Racing AROUND Rocky with Tony McMahon
Published 5 September 2022
PICTURE: Picnic In The Park returns to the winners’ stall under Chris Smith at Callaghan Park racecourse before a packed house in February, 1985. Racegoers lined the fence and filled the stand to see the country sprinter which captured the imagination of the racing public at the time.
It never ceases to amaze me just how far some trainers will travel to “place” their horses in a suitable race. Take for example Moranbah based Bevan “Billy” Johnson. On Saturday the Johnson trained Han Dynasty among whose owners is the “reclusive” passionate Emerald based racing man Richard “Nugget” Turnbull won at Bundaberg in a BM 60 (850m) off a benchmark rating of 66. Originally handicapped on 65kg, Han Dynasty derived further benefit from Tyler Leslight’s 3kg claim. At his previous start on August 11, Johnson trekked Han Dynasty among a team of horses the 1220km north west to Mt Isa where he was ideally suited in a BM65 and won accordingly by 4.25 lengths. By the way the Moranbah to Bundaberg trip was a mere 698km one way. I’ve written extensively over the years about what I term the Highwaymen and Highwaywomen (have to be politically correct these days) trainers who put in the extra mile placing their horses. I may have told you this before but as a nineteen years old handicapper at the Gold Coast Turf Club in 1971, I was given priceless advice by Mr Athol Strong Snr. He was in many ways the patriarch among trainers in QLD at the time and wise in the ways of racing. I never forgot his words of wisdom “Always put yourself in the best of company Mr McMahon and your horses in the weakest”. Another gem in the advice stakes for trainers is “if you feed them right, work them right and place them right, they should go all right”. For mine the most important component of that trio is “placing them right”. Smart punters are all over this and bet accordingly when a horse stands out as being placed to perfection. My pet hate is the placement of horses in races out of their class. They rarely win and go around somewhat in a hopeful mode. So, look for horses that are beautifully placed while owners and trainers should always remember “little fish are sweet”.
Taking that one step further, well done to Dalby trainer Matt Kropp and former Rockhampton based apprentice Alisha Donald for their feat at Birdsville’s two days of racing last Saturday and Sunday. They combined to win with Laurie in a 1020m Class 3 on Saturday and in a Class 5 (1200m) on Sunday. $18,900 in prize money jumped in the kick! Backing-up so quickly is a rarity in modern day racing but winning two races on the one day was common about 20 years ago before it was outlawed. Of course, it brings back memories of the Malcolm Raabe, Murgon trained Picnic in The Park (x Lunchtime) which won 21 successive races during 1984/85. He is believed to be the last horse to win two races in the one day at a TAB race meeting which he did at the Gold Coast in November 1984. Chasing 22 successive wins, Picnic In The Park broke down in a race at Callaghan Park, Rockhampton when he was lengths clear of the field. Tagged “The Mercedes from Murgon”, he was saved and lived on until 19.
There is no way the $6.00 will be on offer this Saturday in the Cairns Amateurs Cup (2100m) about the Ricky Vale trained Namazu which won the $150K Cairns Cup (2100m) at that price last Saturday week. Namazu is one of 13 entries and has a rating of BM 87 some 10 points higher than closest Planet Warrior (77). He carried 58kg in his 2.5 lengths Cairns Cup win and even with excessively more he would still look the winner on paper. Incidentally, fellow Rocky horse, Jared Wehlow’s Louis January started Cairns Cup favourite but baffled connections with his 17.6 lengths 15th behind Namazu. In the stewards’ report from Mareeba races last Saturday, it was recorded that Jared Wehlow was at a loss to explain the poor performance. He said that vet examinations and subsequent blood tests had all been positive and Louis January had pleased him since the failure. While it is a given to forgive a horse one out of character poor performance, it would come as a shock if Louis January could turn the tables on Namazu on Saturday. Then again horses can’t talk can they – if only they could!
Great to see talented trainer Tom Button a former multiple RJC premiership winner break a horrible run at Ipswich last Wednesday and especially so as the winner Cocobrew Express is in the main Rockhampton owned. Cleverly named being by prolific winning stallion the ill-fated Spill The Beans, 3YO Cocobrew Express scored his second career win in the 3YO BM 65 (1350m) when resuming from a spell. His previous success was also at Ipswich on May 2, this year. Tom is a gifted trainer and it must have been tough for him to endure a losing sequence of over 70 runners since his previous winner on May 22 at the Sunshine Coast. A true professional, to his credit Tom copped it on the chin explaining “we had a few things go wrong as well as getting a bug through the stable and competing against the stronger horses down here during winter”. Know all about losing streaks, I think at one stage I went for a few years without training a winner. It got so bad I used to take solace and be happy when one of my horses in a race would actually beat a horse home. That’s fair dinkum. Every trainer, whoever they are has had to go through or will go through a run of outs. Losing makes you appreciate winning all the more. Now that Tom Button has got “the monkey off his back” winners should flow in again. Cocobrew Express is owned by a stack of Rocky and CQ identities. I’ll bet more than coffee flowed when the horse won. Incidentally, Cocobrew Express has been entered for Doomben on Saturday after coming through his win well.
Speaking of the Ipswich win by “Coco”, Tom used that word PLACED again “Coming off a good run in a Group One event (beaten 3.85l June 11) he was well placed at Ipswich and the QTIS prize money ($30,300) was good”. Incidentally, the Button stable star Jemeldi, the GR 2 Randwick placegetter, has his first trial back from a spell at Deagon on Tuesday (September 6) and that horse deserves to be toasted with Irish Coffee as he is “living the dream” for his owners. In other news from the Tom Button stable, he has closed his Townsville satellite stable operation reasoning it best to have all the horses under the one roof at his magnificently appointed Canungra property.
Work has commenced at Callaghan Park on the new female and male jockeys’ room facilities and the administration block. Tim Cook will be busy at Doomben on Saturday with three likely runners Brad, Dr Neigh and Augustawynd. Counterpart, Jared Wehlow likely to have three starters over the two days of the Cairns Amateurs on Friday and Saturday in Wild Irish, Roshan and Louis January. John O’Sing reports that Marway third failed to handle the heavy track at Emerald last Saturday after jumping awkwardly in the barriers and squashing a pacifier against his eye. Don’t forget the big Emerald 100 meeting on Saturday, October 8. It is “the day” out there. Rocky Cup winner, our heavy weight champ Master Jamie to have another week in the paddock. “All being well he will be set for the King of the Mountain (1200m) in Toowoomba”, trainer Graeme Green said. That race for QLD bred horses prepared by a trainer based in the State calls for ballot applications closing on September 14 with the draw for the 10 ballots conducted on October 7. Full details RQ news. Congratulations to Rocky jockeys Ashley Butler (2), Chris McIver (1) and Tahlia Fenlon (1) on their Emerald wins last Saturday. Butler rode two winners at Bowen just two days earlier.