It wasn’t until Bernie Kelly got back to his Clarendon motel on Saturday night that the full impact of the day struck home.
For several hours after Bobbing had flashed past the post to win the Polytrack Provincial Championship Final at Royal Randwick, the 56 year old trainer was lost in a maelstrom of handshakes, back slapping and hugs.
By his own admission Victorian born Kelly is a realist, which is not such a bad thing in the topsy, turvy world of horse racing. “Even though the signs were good and the form analysts were talking him up, I still doubted that he could win a half million dollar race”, said Bernie over the weekend. “Late on Saturday night the enormity of his achievement finally hit me, and I felt quite emotional”.
The thrill would have been overwhelming had Bernie purchased Bobbing from a yearling sale, but this special horse was born in his backyard.
His dam is the Dehere mare My Dear, who had the respectable record of four wins and five placings from thirty one starts. She won at Bathurst, Muswellbrook and Kembla, before notching her all-important metropolitan win at Canterbury. Bernie trained her for a syndicate of seven including himself and wife Anne, with the other five made up of family and friends.
Bobbing has saved My Dear from a pretty unimpressive reputation as a broodmare. Her first foal My Richard (by Lion Heart), won five races in WA at places like Albany, Northam and Port Hedland. Three others raced briefly without success and since producing Bobbing she’s been difficult to get in foal, although she currently has a foal at foot by Moonlark (USA).
Bobbing’s sire Beneteau is an entirely different story and his premature death in 2013 saddened all at Arrowfield Stud.
Paul Messara trained Beneteau (Redoute’s Choice- Slice Of Paradise) for a conglomerate of stud interests and three individual owners. The colt showed tremendous ability in his six runs, winning two races with one placing for $336,000.
He won a Maiden two year old at Randwick in early 2010 and was whisked straight to Melbourne for the Blue Diamond Preludes. He won his Prelude before finishing a cracking third in the Blue Diamond itself behind Star Witness and Shaaheq.
Back to Sydney and Beneteau finished sixth in the Skyline Stakes, followed by a strong fifth in Crystal Lily’s Golden Slipper, only 2.2 lengths from the winner. He suffered a check soon after the start before racing wide all the way. Apart from the winner who did everything wrong and still won, nothing went to the line better than Beneteau.
The colt then finished out of a place in the Champagne Stakes, after which his rider reported that his action was ‘all wrong’. Following a spell Beneteau had two barrier trials and was then retired to stud. He produced just two crops before being euthanised with a condition described by vets as a “severe neurological disorder”.
From those two crops have emerged Group 1 winners Prompt Response and Lasqueti Spirit, and stakes winners Ocean Embers, Prompt Return and Almighty Girl. There’s little doubt he was destined for a distinguished stud career. Bernie and Anne Kelly’s decision to purchase a couple of shares in Beneteau has turned out to be a shrewd business move.
From the moment of his arrival on the Kelly property at Richmond it was clear that this Beneteau colt was going to take some time. “He had a neat enough head, but was an uncoordinated foal and that persisted right through until his two year old year”, recalled Bernie.
Thanks to the extraordinary patience of Bernie and an understanding group of owners, Bobbing was a rising four year old when he made his debut in a Hawkesbury Maiden (1000m) in May 2017. He did plenty wrong before going under by only a short head with Robbie Brewer in the saddle. “I was devastated to learn that he’d torn a back muscle in the race”, reflected Bernie. “Once again my co owners copped it on the chin and out he went for another long spell”.
Bernie must have been close to tears when Bobbing came off the track after finishing 22 lengths from the winner in a Hawkesbury barrier trial in November 2017. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when he dropped out of the trial”, said the trainer. “He was dead lame coming off the track and X/Rays later revealed a fractured splint bone. By the time I got off the phone after talking to other owners I was ready to give up”.
It was May of last year before Bobbing returned to the races. He was in need of the run when a first up fifth at Goulburn, followed by a second in a Kembla Maiden. He finally cracked it at Hawkesbury with Blake Shinn up, followed by consecutive wins at Wyong ridden by Robbie Dolan and Josh Parr
He raced very greenly when second to Red Henno in a heat of the Spring Provincial Series at Hawkesbury, but this may have been the day the penny dropped.
