From flood devastation to Cup sensation

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By Darryn Nufer

AS 65-year-old horse trainer Tony McMahon held the 100th Rockhampton Cup in one hand and his wife Jean’s hand with the other, the picture told 1000 words when only seven were required.

Tough times don’t last – tough people do.

Not even McMahon, a racing writer, could have scripted it better himself.

His bonny mare Mamselle Corday (pictured), one of the outsiders in the Triple M Rockhampton Cup field, fought off 12 rivals courtesy of a dashing front-running ride from jockey Les Tilley and then had to survive a protest from the fourth-placed Cantbuybetter to etch her name into the history books.

What many wouldn’t realise is that McMahon and his wife Jean could easily have walked away from racing after devastating floodwaters washed away their livelihood at Stanwell, on Rockhampton’s outskirts, in early 2013.

Two of McMahon’s fillies drowned and were found several kilometres away from his residence.

About an inch of water seeped into his house, warped furniture and wrecked walls.

The home had to be gutted.

Fortunately it was insured but everything else including the stables and horse equipment, wasn’t.

The McMahons repaired their home and rebuilt their horse racing operation and their lives but it came at a cost that was more than just a financial one.

McMahon didn’t train a winner at the headquarters of Rockhampton racing, Callaghan Park, for almost two years.

Ironically it was a humble maiden victory by Mamselle Corday herself which broke the drought for the trainer in October of 2014.

That day at the races, McMahon’s wife Jean put things into perspective during an interview with the Rockhampton Jockey Club’s Darryn Nufer.

“In the floods we lost a very promising filly, two babies we lost, and most of the others were never to race again because they were traumatised by the flood and that makes the win even more special today,” she explained.

“We came out with our lives and something we learned about was human nature. The support we had from people was just so overwhelming we just couldn’t believe it, that got us through.”

When asked after Mamselle Corday’s breakthrough maiden win if they’d ever thought about giving racing away, Jean said this: “I’ll let you know something, Tony McMahon has told me he’ll have a horse until the day he dies, even if he has to come out of a nursing home to train it, that’s the story of Tony McMahon and racing.”

Last year’s Rocky Cup hero Colour Charge (Natalie McCall) finished second in the Centenary Rocky Cup (1600m) on Saturday with Darryl Hansen’s Balboa Rocks in third.

For McMahon, who has worn many caps over a 30-year association with the Rocky Winter Racing Carnival – from racehorse trainer, race caller, racing writer, television and radio commentator to being an advocate for racing stakeholders at appeal hearings – the Cup victory by a horse he purchased for a bargain $5000 on one bid at a Magic Millions yearling sale, provided a career highlight.

And in recent times hasn’t there been some highlights.

McMahon’s flying filly Paradis Imperial, purchased for $9000 has earned $361,375 on the racetrack, Shrouded ($11k purchase) has won $76,050, and Saturday’s victory took Mamselle Corday’s earnings past the $178,000 mark.

“This is the greatest thrill, you always dream to win your hometown Cup,” McMahon said post-race before being summonsed to the stewards room for the protest hearing.

“I’ve always loved Mamselle Corday, she’s been my favourite.

“I knew she was never better (going into the race) but I never in my wildest dreams thought she could win.

“I told Les to take her to the front. The original plan was to go back but with the wet track you had to be up there and he rode her beautifully.”

McMahon, who called 16 Rocky Cups during his race calling career, also paid tribute to former jockey Mark Unwin who does his trackwork riding.

“Mark plays a big role, does a wonderful job on her (Mamselle Corday) every morning, and I’d be lost without him.

“Mum’s got tears and I’m glad I’m not writing the story tonight because I wouldn’t be capable of doing it,” McMahon added ahead of the impending celebrations.

McMahon had his first runner in a Rocky Cup back in 1988 when his galloper Konedobu ran third in the edition won by River Road and this was his best result in the feature before Saturday.

For 23-year-old Tilley it was his biggest victory as a jockey.

Perhaps there was some good karma involved as Tilley, at an earlier race meeting over the Rocky Winter Carnival, made a young racegoer’s day by giving a boy some of his riding gear in a gesture that warmed the hearts of many.

Leading Brisbane trainer Tony Gollan won a new $30,000 Mitsubishi 4×4 ute put up as a prize by the Rockhampton Jockey Club and Tropical Auto Group for the leading trainer over Rocky Newmarket and Cup Days.

Trainers earned points for placings in the 16 races over the two days on a 3-2-1 basis and adding great excitement, the result went down to the final race of the Carnival.

Photo: Les Tilley guides Mamselle Corday to Rocky Cup glory. Photo Taron Clarke. 


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