He’s no Winx but bush freak The Harrovian has earnt cult hero status after shaking off a near-fatal illness to conquer Queensland racing.
Ten in a row and counting — that’s The Harrovian, the bush freak that shrugged off a near-fatal bout of travel sickness to conquer Queensland racing.
He might be a long way short of being the best horse in the country, but for owner Tom Hedley and his former trainer Stephen Massingham, The Harrovian is nothing short of a champion.
Now with Toby and Trent Edmonds on the Gold Coast, he is a raging favourite in Saturday’s Listed Bernborough Plate at Eagle Farm to win his 11th consecutive race.
“I just take one race as it comes,” said Cairns-based Hedley, who has been racing horses for 45 years. “I don’t get too carried away anymore. I like the winning feeling of course.”
A plumber by trade who made his fortune in construction, property and hotels, Hedley figures he has about 100 horses on the books, most of them bought as tried commodities.
The Harrovian and this year’s Stradbroke winner Tyzone are the pick of them.
“I’m buying all the time and I can tell you they don’t all turn out like him,” he said.
“It’s a bloody trying game at times. It’s bad enough when you buy yearlings and they go slow, but when you buy tried horses and you get hoodwinked with what problems they might have, it can be pretty frustrating, brother.
“There’s always some rogues around who will push anything onto you. I had two vetted four weeks ago, they passed the vet, but both were gone in the feet by the time they got to us.
“So you need a Harrovian or Tyzone to come along and give you faith in the game.”
Hedley is known as an animal lover.
He once spent thousands to save his pet dog, so when The Harrovian, which Hedley had paid just $20,000 for, nearly died upon arrival in Queensland owing to travel sickness, no expense was spared.
Massingham recalls the call 2½ years ago telling him it was likely the horse would not survive the trip up from his original trainer Jim Conlan’s base in Victoria.
“I can remember as clear as day,” Massingham said. “He had arrived in Brisbane on the Thursday night and I received a call from Les Rudd (from Rudd’s Horse Transport) the next morning saying, ‘Big fella, this horse will most probably die in the next hour.’ I said you can only do what you can do and get the vet and hopefully save him.”
The trainer was told The Harrovian needed 10 litres of plasma, costing around $4000, which was no issue for the horse’s new owner.
“When I was a young fellow, about 12 or 13, I got a couple of awards for taking in stray dogs,” Hedley said. “It’s just one of those things. I’m a lover of nature and a lover of animals. I don’t even like hitting a mosquito. I just tend to shoo them away.
“I had five dogs, but lost my best one recently. I’m still grieving losing him.
“So when they said it was going to cost you three or four grand a pop and he might need five rounds of it, that’s just the way it is.”
After a lengthy period of recovery, The Harrovian eventually made his way to Massingham’s Cairns stable, where he has exceeded all expectations.
“The horse has come out of nothing,” Hedley said. “It’s well-bred, but I’ve bought a lot of well-bred horses over the years and they haven’t clicked like this horse.
“It’s a bit freaky.
“He was in good hands where he was — Conlan won three races from 14 starts before The Harrovian was sold to Hedley — and then all of a sudden he came north, got crook, had a long break, came back, won a race and then got some confidence.
“I’ve been doing it a long time and no matter where you are, it’s a pretty good achievement for a horse to win the races he has.”
Massingham, known to all and sundry as “Boogie” — “I’ve had that name since I was four. I have no idea where it came from, but some people don’t even know my name is Stephen” — discovered The Harrovian might be better than average after his first jumpout.
“He worked like a nice horse, but nothing super,” he said.
“I gave him a jumpout about 10 days before he raced. He was a mongrel in the gates, reared right up and was 10 lengths off them coming to the corner and the young fellow who rode him (Anton Gibson) gave him a smack with the stick and he picked up and went straight past them.”
He would go on to be the best horse Massingham has trained — by a good way. Boogie could also have been a 50 per cent shareholder in the horse, but at the time he “needed another horse like a hole in the head” so passed up Hedley’s offer.
Still, Massingham’s name is synonymous with The Harrovian, despite the fact he has now switched to the Edmonds stable on the Gold Coast, from where he won first-up for the stable at Doomben a month ago.
“It’s hard to put into words what he’s done for us,” Massingham said. “It’s become mayhem some days, but in a good ways.
“It was difficult (to say goodbye), but the reality is that’s where the horse belongs.
“If I only had two horses in work I would have taken six months off work and stayed there with him. The reality is I have 15 horses at home, the show still has to go on.”
Once again on Saturday, Massingham will be part of The Harrovian’s ever-growing supporter group. “We’re coming in force, anyway. We have to enjoy the ride while we can. It doesn’t happen every day,” he said.