10-year-old gelding makes racing debut despite ‘neigh-sayers’
One of the oldest horses ever to make a racing debut in Australia is set to get his first start at a Queensland race track.
With expected odds of more than 100:1, Ole Snip, a 10-year-old bay gelding, is set to jump from barrier five in Race 3 at Callaghan Park in Rockhampton on Friday.
Trainer and owner Victor Heading has turned more than a few heads with the nomination and said he had no idea Ole Snip could be one of the oldest debutants.
However, officials from Racing Australia were unable to confirm if Ole Snip was the oldest of all, saying it would take weeks to trawl through decades of race records.
"Look, maybe there were horses in the 60s or 70s [getting their first start as 10-year-olds] but definitely not in this day and age," a spokesman said.
"It would be extremely rare."
Doing it for Dad
Mr Heading, who had been involved in racing his whole life, said he had "copped a bit of flak" from others in the industry.
"Most of them say, 'don't bother, don't go there' but I've gone there and we've done most of the hard work; I don't think we've seen his best yet," he said.
Mr Heading said he wanted to give Ole Snip a chance to prove himself on a race track because his father, former race horse trainer Neil Heading, bred the horse and dreamed of seeing him race.
"Dad's getting on and it's very tough to put horses into work these days. Financially, it's so dear," he said.
"I just felt like giving him a go for Dad; he'd like to see his horses run."
Long odds for old horse
After spending most of his life in a paddock outside Gympie, Ole Snip was recently transported to Mr Heading's base at the Yeppoon Turf Club and has been in work for about three months in preparation for his foray into racing.
"He's a gentleman, he's a nice old horse," Mr Heading said.
"I broke him in at two [years old] so I knew a little bit about him and he's probably never forgotten it."
But after finishing last by more than 10 lengths in a 900-metre barrier trial last week, expectations for Ole Snip's first race are not very high.
"Look, he trialled very fair. A lot of horses in their first trial don't win or do very much," Mr Heading said.
"Maybe I had him a bit overfit for a 900 run."
Mr Heading is still hopeful Ole Snip, his only runner on the day, will prove the critics wrong.
"If it turns a spark on for him, then maybe he can find another gear and be a bit more competitive," he said.
"He's given me some good feels that he can cover ground and extend but I think he's still got to learn.
"Being an old boy, he's still building up [but] he's going to be a big horse when he fills out, which is another reason why we gave him a go; he's a big strong horse."
Ole Snip's French trackwork rider, Clemence Darodes de Tailly, 26, said she had gotten to know him well over the past few weeks, caring for him in the stables and riding him on the beach four or five days a week.
"When he's working, people would say 'he's on a mission, he wants to do it, he's focused'," she said.
"It's a pleasure so far to ride him."
Ignoring the 'neigh-sayers'
Rockhampton Jockey Club's Darryn Nufer said the gelding's inclusion on Friday's card had sparked interest in racing circles.
"I daresay it will probably be the most viewed maiden race in Australia on Friday," he said.
"There's always a few out there who like to try their luck and they'll probably need it."
Mr Nufer said it was not unusual to see a horse racing at 10 years old, but debuting was another matter.
"Most horses are making their debut around the age of two and three," he said.
"Some of them do have problems and take a little bit longer to mature but it's very rare that a horse would be making a debut after the age of five.
"We've seen race horses win races at the age of 10, 11, even 12, and in the past 12 months, we saw a 10-year-old trained by David Hayes win a race at Flemington."
Mr Nufer said he expected odds closer to 200:1 for Ole Snip but thought there would be plenty of punters who would have a dollar or two for the novelty factor.
Regardless of the outcome, Mr Heading said Ole Snip would still have a bright future on or off the race track.
"All I know is that if he can't gallop, he's educated well and I think there'd be some dressage girl out there that would just give anything for him," he said.
"He'll always have a home if I can't keep him or Dad can't keep him.
"We can't really have ornaments but he'll go to someone that loves him."