As a racehorse trainer, Kim Waugh isn’t accustomed to having a Sunday off, so on the odd occasion she does find herself with some free time she likes to make the most of it. One of her favourite things to do is visit her retired racehorses in their new homes and over the weekend she enjoyed a special reunion.
Rothesay gelding, Five Stars Partner won three races and
notched two places in ten starts for Kim’s stable before being retired into
Team Thoroughbred NSW’s care. He became a much-loved part of the inmate equine
therapy program run in partnership with St Heliers Correctional Centre in
Muswellbrook and eventually it was his turn to be offered for adoption.
Within days of being named as Team Thoroughbred NSW’s Horse Of The Week, Five Stars Partner had scored himself a five-star home with Murchessons Equine Wine & Dine in the Hunter Valley. In his new role, he safely carries riders, including beginners, on adventures through the vines.
Kim Waugh had been following Five Stars Partner’s progress on Instagram when the perfect opportunity to visit him arose. Kim’s friend had bought tickets for a horseback wine tour in a charity auction and invited her and her husband Mark to come along. In an unbelievable stroke of luck, the tour operator happened to be Murchessons and as soon as Kim realised, she was on the phone to ask if she could be allocated Five Stars Partner as her mount.
Armed with a handbag full of carrots, Kim, Mark and their
friends set off for Pokolbin and were delighted by what they found.
“The property is lovely, and the horses live in huge, green
paddocks,” Kim said. “Five Stars Partner looks amazing and so happy. I had to
ask what the horses were being fed they looked so good!”
The group spent the day ambling from winery to winery, hopping off for tastings and lunch. Despite having limited experience in the saddle, even Mark was able to enjoy the experience and made it back without any incidents.
“The horses are so well trained, they know how to look after
their riders,” Kim said. “Five Stars Partner was beautiful to ride, although I
expected that. He was always a lovely quiet horse. The stable staff would fight
over who got to ride him because he was so chilled out. He’s even lazier now! We
all had the best day.”
Kim is passionate about finding loving homes and meaningful new
careers for all her Thoroughbreds once they retire from racing. She keeps in
touch with the new owners and relishes every update.
“They all have a special place in your heart and
Thoroughbreds are such a versatile breed,” Kim said. “You want to see them go
on to succeed in something else. Hand From Above, Oxford Poet and Recife Beach
have all qualified for the Royal this year so I am looking forward to that.
“Strangers can be so critical of trainers, but we really do
care about our horses. Mine only go to good homes and if that changes for any
reason they come straight back.”
Ambling along the gumtree-lined streets of Kentlyn on the outskirts of south-western Sydney, Rob Plumb and his mare Waxworks have the sun on their faces and the wind at their backs. They haven’t a care in the world, but both are a world away from where they were just two years ago.
Waxworks was destined to be exported to Asia as a broodmare,
but when the red tape became too much she was abandoned in a paddock at Yass
with dozens of other horses. Rob was in the grips of Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder after almost three decades of service in the Police Force.
“When I think of how differently things could have turned out for both of us, I shudder,” Rob said.
Rob joined the Police Force in 1990 and completed his training at the academy in Goulburn before being posted to Revesby. Over the next 28 years, he rose to the rank of Incremental Sergeant and was awarded citations for bravery, diligence and supporting victims of crime. To his colleagues and friends, Rob appeared to be a model officer, but despite his own denials, the service he was so proud to be a part of was slowly squeezing the life out of him.
Rob’s career in blue ended in a lather of sweat and flood of
tears on the linoleum floor of Cabramatta Police Station in February 2018.
There was no farewell party, no speeches of praise or pats on the back. Rob
couldn’t deny his PTSD any longer and had no choice but to walk away from the
“That was it, I just couldn’t go on,” Rob said. “Devastated
doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt losing the only career I had ever
Rob began counselling but it wasn’t enough, and he quickly slipped into a dark and dangerous place. He suffered insomnia, and on the rare occasions he did manage to sleep, he would be woken by night terrors. He endured flashbacks, panic attacks and would avoid going to any public or crowded areas which could trigger him.
“There are some things you never forget, no matter how
desperate you are to block them out,” Rob said. “The screams, the smells, the
shattered loved ones, the brain matter splattered up the walls.”
In early 2019 Police Legacy recommended Rob for the Spur equine therapy program run jointly by Racing NSW and RSL LifeCare. He had no prior experience with horses but was willing to give anything a shot to help him feel human again. He was accepted into the program where veterans learned horse care, retraining and riding on retired racehorses as part of their treatment. Rob was paired with a then six-year-old mare named Waxworks.
