A Long Road to the Jericho Cup for Thunder Road

Nov 23, 2018

Article By By Greg Harris, part-owner and breeder of Thunder Road 

We’ve been aiming for the Jericho Cup, ever since he won the Riverina Cup in July last year over 3800 metres.

Seven-year old gelding Thunder Road, trained by the twin trainers, Emma and Lucy Longmire of Goulburn, has now safely achieved qualification status for the Jericho Cup. The human and horse narrative always portray an interesting side to any article or story and that is where this tale is going.

Thunder Road’s achievements on the racetrack have provided all of those involved with the horse with an incredibly exciting journey to date which will culminate with his running in the Jericho Cup this year.

Thunder Road’s mother, Alone Again, was acquired back in 2007 by a group of mates of which I was the common denominator.

How we came to own Alone Again is an interesting tale in itself.

In 2007, as the Executive Director of Sydney University Sport & Fitness, I was given the task of “moving on” an employee of one of the foundation clubs. In order to ensure that this sensitive matter was handled in a diplomatic and sympathetic manner, I met with the organisation’s external IR consultant.

During the course of the meeting, the topic of racehorses came up for discussion. The outcome of the discussion was that it was agreed that we would form a syndicate to purchase the broodmare Alone Again, for a very small price, breed from her and race her progeny.

Alone Again was by Naturalism (NZ) out of the mare Murni, who was by Bellotto (USA). Not the most commercial of breeding but nevertheless we had high hopes for the offspring.

Thunder himself was born on 11 October 2011. His sire was the unfashionable stallion, Roadhog, a resident stallion standing at Carrington Park Stud on the southern highlands of NSW.

The decision to mate Alone Again with Roadhog was based on a number of factors, including:

  • The mating of Murni’s half sister, Marjoyan, with Roadhog’s sire, Shovhog, produced a black type winner in a horse called Harley Ma which was trained by Lee Freedman;
    •Our syndicate had very limited finances and Roadhog was an economic option ($2K service fee) to partly emulate Harley Ma’s breeding and he stood at Carrington Park Stud, Carrington Falls, where our mare, Alone Again, was agisting; and
    •Roadhog’s sire Shovhog was out of Startling Lass, who brought important Star Kingdom genes to the mating through her sire Luskin Star.
  • The negotiations regarding the mating which produced Thunder Road were carried out between Roadhog’s owner, Peter Bourke, and myself, whilst my wife and I were waiting for a train on Redfern station on our way to attend a Bledisloe Cup fixture at ANZ Stadium in 2010.

    Thunder was born down at Chatswood Stud, Seymour, Victoria, as we had sent Alone Again down there to be covered by another stallion.

    Thunder Road travelled more miles than the early explorers before he made it to the racetrack. As a foal, Thunder and his mother, Alone Again, travelled back to Carrington Park, NSW, from Chatswood Stud, Seymour, Victoria. As a yearling he then journeyed to the Adelaide Magic Millions. He was passed in at $4K when he did not make his reserve of $8K and then brought back again to Carrington Park. We couldn’t draw ourselves to part with him for what in our opinion was such a low price.

    The agreed strategy was then to syndicate shares in Thunder Road with our mates. After all as the former Wallaby coach, David Brochoff once said to me - “if you are going to go down the Yellow Brick Road, make sure you take the tin man, the lion, the scare crow and every other bugger with you”. Or in other words share the pain and the gain with your mates.

    Thunder himself was named after the great Bruce Springsteen song of the same title which was very appropriate, having been sired by Roadhog.

    Thunder Road was only a small horse, and after going into training initially as a 3-year-old, his work on the training track was so disappointing that it appeared that he was likely to be retired before he had even made it to a barrier trial. A suggestion was then made by the syndicate manager, Barry Cotter, to give Emma Longmire at Goulburn, an opportunity to train the horse. As it turned out, this was a great idea from Barry who was a well-known and likeable long-time Labour Mayor of Marrickville, who knew all about politics and mateship and keeping the gang together.

    Emma quickly gained an affinity with Thunder and had him inspected by one of Australia’s top veterinarians, John Crowley. The vet found a small tear in a knee ligament which it was felt would heal with time away from the pressure of the racetrack. So once again Thunder was sent to the spelling paddock, this time up at Argyle Stud near Orange.

