FINDING that one good racehorse is the dream of every racehorse owner the world over.
And it’s a dream come true in spades for Pallamallawa cattle and grain farmer Phillip “Roughie” Tonkin at his first-ever crack at the caper.
Tonkin’s walk-up start to one of the toughest games in town is something many racehorse owners will never experience in a lifetime of trying.
But for Tonkin and his brother-in-law, Quirindi cattle farmer Charles Hill, the game has only just begun.
And so has the fun.
Tonkin and Hill share ownership of emerging talent Invincible Gem, a plain Jane four-year-old mare that keeps winning.
Last preparation she rattled off three on the trot – all on city tracks – and resumed at Randwick last Saturday with a barnstorming win in the Group 2 Missile Stakes.
She had been given a rest after attempting to lead throughout in the $1 million Randwick Guineas against the boys, finishing a gallant half-neck second to Inference.
“She did us all proud in the Guineas,” Tonkin said.
“To do what she did over the mile at Randwick on a heavy-10 took a bit out of her – it was one hell of a run.”
Each win is bitter-sweet for the brothers-in-law – Invincible Gem was bred by Charles’s late father, Theo Hill.
“Theo was in horses all his life, and bred a lot of stockhorses descending from the top sire Abdul,” Tonkin said.
Tonkin, who with his wife Julia farms the family property Myee east of Moree, has never owned a racehorse before.
In fact, Julia is the expert on all things equine.
“Julie is the horsewoman in our outfit – Charles and me are just the blokes that go to the races,” he smiled.
“Julie has been around horses all her life and is very much involved in everything, and this little horse winning all the time is a very emotional thing to be happening for the whole family.”
Julie’s father, Theo, bred Invincible Gem when putting his mare Diamond Day to quality sire I Am Invincible.
He also sent another mare, Keep It Cool, to I Am Invincible – a mating that produced Kool Vinnie, also owned by Tonkin and Hill.
Kool Vinnie kept the pot boiling while Invincible Gem was out spelling, putting back-to-back wins together at Taree in June.
“Theo and his father always bred a few thoroughbreds and he took a couple of his mares to I Am Invincible, but he sadly passed away just after the foals were born,” Tonkin said.
“What’s so amazing is that there is no black type back in Invincible Gem’s dam side for five generations. She’s just a bush-bred horse – something that just developed out of the blue.
“We decided on New Year’s Day last year to keep the racehorses in the family – Charles said at the time that he thought they’d be all right – and we’ve been halves ever since.
“That’s how it all came about – this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been involved in racehorses, or racing.”
Invincible Gem, trained at Newcastle by Kris Lees, has won five times from just 10 starts and is conservatively valued at just under $1 million.
When – not if – she wins at Group 1 level, her value will skyrocket.
Last preparation she made a cakewalk of the 1600m Group 3 Spring Stakes at Royal Randwick, beating the boys by nearly four lengths.
She had previously won at Canterbury, Warwick Farm and Rosehill.
Her prize money tally currently hovers around the $500,000 mark and is set to rise even further in the coming weeks.
“When this little journey began we were just hoping that we might have a horse that could win at Newcastle, some day. The Provincial Championships was the original plan, but winning that black type race at Randwick buggered that,” Tonkin smiled.
“Winning that race at Randwick was a bit emotional, too. Theo bred her and he’s bred horses for generations and now having a horse that has won Group races in Sydney is something that we never thought would happen.
“Kris says she is just getting better and better and better – but he still calls her a plain-looking filly that hasn’t got a lot of breeding.”
Lees said he is forever amazed at how Invincible Gem has improved.
“It’s amazing. She’s certainly surprised me in the way she’s winning and where she’s come from,” he said.
Tonkin and Hill, a couple of self-confessed bushies humbled by such an extraordinary run of racetrack success, have quickly become well-known faces on city tracks.
After all, their huge Akubras are hard to miss in a crowd.
“That’s our dress code – everyone knows us a bit now,” Tonkin chuckled.