork and swimming regime assisting the injury-prone pacers in keeping them sound.

    Sadly, Michael Ilsley suddenly passed away on November 12, 2010 at just 59 years of age.

    Michael Court

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