He was a totally different horse in the $150,000 Final at Kembla Grange on Dec 1st last year. Rory Hutchings allowed him to find his feet early and he was a distant second last in a strung out field approaching the turn. Hutchings put him into clear air at the top of the straight and he dropped into another gear. Bobbing turned the tables on Red Henno in emphatic fashion and really looked a racehorse on the day.
Following a break he resumed with two “kind” trials and the stage was set for a shot at the second Provincial Championship qualifier at Newcastle on March 9th. Bernie was forced to scratch when Bobbing developed a throat infection and decided also to miss the third qualifier at Kembla.
There was plenty of pressure on the trainer and jockey Koby Jennings when Bobbing lined up for his last throw of the dice at Wyong on March 30th. The five year old stormed home from a mile back to beat all but Turnberry and to the delight of connections he was in the $500,000 Final at Randwick on Sydney racing’s day of days.
“It’s our time to shine” were the words Bernie said to Koby Jennings as he legged the jockey into the saddle in the busy Randwick birdcage. He found it hard to believe that the little colt he’d helped to deliver in that North Richmond paddock was about to compete in a race worth half a million dollars.
Bobbing’s preferred racing pattern is now clearly established and Jennings had no hesitation in letting him drift back to second last in the fifteen horse field. There was no element of fluke in this win. The gelding took off from the 600 metres and was carted five and six deep by Safado on the turn.
The long striding five year old rounded them up with ease and was absolutely charging on the line to beat Spring Charlie and Chalmers.
Bernie Kelly was just twelve years old when his trainer father Noel stood in the same winner’s circle after winning the 1974 Epsom with Citadel. “My Dad could be described as an old fashioned plunge trainer”, said Bernie. “He was renowned for setting horses for a specific race and implementing betting plunges. He had Citadel going for huge money in the Epsom/Metropolitan doubles with Frozen Section which broke down in the last few strides and was collared on the line by Passetruel. Dad cursed his bad luck until the day he died in 1991”.
Noel Kelly built the Ballarat stables currently occupied by Maher and Eustace who moved in after Darren Weir’s departure. One of Noel Kelly’s clients in the 1960’s was Lloyd Williams, who had great faith in the opinion of the Ballarat trainer. Legend has it that Kelly and Williams combined to pull off a colossal “plonk” with a mare called Cautious Sue in the 1969 A.V. Kewney Stakes.
Noel Kelly enjoyed great success with the front running stayer Scotch And Dry, brilliant filly Rainburst whose wins included the Edward Manifold Stakes, and Plush Embassy winner of the 1990 Stradbroke Hcp.
Bernie worked for his father at Ballarat, but never held a Victorian trainer’s licence. He came to NSW in the early 1990’s to work for Fred Peisah whose Lomar Park Stud at Werombi was turning out quality yearlings by resident stallions Steel Pulse, Le Cordonnier and Adirondack Holme.
It was Fred Peisah who encouraged young Bernie to take out a trainer’s licence and prepare some of his horses at Warwick Farm. “I battled away for a few years with only moderate success before deciding to take a complete break from racing”, recalled Bernie. “I had married a Sydney girl Anne Lewitz whose dad Jack was in the pub game. We spent around seven years in the business, principally running the Balaclava Hotel, a family owned pub at Alexandria.
Bernie and Anne eventually tired of the grind of pub life and made the decision to have another crack at the horse training game. They spent several years training out of stables previously occupied by the late Paul Sutherland at Rosehill, before moving onto the property at North Richmond where Bobbing came into the world.
“We’ve been doing our best with average horses ever since, hoping a decent one might turn up”, said Bernie. “Bobbing has already given us a new lease of life and we’re hopeful he can go a bit further yet.”
Bobbing races under the banner of Forest Lodge NSW Pty Ltd, comprising the partnership of Bernie, former STC Director Judy Foley, Robyn Sperling wife of former STC Director Evan Sperling and Sydney anaesthetist Matthew Gleeson.
Saturday’s Royal Randwick meeting will live long in the memories of those who shared it. Bernie Kelly went through the motions of saying farewell to Winx, but was having trouble concentrating.
(Banner image courtesy Steve Hart Photographics - Robbie Dolan rode Bobbing in this win at Wyong 23/09/2018.)