“I felt an instant connection to her which strengthened over
time,” Rob said. “She is such an intelligent horse and quick to learn. Just
being with her helped me feel calm.”
Rob and nine other veterans from both emergency services and defence backgrounds spent eight months working with their retired racehorses in preparation for the graduation trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park. Officially the course ran on Thursdays and Sundays, but most participants weren’t well enough to have full-time jobs so they spent extra days volunteering their time to care for the horses. They did months of groundwork before they were even allowed to mount their horses, but once they did, there was no holding them back.
“It was like bungee jumping,” Rob said. “The adrenaline was
pumping, I felt the nerves but it was such a rush.”
Spur gave Rob the routine he was missing since leaving the Police force but more importantly, it gave him something to look forward to. Some days he struggled to pay for petrol to get there, but he would always find a way.
“The program helped me change my line of thinking and realise life is worth living,” Rob said. “You can still get enjoyment from your life even after a major setback. It was great to spend time with other veterans going through the same thing as me, albeit at different stages, and the horses were the oil that helped us work together.”
The Spur course culminated with a five-day trail ride
through Kosciuszko National Park. It was the ultimate test for the veterans and
their Thoroughbreds they had retrained. They wound their way through the Snowy
Mountains, splashing through streams, spotting wild brumbies and stopping off
to explore the alpine huts along the away.
“It was more than I could have ever imagined and the perfect
way to finish the course,” Rob said. “The iconic scenery, the extended riding
sessions and the challenge of getting Waxy to do some things she was never bred
to were highlights.”
Once the Spur course was completed, the veterans were given
the opportunity to adopt their horses. Three did immediately and Rob wanted to
too, but living in suburban Campbelltown and without funds to pay for agistment
he had to get creative. Rob spent months trying to find an appropriate place to
keep Waxworks and finally, thanks to the kindness of a local, he was able to
lease a lush green paddock in Kentlyn for free. It’s just a short walk from his
home with kilometres of bush trails close by.
“When she stepped off the float I was overcome with emotion
and the tears began to flow,” Rob said. “I hadn’t seen her for a few months,
but nothing had changed. She came up and nuzzled me and she was officially
mine. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.
“Keeping Waxy happy and healthy is my priority now and I relish
the time I get to spend with her,” Rob said. “I get a spring in my step just
walking to her paddock. The team at Racing NSW has been great with advice and
support. It’s nice to know I can contact the vets if I have any worries.”
Over the past few months, Rob and Waxworks have become a familiar sight around Kentlyn and many locals and visitors to the area stop to talk to them and give Waxworks a pat.
“People ask her name and how I got her, and they are pleased
to hear our story, Rob said. “They get caught up in the joy of it and that
makes my day.”
Cismontane was the sort of racehorse anyone would love to have in their stable. When he went to the gates he finished in the top three more than fifty per cent of the time and amassed closed to half a million dollars in prizemoney, but when his form started to taper off towards the end of 2018 co-trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott decided to retire him into the care of Racing NSW’s equine welfare division, Team Thoroughbred NSW.
“We care about our horses and want the best for them,” Gai said. “Team Thoroughbred’s program provides pathways into meaningful careers after racing and I think it’s wonderful.”
Being Sydney-based, Cismontane was sent to Bart’s Farm – Racing NSW’s picturesque 137acre equine welfare facility on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Castlereagh. Previously known as Princes Farm, it was renamed to honour its designer and former owner, the legendary Bart Cummings.
Cismontane excelled in his retraining and showed plenty of natural ability over jumps. The higher they got, the harder he tried. Within six months the chunky bright bay had dozens of interested riders lining up to adopt him. He went home with a professional eventer but despite being a match on paper they never clicked and Cismontane eventually returned to Bart’s Farm.
Meanwhile, passionate horsewoman but relatively new eventer, Kim Mitchell had begun the search for her first Thoroughbred. She had always been drawn to horses and volunteered at a riding school and trotting stable during her high school years. After graduation, she moved out of home to take up her dream job managing a property at Windsor. She broke in Thoroughbreds, assisted in buying, training and selling horses and was also a groom for competitions until one day about three years ago she decided it was her turn. “I had a rescued Clydie-cross and when I took him to SIEC for our second ever event I couldn’t believe it when we won,” Kim said. “Eventing was our sport from that day.”
