As soon as a lunchtime email from trainer Kris Lees lobbed into my inbox I knew instinctively that something was wrong.
This wasn’t the normal time for a trainer update about how our horse was going and where we were headed.
And so it proved. Denaro Veloce, our four-year-old chestnut Choisir gelding had hurt a tendon during morning trackwork and immediate retirement was the only option.
It was shocking news and the emails flew thick and fast from fellow owners, consoling each other at our misfortune – our own wake by group email.
After a disgraceful first race, Denaro had showed solid improvement, nicely winning a 1300m maiden at Musswelbrook, then stepped up to 1600m in a good Saturday race, running home very creditably.
Expectations were raised accordingly.
That was in November 2011. With another city class three-year-old race picked out, he was training the house down. Until his kneecap cracked that is.
X-rays from the Randwick Equine Centre clearly showed a “T” shaped fracture clean through the right patella – a freak injury but confirmation of just how delicate these balls of muscle really are.
So while Denaro was consigned to 12 months of rest and recuperation, the postman still kept on delivering the invoices – which we duly kept paying, all on the off chance that he would make a full recovery and return to racing where he left off.
By last Xmas initial reports were encouraging, he was pain-free and full of vigour, and when Kris sent through a short video of him on the aquaciser, he looked a million dollars. Maybe even two million.
He was stepped up to full work and a trial date was inked in.
Until the latest email came through that is. Ironically the bowed tendon was to the other leg – a classic compensatory injury – and suddenly we were racehorse owners no longer.
Before anyone starts feeling sorry for me, let me fill in the bigger picture.
At any one time there are 30,000+ horses eligible to race in Australia. Of those, over 20,000 will never win a race, many won’t even make it to the track – because they are too slow, too crazy or too injured.
Roughly 650 manage to win over $100k. Which might sound like a lot when you say it fast, but at around $35k per year in training fees and lodging, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that racehorse ownership is a fast track to the poor house.
Unless of course you’re Sheik Mohamed, John Singleton, Gerry Harvey or the owners of Black Caviar.
This is a sport where money breeds more money, and good luck to them all. But this story isn’t about them.
Unless of course you’re Tom Waterhouse.com.
But this story isn’t about him either.
I’ve been a part-owner of four horses. All of them have raced, all have won, in fact a total of 12 wins between them all. Two of them have won well over $100k. So I’m batting well above the average. But I’m still way behind in pure financial terms.
So why do it in the first place?
I first got interested in horses playing cricket in Otago.
Dunedin is a great sporting city and the first grade comp at the time comprised quality international players such as Glenn Turner, John and Brendan Bracewell, Martin Snedden, Stephen Boock, Richard and Murray Webb, Bruce Taylor and Bruce Blair.
It was an exciting place to be a young cricketer.
Except that it also rains a lot. So while my batting improved slightly it didn’t do so at the same rate as my ability at cards and learning how to punt.
At that point I always knew I was going to own my own horse in the future. It was just a matter of when.
Fast forward a few years and I happened to be playing golf in Melbourne with a bloke who was a part-owner of Emission, a very useful horse who jagged a couple of Group One placings at huge odds.
When I asked him what the defining moment was, when he knew it was all worth it, he described his horse storming down the centre of the track to win the Kilmore Cup as “better than the best sex I’ve ever had”.
That seemed like enough recommendation for me, so I was promptly on the phone to our mutual friend who just happens to syndicate horses, and a few days later, choosing between a Street Cry colt and a Danehill Dancer filly.
At this stage Street Cry was a totally unproven first season sire, but a little research soon had me convinced that good things were possible, so the decision was made. The colt it was.
The filly turned out to be Arapaho Miss, who won the Victorian Oaks and $600k in one fell swoop, but hey, that’s racing.
My hunch about Street Cry was right too, 13 Group One winners and counting, including international superstars Street Sense and Zenyatta and local heroes Shocking and Whobegotyou.
But hey, that’s racing.
As for my bloke, Allanthus? He’s given us some great moments, an early black type second in the Group Two three year old Autumn Classic, a nice placing at the Flemington Spring Carnival, a very unlucky third in a strong Ballarat Cup, and a storming all the way win in the 2010 Bairnsdale Cup.
At 20/1 too, thank you very much!
Since then he’s had a stretch of poor form, a long-term leg injury, and plenty of time to ponder whether he still has a zest for racing or not.
The upshot being that he’s soon to re-appear, reincarnated as a jumper. Coming soon to a maiden hurdle near you.
Not everyone in the camp is happy about it, jumps racing isn’t for the faint hearted and for many is an admission of failure.
But trainer Brian Jenkins insists that he’s a natural at the caper, and he certainly breezed through his qualifying ticket.
I’ll admit to being a little ambivalent about it.
I’m anxious about him falling – nobody buys a horse with a view to him propping up other tins of Pal in aisle 14 or ending up as frozen lasagne at Tesco’s, which seems all the rage at the moment.
But I’m also pragmatic enough to know that he loves stable life, knows he is a racehorse and, for better or worse, this is what he does.
As for that feeling? When one of my horses flashes past the post in first place? Is it really better than the best sex I’ve ever had?
My four horses have raced over 90 times between them. I’ve seen roughly half of those, the others missed due to being interstate, overseas, at weddings, at work or at home because it was too far, or too wet, or I didn’t think they had a chance of winning.
Out of those 90 odd races, a total of 12 wins. Of which I’ve seen live, at the track, a total of… you guessed it… none.
But hey, that’s racing. My better half would say that she’s still waiting for the best sex she’s ever had too.