Racing AROUND Rocky – With Tony McMahon

Published 11 May 2022

Racing AROUND Rocky – With Tony McMahon

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News on Wednesday that the 2023 The Archer will be staged at Callaghan Park on Sunday, April 30 as a “one off” (non- clash) Queensland TAB meeting was joy to my ears. So too it should be to every passionate Rockhamptonite as to quote an appropriate saying of my generation the news is “bigger than Ben-Hur”. “That date Sunday, April 30, 2023 is locked in Tony. It is the long weekend of the Labour Day (Monday) public holiday. It’s a definite and the Sky Racing team of presenters will be at Callaghan Park and no doubt some of Australia’s top jockeys, trainers and horses as well. With no clash metropolitan feature meetings like what occurred last Saturday, it should be fantastic”, Rocky Amateurs chairman Bill Reid said. First let me explain – Ben-Hur was a movie produced in 1959 and broke all-time records at the box office hence the adaptation to compare anything with its extravagance. Bill Reid and his committee from the Rocky Amateurs produced Rockhampton’s richest race meeting last Saturday and the city’s most extravagant race, the $440K The Archer (1300m). To say the meeting was a phenomenal success probably does not quantity it sufficiently. It was simply a magnificent occasion drawing runners from the top echelon of Australian racing stables including Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott (present), Chris Waller, Annabel Neasham, The Hayes’ from Lindsay Park and Newcastle’s goliath Kris Lees. Remember the 11 runners in The Archer had won over $11M in stakes – unheralded in Rocky in 156 years of racing. Being a parochial Queenslander and Rockhamptonite it was with pride I reported that Brisbane trainer Robert Heathcote’s Emerald Kingdom won under the superb riding of local Ash Butler. The Archer finish was worthy of its pre-race hype with Emerald Kingdom just grabbing Brisbane trainer Desleigh Forster’s Apache Chase (Jim Byrne) to land the $275K first purse. Some 3000 people gathered at Callaghan Park last Saturday – the biggest swell of racegoers there in well over 30 years. They came from near and far including a contingent of 16 owners from Newcastle associated with Kris Lees trained stablemates Gem Song and Ventura Ocean. That all happened despite The Archer meeting ($652K) clashing with the $1.81M Hollindale Cup races at the Gold Coast. As the TV advertisement goes “but wait there is more” and so there is and “it can be expected that there will be a substantial prize money boost to both The Archer and The Fitzroy on our big Rocky Amateurs Sunday next year”, Bill Reid said and he was also spot on adding “it was just like the old days seeing the Callaghan Park grandstand packed and racegoers three and four deep around the enclosure fence”. Know something Bill, it will be standing room only in 2023 and they’’ be five deep looking at the top horses and jocks. So, there you have its folks, plan your day – Sunday, April 30, 2023.


Seriously, Rockhampton racing is really on a high. It is just over a month since the extremely successful three days of the Capricornia Yearling Sales and races (2 days) were staged. Now the Rockhampton Jockey Club’s Winter Racing Carnival is just around the corner – Tatt’s Days – Friday, June 24 and Sunday, June 26 leading up to Rocky Newmarket, Friday, July 8 and Rocky Cup, Saturday, July 9. Believe me the RJC is going all out promoting this year’s Carnival and there are some big announcements imminent. Keep reading this space.


Like everyone else I hope the very popular and gifted jockey Ashley Butler makes a speedy recovery after being king hit from behind and shattering his jaw in Rockhampton on Saturday night. He was expected to undergo surgery in Brisbane this week.  Godspeed Ashley.


If ever I saw a horse that looked like a Rocky Newmarket winner it was the Jake Capewell trained Sir Warwick from Westbrook on the Darling Downs. The Written Tycoon gelding won his sixth race from 15 starts rather effortlessly taking the inaugural $75K The Fitzroy (1300m) at the RA meeting last Saturday. Jake was represented by his wife Jay (formerly worked for trainer Lyle Wright at Mackay) as he had runners at Ipswich and Toowoomba last Saturday. I was within earshot when winning hoop Jim Byrne told connections on unsaddling “I didn’t expect that (to win so easily). This horse is in a really good space and is up there in in city class”, Byrne, who rode 3 winners on the day said. I mentioned to Jay about my Rocky Newmarket thoughts re Sir Warwick. I followed it up with a phone call to Jake on Wednesday afternoon and he confirmed the Newmarket was one option of many pencilled in for Sir Warwick. “If we come there, we know that Lyle Wright will be a huge help to us as was the case last weekend”, Jake told me. Believe me Sir Warwick is very good horse.


What about Jim Byrne 50, isn’t he a marvel?  True professional in every sense of the word. His treble brought his career record to 2847 winners. Quietly spoken his ride on Apache Chase to control the race in front and just be caught in the last stride was a ripper. Only for not having been a tad slow to jump, the result of The Archer may have been reversed. That’s hypothetical. In between races I observed Jim Byrne in the specially designated outside jockeys seating area studying very closely the race book fields of his next rides. Seems he is a good pupil.  I first was introduced to Jimmy in June 1988 when campaigning with Konedobu in Rocky. His master Pat Duff said to me “Tony like you to meet my new apprentice Jim Byrne”. When Jim had left Pat told me “That boy is going to go a long way”. Good tip and what about Pat Duff still training at 81 and still winning with That’s A Miracle doing so at the Sunshine Coast last Sunday.


Comment is free but facts are scarce.



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