As Kim’s eventing experience grew, so too did her need for a horse which she could progress through the grades with and enjoy at the same time. On the advice of Racing NSW’s Equine Welfare Veterinarian Dr Carly Garling, Kim made an appointment to inspect some of the Thoroughbreds for sale at Bart’s Farm. It was not love at first sight with Cismontane though.
“I honestly wasn’t interested in him to start with,” Kim said. “He was smaller than what I wanted and he was being pretty naughty when the staff at Bart’s Farm were showing him to me. I didn’t even want to get on him, but I was egged on by a close friend who had come with me for the inspection. I decided I may as well ride him and I’m glad I did! He had an awesome canter and I immediately knew there was something I liked about him. I came back later in the week to ride him again and after a few jumps I was convinced he was the horse for me.”
Kim picked Cismontane up on a Monday, went away on a work trip from Tuesday to Friday, rode him on Saturday and took him to Camden Hunter Trials on Sunday. The rain was pouring down, but his performance blew away any doubts Kim had about her new mount.
“He was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “He just got on with the job. He wasn’t spooky or distracted. I really threw him in the deep end and he took everything in his stride.”
From then, Kim focused on building Cismontane’s confidence and helping him transition from a racehorse to an eventing horse. She nicknamed him Cisco and they had several low-key outings together for experience before taking on EVA60 at Berrima Horse Trials.
“I had already learned a lot about him from previous events,” Kim said. “Cisco doesn’t need a big warm-up, he gets a spark and likes to go forward. At Berrima he was fantastic in dressage, we jumped clear in both showjumping and cross country. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Kim and Cismontane finished the day in second place overall, an outstanding result for only their second one-day event.
“I was so proud of him,” Kim said. “I know he can get a bit spooky at the fences, but he just trusted me and went for it.”
Kim has high hopes for Cismontane over the next 12 months. She aims to have him competing at 80cm and schooling 95cm. “He is constantly impressing me but it’s still early days for him,” Kim said. “He has a lot of talent and I think he will go far. At Berrima, I could already feel he wanted to jump higher. I’m going to work on his jumping confidence and further establish his dressage, but over all I really just want to keep him happy. There’s so
Scrolling through Instagram in between jump outs, young Warwick Farm trainer Clare Cunningham spotted a post which drew her in. Entries had opened for the Thoroughbred Spring Fair, a horse show dedicated to celebrating the Thoroughbred breed. The program included loads of classes including some for active racehorses and employees of the racing industry, so Clare decided to enter with her stable favourite, Cradle Mountain.
“Dressage has always been part of his training so I thought
this would be a good opportunity for us to have a day out,” Clare said. “I’m
going to keep him when he retires and plan to make shows a regular destination
for us. I’ve really missed them.”
Cradle Mountain will join more than 100 Thoroughbreds at Hawkesbury Showground on Sunday 29th November for The Thoroughbred Spring Fair. The event, which is in its second year, provides an opportunity for equestrians of all ages and abilities to test their skills in a variety of led, ridden and novelty classes. There are also restricted classes for horses which have come through Team Thoroughbred’s rehoming program.
“It’s a great concept,” Clare said. “The Thoroughbred is
such a versatile breed beyond racing and the Spring Fair is the perfect place
to showcase this. We’re having a lesson with (elite equestrian coach) Jade
Findlay to tighten everything up and Mum is posting up my old equestrian gear
this week. I hope that’s not too tight though!”
On the day Clare will be supported by several of her stable
staff who are also competing, as well her partner, Group 1-winning jockey Jason
“He’ll play groom for the day but could be a late
scratching if he has to race,” Clare said. “There’ll be plenty of us there to
help each other out though. Hawkesbury trainer Brooke Somers is coming too. It’s
going to be a lot of fun.”
For Cradle Mountain, The Thoroughbred Spring Fair is an
important lead up to what is likely to be his final racing preparation. He will
resume in the Listed Razor Sharp at Royal Randwick on 12th December,
having already notched seven wins and earnings of $340,000. Not bad for a $4000
yearling. Clare credits equestrian drills for getting the best out of her
“It teaches them to use their muscles and push from
behind,” she said. “It improves their head carriage and helps with manners too.
We gallop twice a week and need to do something slower on the other days.”
Under the Local Rules of Racing, suitable homes must be
found for all Thoroughbreds at the conclusion of their racing careers. They can
turn their hooves to a variety of disciplines from trail riding to jumping but
regardless of potential, those who already have the basics established are much
easier to rehome.
