On the Road AGAIN with Tony McMahon.

Published 27 October 2023

On the Road AGAIN with Tony McMahon.

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What is it that is said – “practice what you preach” which in a biblical idiom albeit ironic as I lead into this week’s road trips. You see, I reason as I write so much about the exploits and travel of racing stakeholders in this column On The Road Again, that I should practice what I preach. Mind you, during my 36 years of active horse training I covered countless thousands of kilometres travelling horses as far south as Sydney and north to Cairns and all over the place in between. So last weekend, I was On The Road Again (horseless) out to Mitchell (554km) to reacquaint myself with a close family tie – Sister Marguerite. Lone behold would you believe it, the Maranoa Diggers Race Club was staging the annual Mitchell races. It was a day to behold, and the well-presented Mitchell racecourse was filled to the brim with patrons having a whale of a time. Being such a good sport and as the name of Sister Marguerite (A Catholic Girl) would suggest, racing was in her blood, so she came along as well. Rockhampton jockey Damien Boulet was also at Mitchell, and he rode two placegetters. Former Rockhampton apprentice jockey Liv O’Donnell was also in action winning the feature $18,000 Booringa Cup (1200m) on Roma trainer Craig Smith’s Art By Concorde. The first person I virtually “bumped into” was another former “Rockyite” in Fiona Hartford who was the steward in charge of the race meeting. In an earlier life as a jockey, Fiona was based in Rockhampton when indentured to her husband the trainer Don Critch. As Fiona Critch she rode her share of winners, in the main around the Burnett and Western Downs area before retiring around 2004. She returned years later to work here before becoming a cadet steward and then moving south again.  As well, was happy to see that courageous and determined young lady and very competent jockey Rhiannon Payne back in action at Mitchell last weekend. Rhiannon had been sidelined through injuries for almost a year after a horse flipped over on her behind the barriers at Toowoomba on Melbourne Cup Day last year. Rhiannon sustained serious femur and pelvis injuries which occasioned multiple surgeries. It hasn’t stopped that contagious cheery smile of hers or her engaging persona. She was thrilled to finish a close second on Three More Wishes on her first race ride for almost a year at Mitchell. Originally from Mackay but now calling Toowoomba home, Rhiannon Payne during her many visits to Callaghan Park years back rode 22 winners. I wish her well as this very happy-go-lucky person has always overcome the setbacks that life has bestowed upon her. Don’t you salute Rhiannon (especially if on horseback), but I salute you. Rhiannon Payne heads out to ride at Charleville on Saturday, almost 700km from Toowoomba. As I have recorded in the past, I am gob smacked by the kilometres racing stakeholders throughout Queensland cover. Just another glowing example of their dedication and resilience. As John Tapp would say “many winners”. At the end of a fabulous day of country racing, we said our goodbyes to Sister Marguerite, and all went our separate ways until we meet again. So last Sunday morning it was back On The Road Again, headed for Rocky. 

Another race day Saturday and the “have saddles” and “have horses “will be ON THE ROAD AGAIN headed south, west and north. Callaghan Park jockey-trainer Tasha Chambers heads north to Townsville (717km) with her debutant 2YO first starter AGE OF AQUARIUS. He contests the $47K Pallarenda Stakes (1000m) as TAB 1 – Race 4. A recent trial winner at Callaghan Park, the Headwater male is well and truly in the mix. Good luck Tasha. Rockhampton jockeys Dale Evans and Chris McIver will also be riding at the Townsville TAB meeting. At the non-TAB’s Jockey Damien Boulet and Callaghan Park trainer Jared Wehlow have appointments at Gympie. Wehlow’s sand scratcher Kobe Rocks, a Bundaberg and Gladstone Cup winner contests the Gympie Cup under 60.5kg there. Boutet doesn’t hold the engagement for Kobe Rocks, but he will pilot Skymaster in another race there which is 466km from Rockhampton. Callaghan Park’s Brooke Johnson, who must be getting very close to being granted a provincial jockey licence will have driven for about eight hours (717km) after she makes Isisford where she a full book of five rides on Saturday. Brooke commenced riding in July 2022 and has already 61 winners with more likely at Isisford. 

