YEAR: 2010


Phil Coulson, the man who caused the biggest sensation of all Interdominion Pacing Championship upsets at Addington in 1971, died this month. He protested to the last his innocence of the subsequent charges which earned him an unprecedented disqualification of seven years.

The Perth trainer-driver stole the Interdominion final with Junior's Image, suddenly rushing clear with 600m to run - a rare winning tactic at Addington - leaving his rivals flat-footed. He held on by a neck from Stella Frost to win the $26,000 first prize. Five days later it was announced the horse had a positive to caffeine and some months later it was disqualified along with Coulson.

Even in New Zealand there was disquiet over the case and Coulson's friends still point to his professionalism as the major argument against his conviction. "He was an absolutely meticulous horseman," recalls a Christchurch friend, Robert McArdle. "Everything in Phil's stables was immaculate, spotless. When he came to Addington he bought the horse a new feed bin because he didn't approve of Addington's ones and when the horse fretted a little over the trip he bought some pot plants and hung them around his stall. He could never have been sloppy enough to do what was claimed."

Coulson was no "wild west" horseman like some from his home state. He had won the 1967 Interdominion with Binshaw (his favourite horse) and only Frank and Fred Kersley won more driving and training premierships in Perth. He reined over 1000 winners and was an inaugural member of the West Australia Hall of Fame. He was the West Australian Sportsman of the Year in 1966.

"When a search was made of his stable area after the swab there were traces of the caffeine everywhere. As they said at the time it looked as though it had been sprinkled with a salt shaker. Nobody who knew how Phil operated would accept it could have been like that," McArdle said. McArdle and Aussie Eddie Sims had an option on Junior's Image going into the Interdominion and sold him to American Dunkin Donuts founder Bill Rosenberg, for whom he was a good winner.

Richard Trembath, a long time editor of the Australian Trotting Weekly, was another who never accepted the Junior's Image positive test. A good friend of Coulson, in 1978 he conducted a thorough investigation into the affair which he now describes as "a scandalous miscarriage of justice". The two-page feature which resulted helped earn him the annual Coulter Award for the best harness article of the year in Australia. "Phil always believed he had been set up. Some things I found out were disturbing. For example, the amount of caffeine found in the horse was very small. You could have got as much performance boost as from a cup of tea. A leading New Zealand horse won a Derby about the same time, returned only a slightly smaller dose, and the penalty? The trainer was fined $300 and the horse kept the race. One person on the committee (the hearing lasted three days) later admitted he nodded off listening to the evidence. There were a lot of question marks over the case and there still are."

Junior's Image would have been the first Australian-trained horse to win an Interdominion in New Zealand had he held the race. There were suggestions that agitation from people whose reputations might be affected by that played a role in the severe penalty handed down. "In the 40 years I covered Interdominions, Phil's drive was the best I saw from a tactical point of view," Trembath said. "In a single move he won the race. I am not saying Phil was a saint, but he would not have done some things with horses that were marginal, because the competition is such that most horsemen do at some time or another. But I would stake my life he would never have done it the way it was made out with the caffeine everywhere. It was just not his way. As a person he was a fine bloke. I was proud to call him a friend. He always assured me he had done nothing wrong with Junior's Image even years later when it didn't matter. But mud sticks and it is a shame many people over there only remember him because of the Junior's Image case."

Coulson, 77 when he died of cancer, served several years of his disqualification working on a crayfish boat off Perth in which he had an interest. Junior's Image was in fact the least able of many stars he either trained or drove. Coulson was credited by outstanding dual-gaited Perth horseman, Fred Kersley, as an "inspiation to my career".

Among the great horses Coulson trained, drove or both, were Village Kid, Gammalite and the mighty Pure Steel. His drive on Pure Steel in a famous match race with Satinover in Perth, when he used the champion's great stamina to wear down his brilliant rival, which had won 29 races in a row, was a highlight. Another was his drive on Village Kid to beat hot favourite Preux Chevalier in the West Australian Cup. The cup was Perth's equivalent of the New Zealand Cup and a race for which he prepared a record seven winners. Coulson was also credited with changing the style of racing in Perth with his introduction of the two and three-wide train and putting pressure on from the front after years of single file racing.

In spite of the Junior's Image affair, he was a popular personality and a hit with the media during his short stay in Christchurch. Some attempt was made by friends of Coulson here to review the case. Transcripts and evidence was gathered but it came to nothing. Coulson later said he did not fight the case personally (he stayed in Perth) because a story appeared in the Christchurch media before the evidence was heard. It said if he was not found guilty all the clubs in New Zealand would be up for the costs. So he was never going to get a fair hearing from then on.

Whatever the truth of that assertion and whatever the truth of the Junior's Image affair, the rest of Coulson's career proved he was indeed one of Australia's great harness horsemen.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 17 July 2010


YEAR: 1971

The trotting world was stunned when five days after the 1971 Final at Addington it was announced that Western Australian Junior's Image had returned a positive swab. Trainer Phil Coulson was barred from trotting for seven years and ordered to pay $1,000 in costs. Stella Frost, runner up to Junior's Image, was promoted to first for a prize of $26,000 compared with $8,000 for second. Manaroa was promoted to second, with Last Flood third.

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