“If what we do as part of trackwork can help prepare them
for life after racing, why wouldn’t you do it,” Clare said. “They can’t all be
winners, but we can give them a head start on the training they need for their
best shot at a winning life in retirement.”
As racegoers gathered around the Theatre Of The Horse eagerly waiting for The TAB Everest contenders to step out, many were surprised when the first horse to emerge from the tunnel wasn’t the number 1 saddlecloth carrier, Nature Strip. They curiously admired the strong, shiny bay draped in a flashy silk rug until Greg Radley’s voice boomed across the racecourse “welcome back, Redzel!” Spectators erupted into a cheer for the dual TAB Everest winner, as he made his first return to Royal Randwick since retiring from racing. The eight-year-old Snitzel gelding appeared to be relishing his new role as an ambassador for Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, Team Thoroughbred NSW.
Trainers Peter and Paul Snowden, in consultation with owners Triple Crown Syndications, called time on Redzel’s racing career in April after a brilliant performance for 3rd in the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes. He had amassed prizemoney in excess of $16million, making him second-highest earner in Australian racing history behind Winx. Redzel bowed out on a high note with a record of 15 wins, including both the inaugural TAB Everest in 2017 and the second edition of the race in 2018. He also ran a creditable 8th in the 2019 TAB Everest.
Redzel retired to
Bart’s Farm (formerly Princes Farm) at Castlereagh which was purchased by
Racing NSW in 2018 for the purpose of equine welfare activities. The stunning
137-acre property, designed by legendary trainer Bart Cummings, is one of three
owned by Racing NSW where retired racehorses including Thoroughbreds who didn’t
make the track can go to be cared for and retrained for other equestrian
“Our owners are
delighted to have sent Redzel into the professional care of Racing NSW’s Team
Thoroughbred,” Triple Crown Syndications Director Michael Ward said. “This way
the public will be able to continue to interact into the future with a horse
that has brought so much joy to so many racing fans. It is only fitting that
our champions on the racetrack are celebrated in retirement and we are sure
that Redzel will continue to be a great ambassador for racing in this state
during his time there.”
Redzel has settled in
well to his new home in a paddock with three-time Group 1 winner Happy Clapper.
Over the next few months, Redzel will learn the skills needed for life after
racing and fans can look forward to seeing him at out and about at major
Saying goodbye to a racehorse who had tried his heart out in 101 starts was never going to be easy for Gulgong trainer Brett Thompson. Especially one as sentimentally significant as Hewentwhoosh. The Dane Shadow x Zebithea gelding was the first Thoroughbred he chose and bought himself and kickstarted his career as a trainer.
“I was at the Scone Inglis sales and spotted this athletic
little horse who walked really well,” Thompson said. “I got him for only $4500
and said to my son don’t tell mum we bought another horse!”
Thompson’s eldest son Ben broke the horse in, and youngest son Jay came up with his name. Hewentwhoosh ran his first race under Brett’s father James Thompson’s banner, before being transferred into Brett’s stable. Over the eight years that followed, Hewentwhoosh won 14 races, notched 30 places and earned almost $300,000 in prizemoney. He claimed the 2009 Inglis 2YO Challenge and contributed to Thompson winning five Central Districts Training Premierships in a row and being named NSW Country Trainer of the year in 2016.
“John O’Shea actually tried to buy him at one point, but we
had all fallen in love with him and wanted to continue to enjoy the ride,”
When the time came time to retire Hewentwhoosh in December
2016, Thompson couldn’t imagine parting with him. So he didn’t. He kept the
gelding at home as a nanny for his weanlings but as the years went by, he felt
compelled to give the horse a chance at a second career.
“I hate seeing horses standing in the paddock going to
waste,” Thompson said. “Most of them like to have a job, they like to have a
routine, so I asked one of my staff members, Elizabeth Theobald, to get him
Elizabeth, an accomplished horsewoman in her own right,
noted Hewentwhoosh’s potential as a sport horse but between work and her own
horses, she didn’t have enough time to dedicate to helping him reach it. Then
her friend, former jockey and talented showjumper Aimee Taylor, came to Gulgong
for a visit.
“Elizabeth and Brett said to me we’ve got this great little
horse who is going to make a jumper and we only want him to go to the best of
homes,” Taylor said. “I had a ride on him, Elizabeth jumped him for me and I
said yes, I will take him.”
Aimee’s partner, 2020 Group 1 Doncaster-winning jockey James
Innes Junior, had been apprenticed to Thompson early in his career and had
ridden Hewentwhoosh in trackwork, but by all accounts the horse was a little
difficult to handle back then.
