Last Saturday saw Queensland unfortunately lose a host of thoroughbred race meetings due to rain when each of Eagle Farm, Gatton, Gold Coast, Thangool, Chinchilla and Toowoomba (on today) all lost their scheduled race meeting. Ipswich lost their meeting the day before and Doomben lost their meeting last Wednesday so it was just a bad few days all round.

However thoroughbred meetings did happen last Saturday around the State when each of Blackall (good 3), Mareeba (slow 7) and Mount Isa (sand) held their non-TAB meetings, whilst in North Queensland the reasonably new Strathayr track at Mackay hosted a TAB meeting, albeit rain fell during their meeting.

As usual there were some good efforts at those aforesaid meetings, which normally don’t get a mention in mainstream media, so here are a few of the feats and/or interesting events that I noted which transpired at those meetings.

Out west at Blackall, the former amateur jockey and now 72-year-old affable horse trainer Charlie Prow had a good day at his home track as he trained a treble on the five race card when Craiglea Fighter, Lordly and Declare all won. Charlie’s three winners no doubt gave the thrill of a lifetime to a hopeful four-kilo claiming apprentice named Gemma Steele, as she was aboard all Charlie Prow’s winners on the day meaning the young lady will no doubt remember that wonderful day of her life forever more. Ilfracombe based trainer Henry Forster provided the other two winners at Blackall last Saturday meaning that just two trainers trained the entire program.

For her part Gemma Steele is just 18 years old and is apprenticed to Cunnamulla based trainer Robert McMaster and prior to last Saturday the youngster had only ridden one winner. Now Gemma can only ride one more winner before her four-kilo claim becomes 3 kilos. Speaking from the Prow family Blackall home last night, Charlie Prow’s wife Gail told Justracing, “Charlie was very pleased with Gemma. He said she didn’t panic and rode all our stable horses well”.

Gemma’s boss, 54-year-old Robert McMaster who retired from his life as a jockey to take up training “four or five years ago” after riding winners “from Gladstone in the north to Moree and Inverell in the south” told Justracing from his Cunnamulla home last night, “I couldn’t be happier with Gemma. She had an 11-hour round trip to ride at Blackall yesterday but she was at trackwork first thing this morning in Cunnamulla. She recently travelled a 20-hour round trip to Rockhampton just to barrier trial a horse. That’s dedication and she’s deserves the success she had yesterday”.

Speaking to Gemma at her parents – Ian and Noela’s Cunnamulla home late yesterday – Gemma who is the second eldest of four daughters the couple has, told Justracing, “the Blackall meeting was the fourth meeting I’ve ridden at. I had my first day of race riding at Emerald then I rode at Gladstone and then Blackwater/Bluff after finishing my apprenticeship at Deagon at the end of January this year. I rode my first winner at the Gladstone meeting on 16 February aboard Apache Gulf (started 12/1) for Bundaberg trainer Thomas Steindl”. Gemma spoke of the vast amount of travelling she’d had to endure just to complete the 20 trials prior to her being eligible to apply for her licence by advising, “I went to Nyngan in New South Wales to trainer Rodney Robb in June last year and had my first trial ride at Gilgandra, but to get the 20 trials rides up I’ve also ridden at many other New South Wales country tracks as well as Rockhampton, Doomben and Toowoomba in Queensland”. Gemma who tips the scales at 50 kilos paid tribute to her mother who has driven her many thousands of kilometres to this point in time, culminating in her Blackall treble, advising, “Mum comes with me to the trials and the race meetings but the Blackall meeting is the first one that Dad has been to”. As stated earlier, the Blackall race meeting was about an 11-hour round trip from Cunnamulla for the Steele family.

Gemma Steele who grew up in the tiny outpost of Eromanga “between Quilpie and Thargomindah” and whose population ballooned from 171 in the 2006 Australian census to 400 in the 2011 census, has always had a love of horses and when I rang her she was out feeding her “two ex-racehorses”, adding with a hearty laugh, “one is a showjumper and the other is an aspiring show jumper but the aspiring one just needs to learn to lift his legs”. Asked where she is riding at in coming weeks Gemma advised “I’ll be riding at Charleville next Saturday, Longreach the following Saturday and hopefully Springsure the Saturday after that”. When the topic changed to her long term career goals, Gemma said she’d “be happy to just continue riding in the country and looking after my horses. I’d like to be a successful country jockey”.

Charlie Prow famously rode the horse that he trained, Young Aloe, to victory in the 1986 Birdsville Cup as at the time he held both a jockey and trainers licence. To this day a few licensees still hold both a trainer and jockey licence in Queensland – the name Mark Barnham (Rockhampton) comes to mind currently, along with Noel Coyne (Emerald), Glenda Bell (Emerald) and Bill Bell (Clermont) – and the latter three, even if they don’t still hold dual licences as at today, certainly did not all that long ago. Charlie Prow also trained the winner of the 2008 Birdsville Cup, another horse that he trained – Evading – but that time David Rewald had the sit. In his younger days Charlie Prow also was an annual visitor to the big smoke of Brisbane when he rode in those amateur jockey races which were called Corinthian Handicaps that were run at Eagle Farm between 1969 and 1975. I fancy the closest he got to riding a winner in one of those was a second.

