I sat bolt upright on the lounge last Wednesday (August 8th) when a horse called Itsa Fait Accompli stormed down the outside to win a BM 71 at Canterbury for trainer David Blundell and jockey Robbie Dolan.
The colours lilac, red sash and white cap have been carried by many horses owned by the Doyle family, Sydney’s famous seafood restauranteurs.
But the horse to spring instantly to mind was the gallant little Show County- not the best sprinter to grace the Australian turf, but a once in a lifetime horse for the Doyles, for trainer Max Wiggins and jockey Brian Wood. His record was impressive enough for the Show County Quality to be introduced to the Sydney racing calendar in 1993, and it survives to this day.
Even when other trainers and jockeys were doing “handstands”to attract the attention of managing part owner Mick Doyle, there was never a doubt that Wiggins and Wood would continue their association with the stallion.
Show County was a $20,000 yearling purchase who went on to race 27 times, posting 12 wins and 6 placings for $1,066,558 in prize money.
In a show of loyalty rarely seen in one of the toughest games on Earth, the Doyle family dedicated the ride to Brian Wood for the term of the horse’s racing career. Woody rode him in 26 of his 27 starts, and it took a jockey’s strike to get him off Show County on the other occasion.
Fully fledged jockeys stopped work on a Saturday in 1989, and apprentices rode every horse at an important Warwick Farm meeting . John Powell finished fourth on Show County in the Gr. 3 Up And Coming Stakes, won by Patronise ridden by a youthful Steven King
Show County was a compact colt by County from the Dorica Star mare Showrica, and was a natural two year old winning his first 5 on the trot-- the Breeder’s Plate, the Silver Slipper, the Maribyrnong Plate, Kindergarten Stakes and the Skyline Stakes. He signalled his dislike for rain affected tracks, with a 5th in the Pago Pago Stakes and a 3rd in Courtza’s Golden Slipper.
“He was doing his best in both races but had no confidence in the going”, recalled Brian.
Show County spelled after the Slipper, and returned in dynamic form, winning 5 of his next 7 starts. Mick Doyle loved taking his horses to the major country meetings, and was thrilled when his little “star” won the Golden Goblet at Grafton by a widening 3 lengths.
Then came a win in the San Domenico Stakes, the unplaced run we’ve already mentioned during the jockey’s strike, followed by consecutive wins in the Roman Consul Stakes, the Heritage Stakes, and the Stan Fox Stakes stepping up to 1400 metres for the first time. This prompted Max Wiggins to give him a shot at the Gr. 1 Caulfield Guineas of 1989. “The 1600 metres found him out, but he wasn’t completely comfortable going the anti clockwise direction”, recalled Brian. “He wasn’t disgraced finishing less than 3 lengths behind the winner Procul Harum in 6th spot”.
Max Wiggins turned the colt out after the Guineas, and he wasn’t seen again for 14 weeks, winning the Challenge Stakes first up at Randwick.Max decided to give him another crack in Melbourne, and he ran two splendid seconds at Gr. 1 level- second to Redelva beaten only a neck in the Lightning Stakes, and went under by a similar margin in the Oakleigh Plate to Scarlet Bisque. It was during this trip that Show County showed glimpses of “jarring up” for the first time, and Max had to manage him carefully from this point on.
Another long spell followed, and twenty weeks passed before the sprinter resumed in the Grafton Ramornie Hcp, finishing third to Tony”s Finito. He was to win only one more race in 9 starts, and that was the Canterbury Stakes (Gr 2) in March 1991.He wasn’t humbled in any of those races, but he wasn’t going quite as well as he had been in the previous preparation.
“I think he may have been feeling his joints at this stage of his racing life, and he wasn’t stretching out as we knew he could”, said Woody.
Show County underwent an extensive veterinary examination after an unplaced effort in The Galaxy of 1991, and several polyps were discovered in his trachea. Subsequent surgery was successful, and the prognosis was encouraging, but a couple of days later veterinary staff were startled by an unexpected development. The stallion had foundered, and the worst fears of the vets were realized when a pedal bone pushed its way through the sole of one front foot. The Doyles, Max Wiggins and Woody were devastated when it was clear the gallant little horse had to be put down.
Brian Wood grew up at Glen Eden , a fringe suburb of Auckland, and was the son of jockey Val Wood who had only a short career in the saddle because of increasing weight. Young Brian was sent to Sydney in 1966 to become indentured to expatriate New Zealander Larry Wiggins at Warwick Farm.
His first win was at Newcastle on Flying Sherpa trained by Maureen Riley, relegating the great jockey Athol George Mulley into second place. His first metro win was on No Advice at Warwick Farm defeating Cumbandry Hope, ridden by the legendary George Moore.
Brian’s reputation as a “giant killer” was further enhanced in 1975 when he won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Kiwi mare Jandell, beating the odds on favourite Leilani ridden by Roy Higgins.
Woody’s ability to ride at a featherweight has been a tremendous plus throughout his long career.For more than thirty years he was assured of regular mounts, and very few trainers during that era haven’t given B.Wood a ride somewhere along the way. He’s now in his mid sixties,and still holds a jockey’s licence, but obviously race rides have all but dried up. He was actually offered a ride at Newcastle last Saturday, but respectfully declined.
For the last twenty years Brian has been riding trackwork 6 days a week, for Clarry Conners,who was glowing in his praise of the veteran jockey when I called him over the weekend. “Every aspiring jockey should take a leaf out of his book”, said Clarry.”He’s here on the dot of 5am every day, and has missed only a handful of days in twenty years. He’s quiet and patient with horses, and has proven to be a good judge over the years.A few years ago I flew him to Melbourne to ride Dear Demi in her final gallop before the VRC Oaks. He knew her backwards, and I just wanted his opinion before the Group 1. He said she felt perfect, and she duly won the Oaks with Jim Cassidy up. I don’t know how I’ll ever replace him when he calls it quits”.
For many years Woody worked as a riding instructor at the Uni of Western Sydney’s Tafe facility at Richmond, and was instrumental in starting the careers of jockeys like Alan Chau, Amy White, and Skye Bogenhuber.
He has always had a liking for harness horses,and is a regular trackwork driver at Paul Fitzpatrick’s Cawdor training property. He obtained his professional ticket a few years ago, and boasts a unique winning double in the harness world.
In October 2012 he drove a mare called Im Tom’s Girl, trained by Blake Fitzpatrick to score a last stride win in a race at Menangle. Just two months later he rode Sassy Pinevale, also prepared by Blake Fitzpatrick,to win a saddle trot called Le Trot Monte at Bankstown.
Woody’s son Christopher runs his own dance studio, and his father can often be found there doing an assortment of odd jobs.
Don’t be surprised if he’s teaching tap, ballet and jazz by this time next year.