    Thunder had now travelled from Seymour in Victoria to Carrington Falls in NSW. From Carrington Falls to Adelaide. From Adelaide back to Carrington Falls. From Carrington Falls to a trainer in Canberra. From Canberra to Goulburn to Orange and back to Goulburn. All of these trips and he hadn’t even been to a barrier trial.

    The legendary Bart Cummings had a great line which Thunder, our trainers Emma and Lucy and the owners epitomised: “The rarest and most valuable commodity in horse racing is patience”. There was no doubt patience and faith were to be an integral part of the career of Thunder Road.

    After an unsuitable first-up unplaced run at Canberra, Thunder’s second start was in a 1600m maiden race at Kembla Grange on 30 January 2016 when he ran fourth. It was a very promising, and surprisingly good run, with the owners who were present giving him cheers as if he had won the Golden Slipper. The jockey that day, Brodie Loy, commented after the race that, “he has some ability, but boy is he dumb.” Maybe dumb, but he was, and always has been, a brave little fella.

    Thunder was always going to be an example of the old adage, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters”.

    There was always confidence from our trainers, Emma and her twin sister Lucy, that Thunder would get a distance. His elder brother, Oh Lonesome Me, had won over 2500m and Thunder’s breeding reinforced this opinion. However, along the way to winning over 2400m, 2500m and 3800m, he also won over 1400m at Randwick in July 2016 at $61, giving us incredible fun and financial return – all from a little fella that nobody wanted at the MM sales and who almost never raced.

    Thunder’s staying career crystalized in early July 2017 after he ran in a Highway Class 3 race over 1800m at Rosehill. On their way home from the races that day the twins, Emma and Lucy, called to inform us that in their opinion we should target the 2017 Riverina Cup Prelude over 2500m in a week’s time and then the 2017 Riverina Cup itself over 3800m, both races at Wagga Wagga. After all, Thunder raced like the type of horse who would stay all day.

    After winning the Prelude, Thunder demolished them in the 3800m 2017 Riverina Cup, which was, and is, the longest flat race in NSW. The gem of an idea was then hatched over a long celebratory dinner to target the Jericho Cup in 2018. And so, the journey began.

    All in all, Thunder Road, the little battler, as at 7 November 2018, has won 6 races and $121,055 in prize money. He has come back into racing after a deserved spell following his third placing in the 2018 Riverina Cup. His preparation is now in the final throes for his tilt at the Jericho Cup at Warrnambool on 2 December 2018. Whatever the outcome, we are all proud of our little Aussie battler who would be dwarfed by the original Jericho Cup winner, Bill the Bastard.

    In the words of Emma Longmire, the Jericho Cup “will be like the horse’s Melbourne Cup. How wonderful to be in a race like that? Win, lose or draw just to be involved will be so exciting”.

    Thanks to Bill Gibbins, a wonderful patron, and to the men and horses of the Australian Light Horse for their heroic deeds. It will be an honour to see our little bloke, Thunder Road, with his jockey proudly wearing our colours, go around in the Jericho at Warrnambool in December.

    This will also be a proud moment for me personally for two reasons.

    The first reason is that my grandfather, was a soldier with the Australian Light Horse in WW1 and he campaigned in the Middle East.

    The second reason is that just before my father passed away from cancer, I took him to the races at Royal Randwick, his last day at the races, on Wednesday January 14, 2004. I kept the official race book from that day which I recently thumbed through. Of particular note were two horses who raced that day at Royal Randwick and their relationship with Thunder.

    The 2 horses were Alone Again’s half brother, Ellessio, both out of the mare Murni, and another horse, Zepmanu, who was a half brother by Woodman (USA) to Alone Again’s sire, Naturalism. Both horses out of Zephyr Souba (NZ). A coincidence indeed.

    I can only hope that these omens bode well for Thunder in the Jericho Cup and that wherever they are my grandfather and father can cheer Thunder home on the 2nd of December at Warrnambool.

    Again, thanks to the philanthropic Bill Gibbins and to author and historian, Roland Perry for reviving the memories of Bill the Bastard and the Jericho Cup.

    Original Article - Country Racing Website