Samantha Davison is looking forward to proudly displaying a photo of last week’s Kilmore winner, Nightmares, on her office wall.
Racing Victoria’s Equine Welfare Officer was more than a little chuffed to have played a role in the four-year-old gelding’s debut success for Cranbourne trainer Charlie Wootton and his partner Viv Tomren.
Davison is a passionate life-after-racing supporter and, in addition to working with off-the-track thoroughbreds, has a genuine soft spot for standardbreds.
Her personal herd includes eight-year-old pacing mare Quirky, who was an abject racing failure, notching just one placing from 17 starts before transitioning to a new life under saddle.
It was an RV associate, however, who asked her to “have a play” with an immature three-year-old Roll With Joe gelding, who had had a preparation with a race trainer but was considered too weak and slow to make the grade at that stage.
“The idea was that I’d get him going under saddle and fill in a bit of time while he grew into himself and hopefully improved,” she explained.
While in her care, Davison offered the horse known affectionately as ‘Duke’ to Tomren, who was planning a trip with the iconic Snake Island Cattlemen’s Association and needed to improve her riding fitness.
“I borrowed him for six weeks to get myself back in the saddle and he was just so nice to ride and have around,” Tomren recalled.
“He was so quiet and easy going for a three-year-old, we’d lead horses off him while I was riding and in the cart and nothing bothered him.
“He seemed to move quite nicely too, so we made a few inquiries and the owners agreed that we could give him a go.”
One promising trial sparked the stable’s optimism, but a subsequent disappointing effort convinced them the horse needed more time and he was turned out for a spell.
This preparation, Nightmares had a single trial, which obviously captured the attention of punters who sent him out a $2.90 favorite for his race track debut over 2190 metres with Chris Alford in the sulky.
“I went out to see him work before his win and he looked like he was going quite nicely,” Davison said.
“But it was so awesome to see him do it on race day. He’s such a sweet horse, still a big baby in many ways, but really kind and funny.”
While Tomren is reserved about Duke’s long-term racing prospects, she acknowledges the horse is still a largely unknown quantity.
“He’s such a laid-back character, he hasn’t really learned how to let down yet. He takes a while to get wound-up on the track but he seems to be able to keep going once he does.
“Regardless of how far he goes, he is already guaranteed to have a lovely life-after-racing, he’s just so chilled even though he has plenty of character.
“The horse doesn’t have an evil bone in his body and is going to make someone very happy when he retires – I could definitely see him as a Riding for the Disabled mount, or even a Clerk of the Course.”
By Tanya McDermott
Photo: Claire Weston Photography