Whilst Blackall may only be a little whistle stop of “about 3000” people, Charlie Prow is not the only racing success story of the town as it also was the home of the late heavyweight jockey Penny Whitfield who had the distinction of riding five winners and a second at the country track of Jundah one day in the 1960’s. In later life Whitfield won four Gold Coast premierships following his move to that centre to become stable rider for then prominent trainer Jim Hook. Whitfield died of a heart attack aged 67 in 1999 whilst dancing.

Mount Isa hosted a five race card last Saturday and it was interesting if only for the fact that racetrack attendees witnessed the rare sight of a 50/1 winner in the bush when the Tanya Parry trained, Terrence Hill ridden, Lagason got home in the fourth race – a Class 4 event. Tanya trains a big team at Julia Creek. The other highlight of that meeting was that trainer Robert Burrow trained a double when 2/1 chance Itzablur won Race 2 and Grand Mark at 3/1 won the last. Like Charlie Prow, Tanya Parry’s sister Tammy has also trained a Birdsville Cup winner. Tammy trained the 2001 Birdsville Cup winner You Call Me.

Up at the Mareeba meeting, former jockey now turned successful trainer, Paula D’Addona, trained one of the six winners on the day plus another of her horses ran second. Just Nikki got home for Paula in Race 3 after her runner in the previous race, Not A Tully, had gone down narrowly. Six different jockeys rode the Mareeba winners, in race order, Frank Edwards, Mark Atkinson, Juliet Kuskopf, Nor Yadi, Ian Toward and Mark Elliott. Juliet Kuskopf is a three-kilo claimer who is apprenticed to trainer Jeffrey O’Dea at Wulguru, a suburb of Townsville, whilst Nor Yadi is apprenticed to Fred Wieland in the Cairns suburb of Woree.

At the Mackay TAB meeting the girls stole the limelight when fully fledged rider Tracy O’Hara rode a double, as did three-kilo claimer Bridget Floyd. Tracy is the older sister of Sydney Group 1 winning rider Kathy O’Hara and Bridget is apprenticed to Lindsay Challacombe at The Range, which is near Rockhampton.

Tracy O’Hara then 19 and her sister Kathy then aged 18 created racing history at Rosehill on 8/12/04 when they both rode in the same race with Kathy running fifth on St Trevoc and Tracy clocking in sixth on Navaisha. Whilst female riders won four of the six races run in Mackay last Saturday, a female trainer also trained the most winners at the meeting when Townsville based Olivia Cairns travelled down to Mackay and won Race 3 with Tuppeny’s Opinion (Justin P Stanley) and Race 5 with Some Joy (Tracy O’Hara).

Also at the Mackay meeting it was good to see the husband and wife jockey and trainer team of Mark and Amy Usher strike pay dirt. They combined to win Race 2 with 7/1 chance Sweet Song then in Race 3 they ran second with 14/1 hope Killer Wasp – not bad given they were the only two horses that trainer Amy Usher started at the meeting. A $10 All-Up on both her runners would have netted almost a thousand dollars in the bookies ring and more that a grand on the TAB – had the second horse won.

Whilst rain and cloud cover generally lightened off around South East Queensland yesterday, it remains to be seen what meetings will be lost in Queensland this week. Ipswich throroughbreds has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow and I can tell you that at Ipswich we copped plenty of rain late last week and again on Saturday, then it lightened off to become just showers yesterday and last night. Today has dawned with plenty of blue sky about, but whether that’s too little too late, stewards will no doubt decide from the track later today, or in the morning. A photo of the Ipswich skyline at 6am today, looking towards the Ipswich Turf Club has been put on public display on today’s website story.

Today on Harness Racing New South Wales has come up with a novel idea to get 10 new owners into standardbred racing. They’ve got a raffle of 600 tickets at $100 each and 10 people will each win a 10% share in a proven handy pacer. Also on that website you can read about the dates for the apprentice jockey race series that kicked off last Friday night at Moonee Valley. Funeral details are also advised for the late well-known Ipswich greyhound identity Bruce Bourke. On the website there’s the story about the impact stallion Lunchtime has had on Australian thoroughbred breeding and the news of the Bathurst standardbred sale that’s on, on March 24, whilst on Matt Nicholls looks at racing in Victoria as well as yesterday’s Inter Dominion.

Tomorrow I’ll look back at last Saturday’s Rosehill and Flemington meetings plus last Saturday night’s Australian Cup in the greyhound world and the Inter Dominion Grand Final yesterday at Menangle.  

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