November 10, 2015 7:00am
HARNESS racing has been a part of Matt Dornauf’s life for as long as he can remember.
Dornauf’s father Ian has been involved in the sport “for about 40 years”, rising at 4am each morning to feed horses on the family’s Mernda property.
The life of a trainer requires unbridled passion and commitment which Ian has passed on to his son.
Dornauf was one of Whittlesea’s outstanding performers as the Eagles claimed a thrilling win over Lalor in this year’s Northern Football League Division 2 grand final.
Leading into the club’s best and fairest count last month, most of his teammates expected he would take out the top award.
But before he joined them to cap off a memorable season, Dornauf had another engagement — driving Royal Witness in the opening race at Tabcorp Park Melton.
The $22 chance finished sixth in the 2240m race before Dornauf swapped his silks for a suit and rushed to Whittlesea’s presentation night.
A few hours later, he received the club’s best and fairest award, capping off a whirlwind evening.
“I had my suit in the car and just got changed on the way,” Dornauf said.
Dornauf’s harness career record has included 24 wins and 31 placings from 182 starts at venues such as Melton, Shepparton and Bendigo.
Whittlesea coach Jim Atkins said the 24-year-old’s supreme fitness allowed him to juggle both sports with aplomb.
“He did that during the year,” Atkins said.
“He was straight in the car after the game and had a drive that night as well. I think that shows what kind of fitness base he has.
“(To) back up after a game of footy, get straight in the car and then go and drive a couple of horses as well. He’s a very committed person.”
Matt Dornauf juggles his love for harness racing with football.
Dornauf said the success achieved by stable star Royal Verdict had been the highlight of his time involved in harness racing.
The horse recorded 16 wins and nine seconds from 38 starts, collecting more than $500,000 in prizemoney.
“I was always interested in it, but it grew when he started running,” he said.
In many ways, Dornauf plays like a reliable staying horse.
Renowned for lifting when others wilt around him, Dornauf was named in Whittlesea’s best players 13 times from 19 matches this year.
He also contributed 30 goals during the Eagles’ premiership campaign, highlighting his ability to hurt opposition teams going forward.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Atkins said. “He’s hard at it and wins a lot of footy. Our stats guy had him getting 50-odd touches a couple of times last year.”
Dornauf has little doubt where he inherited the commitment which has enabled him to perform strongly on the football field and harness track from.
“Dad gets up to feed (the horses) at around four o’clock every morning,” he said.
“He’s done that every day pretty much, he’s pretty committed, one of the most committed people I’ve ever known.”
The midfielder, who is also undertaking a carpentry apprenticeship, has re-signed at Whittlesea for another year. He will have a key role to play as the Eagles aim to consolidate their place in Division 1 in 2016.