Natalie McCall was photographed with winning jockey Tim Bell last Saturday following the victory of Lady Echelon. Natalie and her father Ray trained a double on the day but the extraordinary co-incidences of the feat didn't stop there.
For as long as I can remember the surname “McCall” has always been involved in the racing industry around South East Queensland.
The first time that I recall the surname McCall coming to the fore was about 40 years ago when a harness racing trainer/driver named Ron McCall and his wife Beryl moved from Sydney to take up residence training pacers at Redcliffe, just north of Brisbane. Ron was the appointed private trainer for a couple of brothers that were very much involved in harness racing at the time named Jack and Bob Ingham. The brothers had started up a business growing and selling chooks, which of course was the pre-cursor to the huge Inghams Enterprises empire of today, employing 8,000 people around Australia.
Ron and Beryl McCall’s children followed them into harness racing. Their sons Darren and Brian and their daughter Sharon, who married licensee Stephen Furey, have all been involved in harness racing for most of their life.
The thoroughbred McCall family (no relation) of South-East Queensland comprise licensed trainer Ray McCall and his daughter Natalie.
For her part Natalie McCall has been doing it a bit tough in the last few weeks, which is totally understandable, given she was a close friend of Gympie based jockey Desiree Gill who tragically lost her life following a race fall at Caloundra on Saturday evening 9 November. In fact Natalie McCall at one point even trained her horses on the sand track at Gympie where Desiree Gill and her husband Barry were also based, before Natalie subsequently moved back to Caloundra.
At last Saturday’s Doomben meeting in Brisbane, Ray and Natalie McCall scored a very rare feat in Australian thoroughbred racing, via each of them training a Saturday city winner at the same meeting. Sadly - as happens so often in racing - their wonderful achievement has typically gone unheralded in “mainstream” racing media.
Natalie McCall started the family’s rare feat happening last Saturday when the mare she trains, Lady Echelon, scrambled home in a photo finish by a neck in Race 5 on the Doomben program at 10/1.
Three races later and her father Ray’s gelding Top Rada also got home in a photo by a short neck at 4/1.
But by no means did the similarities of the family double start and end there.
You see both the winners that the father and daughter prepared are by the same sire – Top Echelon. What are the odds of that event happening when we look below at how many mares Top Echelon has served over his time at stud later in this article?
And as they headed off to the barrier for their respective assignment last Saturday, both the family winners, Lady Echelon and Top Rada, had won four races previously in their career to that point.
On top of all that, both the horses are 4YO’s.
Then on top of all that, the Christian name of the jockey that rode each horse had three letters – as Tim Bell rode Lady Echelon and Jim Byrne rode Top Rada. Tim and Jim both have three letters. I guess the trainer of each horse also could be deemed to have three letters – Ray and Nat - but I don’t need to necessarily embellish the facts to that degree.
Then the name of the horse that finished second to each McCall trained runner had a name containing nine letters. Lady Echelon beat Jacquetta (nine letters) into second placing in her race and Top Rada defeated Venture On (nine letters), when he won the last race.
So when we weigh up all those extraordinary co-incidences it’s almost certain that Ray McCall and his daughter Natalie created world thoroughbred racing history last Saturday at Doomben and a million-to-one event happened. If you think 1,000,000/1 is over the odds, in summary, for someone to equal the feat they firstly have to be a father and his daughter and they have to train a winner at a Saturday city meeting. Then 1) both winners have to be by the same sire, 2) both horses have to have won the same number of races as they head off to the barrier, 3) both horses have to be the same age, 4) both horses have to win by a narrow margin in a photo finish, 5) both horses have to be ridden by a jockey with a Christian name containing the same number of letters and 6) the horse that runs second to each winner has to contain the same number of letters in its name. I must say I find those aforesaid co-incidences what I’d call “absolutely extraordinary”.
And as happens so many times in racing, the sire that produced the Saturday city double was far and away the cheapest service fee sire of any of the eight winners on the eight-race card when those two winners were conceived. You see Top Echelon went off to stud in 2003 for a paltry service fee of $2,200 including GST. Ray McCall trained Top Echelon a 1999 grey foaled son of Umatilla and the Kingston Rule mare Advisory. Top Echelon’s career was cut short by injury after just seven starts. During those seven starts he won two races, ran one second and one third – and earned $148,800 in prizemoney. His career highlight out on the racetrack of dreams was undoubtedly his second placing behind the talented Lovely Jubly in the Group 1 T.J. Smith (now the J.J. Atkins) at Eagle Farm in 2002.
At stud Top Echelon wasn’t given much support. In fact official Stud Book records show he covered just three mares in his first season at stud in the 2003/2004 season. Those same Stud Book records advise that the most number of mares that he ever served was a measly 37 in the 2006/2007 racing season. In more recent years his support from broodmare owners has been virtually negligible, to the point where in the last four consecutive years he’s officially enticed just five, seven, six and five mares to his stallion barn.
In the current breeding season Top Echelon stands for what could be best described as a “round of drinks” service fee of $2,000 and notably he’s achieved 100% fertility in his last two seasons, indicative of the fact that he doesn’t have any fertility problems.
Apart from his city double at Doomben last Saturday, Top Echelon is also the sire of the talented stakeswinner River Lad and to date River Lad has been victorious in the Group 3 Healy Stakes in 2012 and this year’s Listed Bribie Handicap - both run at Eagle Farm racecourse. Overall, River Lad has won 10 races and $573,500 in prizemoney to this point of his career. River Lad is also trained by Natalie McCall.
An interesting point of Top Echelon’s pedigree that most readers may not know, is that his third dam Sunset Sue (by Sunset Hue) won a McDougall Stakes at Eagle Farm, so she was obviously a precocious early running 2YO and that mare Sunset Sue is a sister to that great thoroughbred of yesteryear that won 29 races, including nine Group 1 races - Gunsynd.
So an unfashionable sire whose service fee cost “a round of drinks” no doubt left an indelible memory for a father and daughter last Saturday at Doomben that each will remember to their grave. Ironically in Melbourne on the same day, Zulu Land, a colt that cost a whopping 1.5 million dollars at an Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, never looked likely to win on debut in the opener at Caulfield, eventually clocking in a distant second to Nordic Empire, proof personified that it would seem to me that Gunsynd’s relation Top Echelon and his offspring Lady Echelon and Top Rada are living proof that you don’t have to spend much money at all in this caper to get a Saturday city winner. And you can spend 1.5 million on a yearling, but it comes with no iron clad guarantees.
Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s a big montage of photos of the Toowoomba trip Tuesday to photograph their new turf track. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s the meeting wrap-up from Goondiwindi last Sunday, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls looks at Victorian racing.