A HORSE that connections had never intended starting on the picnic circuit has re-written north-western turf history by becoming just the third horse in 85 years to win all three picnic cups at Moree, Mallawa and Talmoi – bush-racing’s Golden Triangle – in the one season.
And while part-owner Dominic Neate and his wife Karen live in Sydney, it is testament to their love of country racing that they skipped Saturday’s Randwick meeting – where their horse Jo Jo Girl won at 25-1 after as much as 40-1 was bet – to watch history unfold at Talmoi.
While Jo Jo Girl, purchased as a tried horse for just $3000, was making a mess of her rivals in the $85,000 TAB Quaddie Handicap at headquarters, six-year-old gelding Tapakeg, Moree trainer Peter Sinclair and south-coast hoop Tim Phillips were 680 kilometres away, confirming their place in bush-racing history by winning the $4000 B&W Rural Talmoi Cup.
“We live about 500 metres from Randwick racecourse but I’ve got no regrets about not being there,” Neate said.
“I made the right decision by coming up here (to Talmoi) to witness history. Jo Jo Girl will win again in town, but I’ll probably never again have the opportunity to win a Triple Crown up this way.”
Tapakeg, an enigmatic galloper that had promised so much but delivered so little when previously trained at Randwick by Kevin Moses and later at the Gold Coast by Bruce Hill, has thrived since joining the Sinclair stable.
“Tapakeg has promised a lot from day one,” Neate said.
“He had a huge boom on him when he started in town but was disappointing. Kevin couldn’t work him out and Bruce had trouble with him - he talked him up but couldn’t get him to produce.”
The gelding had its first start for Sinclair at Grafton in early May, when sixth behind After Baron. It was a race that connections expected Tapakeg to win, but it was a defeat that was destined to reshape history.
“If Tapakeg had won at Grafton he would not have gone around in the picnics,” Neate said.
“The intention was to never go picnicking when he came out here, but the horse was laying down and not winning races so we trotted him out of his box at the Moree picnics because the cup was his right distance.
“The idea was to see if we could get the horse to win a race before going back to TAB meetings but after we won (at Moree), the prize money at Mallawa was good enough to go and try again,” he said.
“Once I realised the significance of winning all three cups, I thought I’d give it a go.”
Tapakeg joins bush marvel Mulgate (1961) and Barraba bulldog Gefilte (1988) as just the third horse since 1930 - the year Mallawa joined Moree and Talmoi on the north-west picnic circuit - to win all three cups in the same season.
And while the silverware for winning the coveted treble heads back to the city, Dominic and Karen Neate - both deeply infused with bush bloodlines - hold country racing close to their hearts.
“Both sets of my grandparents came from north-western NSW, and both my parents (Tony and Madge) grew up out this way,” Neate said.
“Dad was born-and-bred in Coonabarabran and mum was brought up in Rowena. Karen is from Coonamble as well and while we might live in Sydney at the moment, we have close ties with the bush by racing horses up this way.
“We regularly come up to watch them race, and that’s how we like to contribute to country racing.
“A lot of the greats start out in the bush. Look at Hugh Bowman - he’s now riding winners in Hong Kong but started out by riding in picnic races,” he said.
“I’m a great lover of horses and a great lover of racing, and bush-racing is where everything starts. The good horses start in the bush, and so do the good jockeys and the good trainers - and in Pete (Sinclair) I’ve got the best.”
Sinclair, who can rightfully claim Golden Triangle bragging rights after winning 15 cups on the circuit in the last 14 years, said there were a few stressful moments after Jo Jo Girl had saluted at Randwick.
“The pressure was on because Dominic came to Talmoi to watch Tapakeg, instead of going to Randwick to watch Jo Jo Girl - I would’ve looked a nice goose had Tapakeg got beat,” he chuckled.
“But it’s great to be able to do something like this (win all three cups). Who knows, it could be done next year or the year after, or it might not be done for another 30 years.”
Phillips, a former professional who travels 12 hours each way from Batemans Bay to ride on the Golden Triangle, was pumped after becoming part of bush-racing folklore.
“It’s great; it’s the best buzz, a real big buzz,” he said.
“It’s a pleasure to come up this way to ride and I enjoy racing - I love it.
“Tapakeg was a class above those horses and I think that those wins just might build up his confidence a bit and that he’ll go on to better things,” Phillips said.