Winning major races is very much about backing your judgement and following through on a well-laid plan.
That premise came through loud and clear on Saturday when Roch ’N’ Horse delivered one of the biggest ever upsets in an Australian feature race with victory at triple-figure odds in Flemington’s premier sprint, the Gr. 1 Newmarket Handicap.
The home-bred daughter of Little Avondale stallion Per Incanto was held in high regard by her trainers Mike Moroney and Pam Gerard well before her delayed racing debut as a spring four-year-old. She won that race, added another two starts later and this time last year was having just her sixth start when she went down by a nose in the Listed Lightning Stakes at Trentham.
That performance on the Trentham 1200-metre dog-leg straight brought out a real strength in the chestnut mare, ultimately leading to her killer-blow victory in Saturday’s A$1.5 million race down the Flemington straight-six. In the interim she won the Listed Power Turf Sprint at Hastings in the final start of her four-year-old campaign, and this season began with two Listed placings at Te Rapa.
Roch ’N’ Horse was red light unlucky when seventh in the Railway on New Year’s Day, but a fortnight later underlined her camp’s belief in her when going down by just a nose to Levante in the Telegraph. That sealed plans to transfer her from Ballymore Stables’ Matamata base to Flemington and after initially considering the Gr. 1 Oakleigh Plate, the Newmarket was confirmed as her primary target.
Confidence grew when Roch ’N’ Horse acquitted herself well against strong jumpout competition down the straight six and as the Newmarket drew closer, Moroney was happy to tell anyone who cared to listen that she warranted far more respect than her rank outsider odds suggested.
True believers were scarce, but one of their number was Little Avondale’s Catriona Williams, who made a late decision to fly to Melbourne and arrived in time to be at Flemington for a special day.
“It was all a bit surreal, but I feel so incredibly lucky to have had such a magical lifetime experience,” Williams admitted on her return home. “Horses certainly take you places, that’s for sure, and it will be one of my all-time favourite memories!”
While Williams was trackside making the most of the special occasion, her husband Sam and the remainder of the Little Avondale team were halfway home from the Karaka sales when the Newmarket was run. Their only option was to stop off at the Turangi Tavern to watch the Trackside broadcast, and they nearly brought the roof down cheering their mighty mare home.
“It was pretty crazy,” Williams said. “There were quite a few regulars there and I bought a round, then the next thing a whole lot more turned up, so I just put some more cash on the bar to make sure everyone had a drink on our girl.
“The locals enjoyed it just as much as we did and I even had a bloke come up and say he had a house for sale if I was interested in buying it!
“I never considered going to Melbourne, I was committed to Karaka. After all that draft was two and a half years in the making, but I was so pleased for Catriona that she made it over. Being such a longshot there was no pressure, it was an occasion to enjoy no matter where any of us were.”
Roch ’N’ Horse, now the fifth Group One winner sired by Per Incanto, was in Little Avondale’s 2018 Karaka draft, but after she failed to make her $40,000 reserve she was one of three fillies put up for lease. All three are now winners, including the Bjorn Baker-trained Belluci Babe, also by Per Incanto, who on March 5 took her winning tally to six with victory in the Gr. 3 Wenona Girl Stakes at Randwick.
“It’s been a fantastically successful group of fillies with a great bunch of people involved. Some are in more than one of them, including Grant Sharman, who’s deputy chair of the Catwalk Trust and is in both Roch ’N’ Horse and Belluci Babe.”
Roch ’N’ Horse is yet another example of the vagaries of breeding, having been bred from the unraced Cecconi mare Rochfort who was given to Little Avondale by well-known owner Tommy Heptinstall. Her first two foals were only placed, the next was Roch ’N’ Horse, and then Rochfort was used by a member of the stud staff to breed a likely showjumper.
“Roch ’N’ Horse had won just the one race at the time, and we even put the mare on Gavelhouse but couldn’t get a bid, so she went to Marley, our Appaloosa teaser, and she produced a decent sort of foal.”
Rochfort’s half-brothers Weissmuller and Travolta had become stakes winners, and their Tavistock half-sister Harlow Gold was shaping as one of Australia’s better staying fillies with placings in the VRC and ATC Oaks, so Rochfort was recommissioned with matings to Tavistock and Time Test.
Needless to say, her 2022 mating with Per Incanto has already been locked in.