Most of the Rockhampton jockeys Warwick Satherley, Natalea Summers. McKenzie Apel, Nikki Olzard and Erin Molloy will be on a short road trip riding at Gladstone (108km) on Saturday. They will be joined by Emerald (369km) apprentice jockey Gemma Hogg who works as a truck driver during the week as well. The Gladstone Turf Club’s Cox Plate race day is the biggest on the club’s annual calendar. Saturday’s meeting is the strongest I have seen at Gladstone’s Ferguson Park race meeting in years. Horses are coming in as well as jockeys from all over the place. Just for the exercise I have done a few figures to highlight my point. Raymond Williams/Glenda Bell – Emerald (369km); Barry Phillips – Kingaroy (383); Leonard Mawn – Chinchilla (494); Bevan Johnson – Barcaldine (678); John Manzelmann/Tracy Simmons -Mackay (443); Damien Rideout/Kale Sinclair- Thangool (131); Bill Trimble Bluff (274) and Caitlin Johnstone -Jandowae (428). As well Rockhampton (108km) trainers Peter Fleming, Angela Stephens, Alan Jones and Tim Cook would I imagine individually float their starters to Ferguson Park. On the assumption that brother and sister – Tracy Simmons and john Manzelmann will travel their horses together, I estimate that trainers will have travelled a round trip with Gladstone starters amounting to 9372km. At least the petroleum companies are guaranteed winners!

Wait for this but. Barcaldine trainer Bevan Johnson had horses start at Mt Isa (754km) last Saturday; Gladstone (678) -Saturday while another of his trucks will transport horses from Barky to Charleville (408km) for races on Saturday. That means that the Johnson stables road trips for the week will have covered 3680km. Simply unbelievable but true. Having had horses in the stable I know that the trips are meticulously planned with overnight stabling en-route arranged, if necessary, on race eve and post-race night for the horses. It works as the Bevan Johnson stable record attests. An old trainer instilled in me as a young cove – “always be aware of the travelling horses” which translated to “respect them in races”. He was pretty right to with another gem “training horses will drive you stone raving mad”. Well must say hasn’t affected me but then again “what day is it and where am I”? Only Joking.

On a more serious matter but a very pleasing one, fantastic to see class jockey Michael Rodd back race riding at Doomben on Saturday after an absence since May 16, 2021. Michael had been sidelined as a result of concussion syndrome which he believes emanated from race falls. There is a very close Rockhampton connection with Michael Rodd, married to Cara (ne Aspinall) the daughter of bookmaker Vince and wife Judy. Instantly associated as the winning rider of Efficient in the 2007 Melbourne Cup, it is significant that Michael resumes jockeying on Cox Plate race day. Some 15 years back aged 26, he won the illustrious Cox Plate on Maldivian. Great to see you back in the saddle again Michael – a true gentleman of the racing industry. May the angels ride with you. Just for the record M. Rodd has ridden 33 GR 1 winners among a stash of an estimated 1600 winners. Of those seven were recorded at Callaghan Park, Rockhampton (Racing and Sports). 

Would be remiss of me not to mention FI/FO Brisbane jockey Justin Stanley who is going super presently. I could fill a column titled IN THE AIR AGAIN featuring Justin. Last Thursday, October 19 he rode a winner at Mackay and then two days later three winners at Rockhampton. That night a flight to Brisbane and a drive to the Sunshine Coast where he rode a winner the next day (Sunday, October 22). Back to Brisbane on a plane and rode at Callaghan Park, barrier trials on Monday. Repeat effort in the air and then the car riding a double at Ipswich Thursday (yesterday). Due for a full book of rides at Callaghan Park today (Friday) and back IN THE AIR AGAIN tonight for two rides at Doomben tomorrow (Saturday).  They are Micro (R 4 -TAB 3) and Larrakin Rogue (R 6 -TAB 5). Currently in a “purple patch” of form Justin may bob up winning again something he has done over more than 1500 occasions. 

The trips, be it ON THE ROAD AGAIN or IN THE AIR AGAIN of our racing stakeholders never cease to amaze me.

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