Christchurch born and bred Andrew Carston has his eye on the NZ Trainers’ Newcomer Award.
The 36-year-old trainer is the clear front-runner for the recently reinstated award, which is based on the number of individual winners trained.
The NZ Trainers' Association re-introduced the gavelhouse.com Newcomer Award this season, as a way of “recognising those who are new to the training ranks and taken the plunge to train professionally.”
To be eligible for the award, trainers must be training in their own right (not in partnership) and have had their license for less than five years.
Andrew established his Riccarton-based Carston Racing Stables in August 2015 and has gone from strength to strength.
In his first season as a trainer in his own right, he won 20 races and recorded 22 wins in the 2016-17 season.
He has won 15 races to date this term, with 12 individual horses, and his nearest rivals for the Newcomer title have had four individual winners.
“My number one goal for this season has been to win the Newcomer Award,” says Andrew. “It finishes at the end of July, so I’m pretty hopeful of winning.”
While Andrew has been training in his on right for only three years, he has been in the game for more than two decades. He says racing is in his blood - his uncle Lindsay Carston was a jockey and a trainer; older brother Ricky and Andrew’s twin sister Michelle were both jockeys, now retired, and his grandfather Wally Carston was a racing journalist.
“It’s a family thing,” he says, “I started hanging around the horses at the late Barrie Taggart’s stable in Riccarton as a teenager. I was about 13 years old and my brother worked for him at the time. I used to spend my time mucking out boxes and playing with the horses. Horses are all I’ve ever wanted to do. I was in it from there and that was it.”
With so many jockeys in the family, it’s surprising Andrew took a different track, and while he may have briefly thought about being a jockey, he’s the first to say he didn’t have the build for it: “It’s just the way it is, you have to be 50kg or less and I wasn’t. Plus, I enjoy food too much.”
On leaving school and home, he headed north to Waikato. “I was about 18 when I went to work for Chris and Colleen Wood in Cambridge, then over the following years I worked for a couple of different stables in the area, before I took up a job with Te Akau.”
Andrew spent seven years working for Te Akau Racing Stables in Matamata under the guidance of champion trainer Mark Walker.
He travelled extensively for the stable and was entrusted with the care of some outstanding gallopers, including Darci Brahma (5x Group One winner) and Princess Coup (4x Group One winner), and was a valued member of the team that helped Mark Walker win four New Zealand trainers’ premierships.
They were formative years and gave Andrew a wealth of experience and knowledge that he values to this day.
“They put a lot of faith in me and it gave me a lot of confidence. Mark Walker is a genius as a horse trainer, he’s one of the best I’ve ever worked for,” says Andrew.
“I like to mould a few things I do on what he did and what I learnt from him. He is definitely the most successful trainer I’ve worked for – he won five NZ premierships and now he’s won a Singapore premiership as well. He’s very talented at what he does.”
When Mark moved to Singapore, Andrew decided it was time to move on. He joined John Sargent's team and returned to Christchurch to run John’s Riccarton stable. He spent two years at Riccarton before heading across the ditch for two years, helping set up and run John’s Sydney stables. During that time, Andrew once again celebrated a trainer's premiership win, after John won the 2012 NZ premiership.
In 2014, Andrew returned to Canterbury and after taking up a role as foreman for another premiership winning trainer in Lisa Latta, began laying the foundations for his own training endeavours.
When Lisa decided to shut down her South Island stable, Andrew decided the time was right to set up his own. “It was sink or swim moment, I had to give it a go,” he says.
Lisa also provided Andrew with a big boost to his solo career.
“She gave me a massive leg up. I’d been working for her for about six months, running her South Island stables before she decided to shut them down. I was really lucky and she left me with the horses and their owners. It meant that when I started training, I had 15 horses, and it’s not easy for a new trainer to start out with that. Lisa gave me a great kick start.”
Today, Carston Racing Stables trains 30 horses at Riccarton Park and Andrew is happy with the way things are going.
As well as hoping to win the Newcomer Award, he’d like tick off a win or two in a group or listed race in the coming year. “I haven’t won one of those yet, so I want to have runners in them and be competitive.”
Realistic about what the future holds and his plans for his stables, Andrew says he’d like to be the leading South Island trainer one day, but he knows that is a way off yet.
“I’m the youngest trainer in the South Island, and the older ones have been around for a number of years. There’s a lot of experience and the other top trainers have bigger teams and race a lot more than me.
“I’d like to think I’ll get there one day, but for now, I want to continue to train winners and while I don’t really want a bigger team than I’ve got, I want to be training more winners and continue to rise in the premiership.”
Andrew currently sits in the top 25 on the 2017-18 premiership table and is among the top five South Island stables.
“You’ve got to be realistic with your goals and I’m up against some very strong and competitive trainers in the South Island. If I continue to stay in the top five for now, I’ll be happy. I’ve made a good start and want to continue down that track. Success gets more success and clients.
“You need to have the clients around you to be able to go to the sales and buy the young horses. I’m really fortunate to have [the syndication company] Go Racing buying me yearlings and am incredibly grateful for them.
“To be competitive in those group and listed races, you really need to be buying yearlings at the sales and spending the money on good breeding. It doesn’t mean they are going to be fast, but it definitely helps if they have good pedigrees. At the moment, I’m buying two or three a year and it would be great to be buying 10 or 12.”
Hard-working and dedicated to the horses, Andrew says he doesn’t really have time for anything else. He occasionally watches a bit of sport but doesn’t have a lot of time for anything but horses.
“I don’t really want it at the moment either,” he says. “I just want to focus on training horses, I think any trainer will tell you that. You only get out of it what you put in to it.
“It’s a business at the end of the day and I’m focused on getting the best results for my clients. I think the only way to do that is put 100 per cent in.”
Focused on achieving the wins and producing quality horses, Andrew says he has a 2-year-old filly,
Xpressmymind, who is showing progressive form. “She’s one I bought at the sales. It’s great to get horses like this one. You don’t know how good she is going to be, but she’s showing form. She’s had three starts for two seconds and a win.”
She may be the one to help Andrew achieve his second goal of the season and win a listed race at the Autumn Carnival at Riccarton Park.