Bruce McLachlan's death stuns racing industry
The “Big Man” Bruce McLachlan will forever be remembered for his quick wit, but it was in his profession as a racehorse trainer that he earned his place among the greatest.
McLachlan, who recently turned 67, died suddenly of a heart attack early Wednesday, ironically in a year in which he achieved his greatest thrill by winning the Magic Millions Classic and Golden Slipper Stakes with Phelan Ready.
Winning Group Ones was second nature to McLachlan who will go down in history as the greatest trainer to emerge from Queensland.
McLachlan won 16 Brisbane trainers’ premierships, a feat many believe will never be broken.
Big in stature, McLachlan was a policeman in Mt Isa in north-west Queensland when he got the bug to train racehorses.
He quit being a policeman in 1967 after marrying wife Lorraine and moved to Brisbane where his humble beginning as a trainer kicked off in the Brisbane suburb of Cribb Island.
McLachlan’s rise to fame started soon after he trained his first winner at the old Albion Park sand track in October 1968.
He then moved to Ipswich from where he trained Latin Romance, who was runner-up to champion sprinter Tontonan in the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick in 1973.
After only a short time training at Ipswich, McLachlan had a sizeable bank to finance a move to Eagle Farm and within 12 months he was in the top 10 trainers in the state.
By the end of the 1970s McLachlan had won his first Brisbane trainers’ premiership but had no plans to stop there.
McLachlan was always ahead of the curve and became the envy of most of his rivals when he built a private training complex at Thornhill Park near Caboolture, north of Brisbane.
His partner and backer was the late grocer, Jack “The Slasher” Butler, and their combination was to become feared by bookmakers around the country in the 1980s and 1990s.
From Thornhill Park, he won eight successive premierships and set the record for the most winners in a season in Brisbane four times.
McLachlan later joined his mentor, the late trainer Fred Best, by becoming an an inductee into Queensland’s Hall Of Fame.
He was a disciple of Best who was Queensland’s leading trainer in the 1960s and 1970s.
Best instilled in McLachlan to always have the best staff and jockeys and to feed his horses well.
McLachlan had friends everywhere but one of his closest was leading Queensland racecaller Wayne Wilson.
Wilson said McLachlan was one of the greatest success stories in the country.
“He started off in a small way and went on to reach the greatest heights a trainer can,” Wilson said.
“It was his crowning glory to win the Magic Millions and Golden Slipper in his final year.
“He had only recently formed a training partnership with his son, Jason, and it was one of his biggest thrills in racing to train alongside Jason.”
Another trainer, Mick Mair, who worked alongside McLachlan at Caloundra, knew him for more than 30 years.
“His death is a big loss and a great shock,” Mair said.
“I have known Bruce for 30 years. He was larger than life and will be greatly missed.”
McLachlan produced some wonderful horses including Planet Ruler who won 10 straight races before winning the 1989 Gadsden Stakes in Melbourne.
Some of the country’s best riders started with McLachlan including Gavan Duffy and Brian York while he also enticed former South African Glyn Schofield to join him at Thornhill Park.
Duffy rode for many years for McLachlan as an apprentice and won senior jockeys’ premierships with him.
“I was an apprentice in Sydney and had two years of my apprenticeship to go when I had a disagreement with my old boss,” Duffy said.
“A friend of mine recommended I should go to Brisbane to ride for Bruce.
“I had two years as an apprentice with Bruce from 1979 and I rode another six or seven years for him before I went back to Sydney to ride.”
Some of the nation’s best horses came through McLachlan’s stables including Phelan Ready, With Me, Virage De Fortune, Chortle, St Jude and Al Mansour.
McLachlan is survived by wife Lorraine and three sons, Jason, Grant and Ian.
His funeral is expected to be held next week.
By Glenn Davis