“He would try it on with all the apprentices,” Thompson
said. “Jimmy would hate me when I put him on.”
Like Brett did more than twelve years earlier, Aimee had to
sneak Hewentwhoosh home and hope her partner wouldn’t notice.
“James had gone to Queensland to ride in the Stradbroke so it was good timing,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I’ve had to sneak the last few horses home while he wasn’t there!”
Aimee continued Hewentwhoosh’s retraining and was impressed by how quick and willing he was to learn. Just a few months later they were taking part in the Christine Bates One Day Event.
“It was only his second time out and I was so happy with how
he went,” Taylor said. “We came fourth overall. Showjumping is definitely his
strongest discipline. When he gets on the cross country course he remembers he
was a racehorse and wants to go fast. He’s got a lot to learn but has a sweet
nature and is always improving. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he can
Aimee keeps in regular contact with Brett, Elizabeth and
Hewentwhoosh’s previous owners, sending them updates and pictures.
“I love getting the updates and it makes me so happy and
proud to see him doing well off the track,” Thompson said. “Saying goodbye to
him was hard but I know he’s gone to a good home. We put a lot of effort into
rehoming our retired racehorses. We’re all horse people and we love our
Aimee recently took on retired Tim Martin-trained gelding
Pride Of Darci and also has former Pat Webster-trained gelding Shark Tank who
she adopted in 2017 and retrained as a showjumper. It was love at first sight
when she spotted the big bay in the parade ring at Newcastle races.
“I literally turned to Jimmy and said stop, look at him,”
Taylor said. “I made him go back in and ask if I could have him when he retired
from racing. It was the best decision. Shark Tank is such a good allrounder.
He’s great with my kids too.”
Aimee enjoyed success as a jockey in her native New Zealand,
China and Australia before taking time out to have her two children. She was
determined to bounce back and incredibly returned to riding trackwork just one
month after giving birth to her first son, Carter. She had her second son Asher
in April this year and again returned to riding trackwork and showjumping
quickly. She acknowledges she wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of
“I’m really lucky to have good support around me, especially
Sophie Brooks,” Taylor said. “She helps with saddling and holds the kids. It
makes a huge difference. Christine Bates is really accommodating when we have
“It’s so nice to be able to do a bit more showjumping and eventing now. It all took a back seat when I was travelling a lot as a jockey.”
This story was first published in Racing NSW Magazine.
As the old saying goes, when you’re onto a good thing stick
to it. For some, it’s buying a pair of their favourite shoes in every colour.
For others, it’s swinging past the same café for their daily caffeine hit. For
talented horsewoman Elaine Robl, it’s finding a special off the track
Thoroughbred and adopting all of his brothers as well.
It was a slow racehorse named Jade Crusader who ignited Elaine’s passion for Fantakan progeny. While riding trackwork at Warwick Farm, she began schooling the gelding in showjumping in an effort to get the best out of him at the races. She even rode him at Berrima Hunter Trials while in full work to try and fire him up but the best he ever finished was 6th. He ran his last race at Goulburn in July 2014 and Elaine brought him home later that year.
Elaine’s then 10-year-old daughter Hayley needed a new mount for Pony Club and asked if she could have Jade Crusader. Understandably, Elaine was a little hesitant as the horse was only four at the time, but after making sure he was safe she let Hayley have a ride. They clicked straight away and from that moment Jade Crusader was Hayley’s.
Apart from having a nice temperament, there were no signs to
suggest Jade Crusader was anything special or that he would one day easily jump
1.5m. He was a bit clumsy and another person who had also ridden the horse in
trackwork said he would never jump competitively.
Jade Crusader and Hayley won their first event at Berrima
Horse Trials and the achievements and ribbons kept coming year after year. In
June 2019 they won their first 1* event – a competition incorporating dressage,
showjumping up to 1.15m and cross country with jumps up to 1.10m. Next was a
third place in 1* eventing at Interschools Nationals, followed by a first in
the 120cm Thoroughbred class at the Sydney Showjumping Club Championships,
first in 1* at Oxley Horse Trials and Champion Child’s Thoroughbred and Reserve
Champion Allrounder at the Thoroughbred Spring Fair. They were also declared
the unofficial bareback high jump champions at Franklin Street Stables in
Matraville after clearing 1.4m.
“The higher the jumps were, the better Jade Crusader
performed,” Elaine said. “He always tries his heart out and is so eager to
please. Every time we raise the bar he literally leaps over it.”
