The passion and enthusiasm for horse racing in Malta knows no bounds with regular weekend meetings at Marsa attracting bumper crowds that makes this sport among the most popular on our shores.
The country has always pro-duced skilful drivers and trainers, ones who can keep their own not only on home ground but also in racetracks away from our shores.
The latest to emerge on the scene is Mike Micallef, a 38-year-old who is plying his trade across the Atlantic and currently based in Florida, US.
Earlier this month, Micallef won a top class handicap race at the Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park with Dragon’s Blood. The prize-money was $14,000 and Micallef scooped the lot thanks to the gelding’s third successful race this year.
This has been a fruitful patch for Micallef, who was previously established in Michigan. He has just been awarded with Florida’s Best Newcomer Award for season 2010-2011 by the US Harness Writers’ Association.
According to statistics published in March by the United States Trotting Association (USTA), Micallef had 46 winners for more than $300,000 in prize-money.
From 93 races in Florida alone, he had 15 winners with purse earnings of $110,000 over the past few months.
Away from the stables, Micallef also had good reason to celebrate as on April 6 his wife Anita, co-owner of Dragon’s Blood, gave birth to the couple’s second child – a baby girl – Miley Kay.
The passion for horse racing and the business has long been imbued in Micallef since his childhood days.
“My father, Lewis, was from Victoria, Gozo. Along with his friend Leli Xuereb, they had their own horses and stables. It was their favourite sport and I grew up loving horses,” Micallef, who last visited the islands in 2002, said.
Micallef embarked on his profession as a young teenager and first found a job at the Hazel Park Raceway in Michigan.
He obtained his licence aged 17 and his father helped him buy his first horse, Armbro Graham.
Things developed quickly and now Micallef runs his own stable.
“We currently have 15 horses,” Micallef said.
“I’ve had my own stable since 1990 now. At first, things were not so easy but in 2004 business started to pick up for me as a driver. It was the first year that I had figured in hundreds of races.
“Up to this year, I’ve won around 1,500 events in my career, which is not bad considering we’ve also made purses of around one million dollars almost each year.”
Micallef reckons his best racing meet ever was in September 2008 in Michigan.
“That was my Super Night,” he said.
“Eight high-stakes finals were in store on that occasion. It was a memorable night as I’ve won four races and two of the winning horses were owned and trained by me.”
Micallef described Dragon Blood as a great addition to his stable in Florida.
“We purchased Dragon Blood at Pocono Downs in September for $28,000 and in the six months we have had him he has won the feature race in Florida five times and earned over $50,000,” he said.
“This is my first year in Florida and so far I can’t complain. We’re here as a family and the stable is also doing fine. I did not imagine we’ll be so successful so soon but, I guess, the award for best newcomer was merited in the end,” Micallef said.
“It’s good to be recognised for your hard work and that gives you added motivation for the future as I want to prolong my professional career as long as possible.
“Surely, I have to thank my wife Anita and my parents for their support. Their backing has been constant and ungrudging.”
Originally published in The Sunday Times on 17 April 2011