Last Friday I was given a not so subtle kick in the pants by the sport I love. Racing has a way of dolling out good luck and bad, triumph and tragedy. It’s a roller coaster of emotions for those of us who devote our lives to it. You never know what’s around the corner.
Whilst none of us want to lose any horse, it seems to be the ones with the most ability that are the most vulnerable. I think that’s because they are like the best athletes. They go through the pain barrier and have an intense will to win and a desire to please. The not so fast ones don’t commit fully at the business end.
Last Friday we lost Girl Sunday. She sustained a heart attack and went very quickly following a gallop at Rosehill. She was at the peak of her powers with a glorious dappled coat. Two runs back she ran second at Group 2 level to subsequent Group 1 winner Daysee Doom.
Thankfully her rider James Innes Jnr wasn’t injured in the incident. We must always give thanks in these instances as it could be much worse.
There were absolutely no signs of any issue with her. Indeed, tests following her death showed no abnormalities in her blood profiles or any other area. The autopsy revealed what we all new. She had a massive heart, and it was also free of any evident abnormalities.
The other positive I drew was the fact her long term strapper Jess Watts had the morning off. Jess absolutely cherished the mare. There is nothing worse for a strapper to experience the loss of one of their charges. It’s a very personal relationship and that connection is one of the things I have always loved about the sport. Whilst everyone connected to the mare is devastated, I know it would be Jess who feels the most pain.
It’s fair to say we’ve had a pretty rough trot this season. We also lost another outstanding mare in Cruising Speed prior to Christmas.
For a small boutique racing team that’s two significant blows in a short period of time.
It’s not the first time this game has tested my resolve and resilience.
In the March of 2007 I received one of those gut-wrenching calls early on a Tuesday morning. It’s never good when a trainer’s name pops up on your phone on gallop mornings. The news is seldom good. In this case it was John O’Shea.
The previous year I had put together a group to buy the most expensive horse I have ever bought. He was a glorious dark colt by Tale of The Cat from the former topline race mare Nanny Maroon. The group shelled out $400,000 to buy him at the 2006 Inglis Easter Sale.
Later to be named Tall Tales, the colt had shown enormous ability winning his first trial at Randwick. He held a nomination for the Golden Slipper and despite not having raced was considered a live chance.
As I feared, the call from O’Shea wasn’t pleasant.
John broke the news that Tall Tales had fractured his shoulder whilst working under Glen Boss at Randwick. There was little they could do to save him, so he was humanely euthanised on the spot.
They don’t often report on the loss of unraced horses but in this case Tall Tales made the news. Boss was quoted when describing him as “one of the best moving colts I had ever ridden”.
In the space of 4 weeks surrounding that horrible day in 2007, we suffered the loss of two other horses.
Firstly, it was the very good galloper Sovereign Dream who contracted a golden staph infection in a joint following surgery and had to be euthanised. In 11 starts he had won or placed in all of them and clearly was bound for stakes races.
The third loss came when the handy maiden Hundred Percent dropped dead of a heart attack at the Gold Coast.
Three crushing blows delivered in quick succession.
The result had me questioning my future. We hadn’t long moved to the Gold Coast to follow the dream of creating a successful bloodstock and syndication business. We had made some quick inroads. But it felt like the world was against me when I lost Tall Tales, Sovereign Dream and Hundred Percent.
Not many people know this, but this run of horrible fortune almost drove me away from thoroughbred racing and away from the Gold Coast. I felt at the time that perhaps I wasn’t cut out to handle the ups and downs of running my own business.
I seriously went looking for alternatives back in Wollongong. The one that looked the most appealing was the role of Secretary Manager at the Bulli Harness Racing Club. We still had a home in the area whilst all of our family and friends were there too. I went as far as having an interview and as a result I was offered the job by the club president Dick Mitchell. Dick and his team were very keen to get me on board.
In the end Jenny and I made the decision to tough it out on the Gold Coast and dig in. We came up with a plan and set about making some changes to strengthen our position.
I’m pleased to say that decision proved correct. We have been very fortunate thanks largely to Brazen Beau. But I can assure you it took a great deal of resilience throughout the journey. And days like last Friday can temporarily weaken our resolve.
The heartbreak of losing horses like Girl Sunday and Tall Tales never goes away. It serves to remind me of how fragile these wonderful animals are. We must cherish the moments they give us and celebrate like there is no tomorrow.
RIP big girl.