As Hayley was considering stepping up to 2* eventing, Bruce
Cross was considering the racing future of Jade Crusader’s half-brother,
Adaboycharlie. He won at his second start and showed plenty of promise, but
hadn’t saluted in the two years since.
“I said to Bruce I’ll have that one too,” Elaine said. “I
took Hayley to the stables to meet Adaboycharlie and she just loved him
straight away. He was really cuddly and lapped up affection.”
Despite Elaine’s interest, Bruce’s granddaughter Maddy initially
took Adaboycharlie, but when she started studying for her HSC she was too busy
and he ended up joining Elaine’s stable in March this year.
While Adaboycharlie is the youngest of Fantakan’s three
sons, Beauty Best was the most successful on the track and the last to be
adopted by Elaine. The gelding won his first three starts for Bruce Cross
before being exported to Hong Kong. He returned to Australia two years later
and notched a win and several places for Tamworth trainer Melanie O’Gorman
before she called time on his career.
“I had my eye on him for a while,” Elaine said. “Melanie does breaking and pre-training for Peter (Robl, Elaine’s husband) so I contacted her and asked if I could have Beauty Best when he retired. He was here five weeks after his last race.”
Elaine and Hayley worked Jade Crusader, Adaboycharlie and
Beauty Best together as much as they could. Their friend Emma McGuigan would
often help out and developed a soft spot for Adaboycharlie. Emma was getting
back into riding after a few years off and looking for a new horse. Elaine and
Hayley agreed they didn’t have enough time to give all their horses the
attention they deserved so they sold Adaboycharlie to Emma. All three horses
still live together at Franklin Street Stables and are a source of
entertainment for anyone who looks their way.
“They’re like the three stooges,” Elaine said. “There’s the
two funny ones and the serious one. That’s Beauty Best. They have their own
personalities but if you watch them for long enough you can see similarities in
Elaine is full of praise for the three horses but she says
they have a common annoying habit.
“They’ve been a dream to retrain and are naturally talented
jumpers but they can’t resist chewing everything and throwing their buckets
around,” she said. “We can’t feed them on the ground or the bucket will be
upside down in a second.”
Despite Covid-19 halted competitions and disrupted training
for most equestrians, Hayley is still on track to represent Randwick Girls High
School in 2* Eventing at State Interschools this month. She placed third in 1*
at the same competition last year and is hoping for another podium finish. Emma
is continuing Adaboycharlie’s education and is set to take him to his first eventing
competition in Spring and Beauty Best isn’t far off making his showjumping
The horses’ former trainer Bruce Cross enjoys following
their progress and comes out to cheer Jade Crusader and Hayley on when time
“Credit has to go to Elaine,” Bruce said. “She has done an
outstanding job with those horses. I would have liked them to be a bit faster
on the track but I am happy they have a good home.”
While there are no more Fanatkans coming through the grades,
Hayley is devoted to the bloodlines and has already put dibs on the mare’s
sister’s daughter’s three-year-old colt when he retires.
Growing up on a 3000acre property at Inverell in Northern
NSW, Rachael Murray would often go missing. Her parents need not have worried
though. She would always be found soon after, curled up in the kennels with the
working dogs or playing with the poddy lambs out in the sunshine.
Now 31, not a great deal has changed. When Rachael isn’t travelling around the state riding winners, she’s usually at home at Somersby on the Central Coast with her dog Jet and two off the track Thoroughbreds, Mr Pumblechook and Medal Of Glory.
“I was staying at Jane’s (Clement, trainer) house and we
decided to go for a trail ride over the river,” Rachael said. “I was riding
Medal Of Glory in a race the next day and despite being in full work he was an
angel. We wound our way through gullies and splashed in the water. It was so
much fun. My love for him went to the next level that day and I knew I wanted
to adopt him once he had retired.”
By the time Medal Of Glory ran his last race in 2017, he
had seven wins and 19 places to his name. Rachael was aboard for one of those
wins (The 2016 Warialda Cup) and five of the places. She began retraining him
as a showjumper and was impressed by his willingness and consistent effort.
“He’s such a kind horse and always tries his heart out,”
Rachael said. “He leaps about two feet above every jump and clears them easily.
Sometimes his jump is so big he can throw me right out of the saddle!”
Rachael added former Greg Bennett then Cody Morgan-trained
gelding, Mr Pumblechook, to her stable in September last year, having earlier
won two races on him.
