EVERY HORSE IS UNIQUE Every owner has a story...
BIG RED, this is where my journey with the love of Thoroughbred horses started. Story and images by Kay Sullivan
had been standing with my father, unreservedly cheering, my eyes glazed with tears of joy as my Dad’s horse Port Major rocketed home eight lengths in front of the next runner. It did cross my mind that cheering so loud and so hard for a horse that was clearly going to win was odd, but I couldn’t help it, I just cheered.
have a sand roll or a hose down and sometimes Mr Laidlaw would give them an injection in their bum, Dad said they must have had a bit of a sniffle that day. Anyway, there was always an open packet of Jam Francies lying around, so if I was lucky I’d be leaving with a biscuit and a silver horse shoe to put in my garden.
My mum had dressed me in my finest; a pleated red wool dress, my black patent leather shoes and a little straw hand bag with an embroidered face of a horse decorating the front panel. Dad has left me standing alone in the stands of Moonee Valley racecourse, a child of eight. I didn’t much like being left alone but the winner’s enclosure is not really a child friendly place.
Redda was a steeplechaser; watching him tuck his legs under his girth and clear those fences was surely something surreal. The week after his win at the Valley, Port Major came second last in the Grand National. He was initially jumping beautifully, but unfortunately a horse named Sweet Ali fell in front of him and he had to be put down, I think that must have put him off.
Just seeing my dad’s pride and elation, I didn’t mind him bounding down those stairs and forgetting about me, as he left. I just rejoiced in his happiness and the special moment and let him enjoy. 50 years on and I can still vividly recall the emotions of that day, even as a young child the joy and the happiness in its purest form is something you taste once and never forget.
Dad gave me Port Major as a gift when he finished his racing career. We lived in Longwood, which is nine miles south of Euroa in Northern Victoria. I was beside myself when I saw Chapman’s horse transport turn into our driveway. I rode him every day and Redda and I were as one. Rain, hail or shine. Most of the time I was too impatient to even put a saddle on him, he was a sucker for a carrot; I’d grab him by the mane throw a bridle on, back him up to a post, hop on and off we would go, just him and me.
Oh yes, I’ve experienced my Wedding Day, the birth of my first child (whom I love dearly) and even the pinnacle of all pinnacle’s, a Carlton Football Club Premiership, but nothing in my heart of hearts has ever matched the feelings of elation on that day, winning a horse race with Dad and Redda. Port Major, or Big Red or Redda as my dad called him, was just a shade under 18 hands, a magnificent chestnut gelding with a big white blaze and four white socks. At eight years old I didn’t know what a gelding was, all I knew he was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen.
Dad timed us one day. We were galloping around the footy oval, tight up again the white railed fence. I thought I was National Velvet. faster, faster Red, I whispered in his ear. Well he went so fast that day; a week later when I was getting off the school bus from Euroa when I saw a Chapman’s horse transport had come again, but this time it was leaving our driveway with my Redda inside.
An ageing Jack Laidlaw trained Big Red out of his back-yard stables near the old Newmarket complex. I’d know it was time to get off the red rattler train when the smell from the abattoirs drifted through the open carriage window.
You see, Dad had become so excited about our gallop, that he had convinced Mr Laidlaw to give Big Red another preparation. Redda broke down in first race back, but he went on to have a fine show jumping career. I never saw him again.
Mr Laidlaw only had about eight or nine horses in work and as a kid, I just liked hanging around his stables and watching the horses
Well that was my Redda and his eight- year old filly (me)! and my introduction to Thoroughbreds.
SPRING 2018 #31