“From the moment I laid eyes on him I loved him with all my
heart,” Rachael said. “He has so much zest for life and loved being a
racehorse. I kept in contact with owner Neil Werrett and asked if I could keep
him when he retired. Cody would tease me and say his mum wanted Chookie but
thankfully he came home with me in the end. He is little for a Thoroughbred,
just 15.1hh, but he’s a natural jumper.
“I’ve done a lot of groundwork with both horses so they are
respectful and desensitised. You want to feel safe and in control when riding
them. They aren’t a responsibility or chore though. They are my family and I
love them dearly.”
Despite already being an accomplished rider, Rachael gets
dressage and showjumping tuition from Gosford trainer, John Cooper. John has
dedicated his life to equestrian sports and even coached Olympians but became a
racehorse trainer in 2017 after suffering a serious injury in a jumping
“John and his wife Pip are such good, genuine horse
people,” Rachael said. “They are full of
knowledge and have made themselves a beautiful home at Central Mangrove. It’s a
true credit to how hard they have worked. I would recommend anyone with an off
the track Thoroughbred invest in lessons.”
Rachael has taken Medal Of Glory out to several
competitions and on some occasions had to dash off early to ride at the races. She’s
hoping to take Mr Pumblechook on his first outing soon.
“It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure,” Rachael said. “I
would love to have them both at a level where I can take them out to
showjumping days and be competitive. Getting involved in the Off The Track
series would be a dream.”
Rachael isn’t the only professional rider to be taking
retired racehorses and giving them a second career off the track. Alena
Skerritt has Group 3 winner Mighty Lucky, Jess Taylor adopted Tsunami Alert
after scoring a win and two places with him, Kathy O’Hara retrained Zaratone
after winning a Group 3 and several Listed races on him, young former jockey
Chloe Wilkes is retraining Our Sarastro and inaugural Kosciuszko runner Fuel
and Courtney Van Der Werf is making 1.15m look easy on Mediterranean.
“Most people are in the industry because they are
passionate about horses,” Rachael said. “You wouldn’t get up in the dark and
freezing cold every day if you didn’t love it. Often you see strappers,
stablehands, trackwork riders, jockeys and trainers looking worn out but the
horses are thriving.”
While Rachael has always loved horses and spent most of her
youth at Inverell Pony Club, she wasn’t always going to be a jockey. The stars
aligned in 2008 when she was studying Agricultural Science at the University of
Rachael roomed with a teaching student named Tracy O’Hara, a talented jockey who chalked up almost 300 wins herself and the sister of leading Sydney jockey Kathy O’Hara. Rachael mentioned she needed a job and the O’Haras suggested she become an apprentice jockey. Agreeing it would be an enjoyable way to earn a living, Rachael approached Armidale trainer Frank Tanner and was soon indentured to him. Once she graduated from university, she moved to Scone where she was apprenticed to Greg Bennett. Later she moved to Sydney where she finished her apprenticeship with then Warwick Farm trainer Michael Costa. Rachael credits him with teaching her to believe in herself and encouraged her to keep aiming high.
In 2017 Rachael wrote herself into the history books as the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in a season, smashing the previous record of 87 set by Linda Meech a decade before. In June Rachael celebrated her 500th winner as a jockey. While she has no plans to slow down anytime soon when she does she would love to become a Thoroughbred re-trainer and prepare retired racehorses for their next pursuit off the track.
“I look forward to the day when I can have a slower-paced life with limited travelling,” she said. “It would be a dream to have a little property away from all the hustle and bustle where I could give retired racehorses the best opportunity for a successful and rewarding life after racing.”
This story was first published in the August edition of Racing NSW Magazine.
Cruising around the 75cm course at Sydney Showjumping Club, there was little to suggest it was only Snippets Of Rain’s second outing. Talented equestrienne Stephanie Laraud adopted the five-year-old retired racehorse from Team Thoroughbred NSW in May and he has excelled in his retraining, prompting her to put him to the test.
“I couldn’t be happier with his performance,” Stephanie
said. “He was calm and focussed. There were sheep in the paddock next to the
arena and this distracted some horses but he didn’t even look at them.”
The pair went clear in the second round and Stephanie left
the arena beaming from ear to ear.
“He has a really good jump and always tries hard to please,” she said. “Given his age, you have to ask him properly. With young horses, you can’t really make a mistake with your hands as they are not in a position to help you out while they are learning themselves. He is very promising though.”
It was a different story on the track. As a racehorse
Snippets Of Rain had fourteen starts for a modest record of one second and two
thirds. Muswellbrook-based trainer Todd Howlett called curtains on his racing
career in September 2019 after running a long last at Bowraville. Snippets of
Rain was retired to Team Thoroughbred’s Sydney facility, Bart’s Farm, where he
immediately caught the eye of retrainer Charlie Brister.
“He was a little green but had a good attitude from the
start,” Charlie said. “He was straightforward to jump and had a big heart.”
Stephanie had owned Thoroughbreds before but was looking for
her first project horse to retrain with the guidance of her coach, Sandra
Tremier from Tic Toc Equestrian. A mutual friend recommended she look at Team
Thoroughbred, having bought a horse from the program herself.
“Working in the racing industry I know there are many horses
looking for good homes and I wanted to help,” Stephanie said. “Thoroughbreds
have so much to give and I am enjoying the challenge of retraining one.”
Initially, a talented jumping mare named Dashing Hollie was recommended for Stephanie but when she rode her at Bart’s Farm they didn’t really click. She then rode Snippets Of Rain and knew he was the one for her.
“I liked the look of him, I tried him and within ten minutes
I made the decision to buy him,” she said. “He was so calm and willing. I tried
him over cross rails and he just did it.”
Stephanie came to Australia from France six years ago. Back
home she is a criminal lawyer but her qualifications aren’t fully recognised
down under so she followed her passion to Chris Waller’s Rosehill Gardens
stables and became a trackwork rider and stable hand. While Stephanie works
with horses daily, she says it is different when it’s your own.
“Jumping is a completely different sort of adrenaline to riding
fast work,” Stephanie said. “It’s like you’re flying. When I go to see my horse
it is like I am going to see my best friend. I never get tired of him. He fills
me with energy.”
Over the next couple of weeks Stephanie plans to step
Snippets Of Rain up to 85 and 95cm jumps and within a year hopes to be jumping
“Twelve months is a long time for young horses but he’s
already so good,” Stephanie said. “The only thing I can hope for him is to
remain consistent. We all want to go and jump bigger so I will try and increase
his strength. I would like to see him lift his back legs a bit more. He can be
a bit lazy at the moment. He’s good with the front.”
By the time Winx ran her final race in April 2019, she had
amassed $26,451,175 in prizemoney, 25 Group 1 trophies, the title of World’s
Best Racehorse and millions of admirers around the globe who dreamed of one day
owning a horse half as good her. While the real deal isn’t for sale and most of
us couldn’t afford her anyway, Winx fans can now buy a scale model of the
wonder mare and help care for retired racehorses at the same time.
Renowned modelling company Breyer Horses approached Winx’s
owners about creating a model of her likeness after she won the Secretariat Vox
Populi Award in The United States in January 2019. They had already rejected
pitches from other companies but were impressed by the level of research and
effort Breyer put into the project. Winx’s trainer Chris Waller and regular
jockey Hugh Bowman inspected the design drawings and were satisfied it
accurately represented the mare, but there was one more condition which had to
be met before it was given the green light.
“As owners, we’re interested in paying forward our good
fortune so Breyer kindly agreed to donate $1 from the sale of every Winx model
to a charity of our choice,” Debbie Kepitis said on behalf of the ownership
group. “We have chosen Team Thoroughbred NSW as the recipient.”
Team Thoroughbred NSW is Racing NSW’s equine welfare
division. Thoroughbreds who have been predominantly domiciled in NSW can be
surrendered into Team Thoroughbred NSW’s care to be retrained and rehomed at no
cost to the owner. This ensures all retired racehorses have a quality home to
go to at all times. Team Thoroughbred also has two dedicated equine welfare
veterinarians who monitor retired racehorses in their new homes.
“I truly believe we need to look after the animals which are
bred for this industry,” Debbie said. “It’s great to know Team Thoroughbred
provides a safety net for these horses to ensure they are cared for in a way
the industry can be proud of.”
The Winx model is now available for $79.95 from TopTac as well as Saddle World, Horseland and some independent saddleries and toy stores. Each model is made to the traditional 1:9 scale. Already there has been a huge demand for the model. It sold out in the United States and is expected to sell out down under too.
Debbie was one of the first to receive her Winx model which
has pride of place on her desk at home.
“It’s very humbling and touching to think there are so many
people all over the world who have watched Winx on any sort of media from
phones to televisions,” Debbie said. “They have told us of the excitement and
joy she brought them and how she made them feel like you can do whatever you
want to do.”