By Ray Hickson
It’s safe to say after two decades of friendship, three best mates from Sydney’s Northern Beaches will find it hard to top winning a $1.3 million race at Royal Randwick.
But it’s not just about the trio Thad King, Richie Butterworth and Nathan Lavers being a part of the ownership of inaugural The Kosciuszko winner Belflyer that’s special, it’s how they came to be involved.
The Kosciuszko, a new highlight on Everest Day, is a race for NSW country trained horses whose place in the event is handpicked by 12 everyday punters who, after buying $5 tickets in a public sweepstakes, win the right to negotiate deals with the connections of their selected runners.
King and his mates bought just 20 tickets out of their Punters Club kitty but they weren’t one of the initial 12 slot winners drawn out.
It was only when two of the original winners failed to claim their prize did they get their chance but that also meant most of the high-profile horses had already been locked away.
“We were in a unique position compared to everyone else,’’ King said.
“At the time there were only three horses left to be chosen so everyone was calling us basically.
“Some of the deals that were getting thrown at us towards the end were really attractive. I was getting phone calls from people with deals that were better than the one we agreed on but we wanted the horse.’’
Most deals just focused on a split of the prizemoney but the agreement King, Butterworth and Lavers came to was as unique as the race itself – the gelding’s owners offered them 10 per cent ownership for the rest of his career.
So that’s how BPC Thoroughbreds was born – out of the Battlers Punters Club the trio have been using to fund annual trips away to the races for the past 10 years.
“The owners were so good to deal with from the start. I was talking to Troy Hogan, the managing owner, and it was massive of them to give up 10 per cent,’’ he said.
“We met each other on the Saturday morning of the race for a beer, they are such great people and for us to be involved with them going forward it’s amazing.’’
It was quite a punt in itself in selecting the John Shelton-trained Belflyer as their Kosciuszko runner – he’d won 12 races from 54 starts and earned just over $275,000 with a second in the Listed Ramornie Handicap his best performance at stakes level.
Belflyer wins the inaugural The Kosciuszko at Randwick on October 13
But King said the seven-year-old was their top choice and they headed to Randwick full of confidence.
Clearly few punters agreed, though, as Belflyer started $71 but came with a well-timed run under jockey Adam Hyeronimus to beat Suncraze and Awesome Pluck to claim the $685,000 first prizemoney.
“The race unfolded exactly how we thought it would, we thought O’ So Hazy and The Monstar would go out hard and we’d need something that would run on,’’ King said.
“We wanted something that could handle all conditions and run a strong 1200m at Randwick so it allowed us to rule out a lot of horses.
“My wife was thinking she was going to have to console me because I’d been so confident all week. I was telling everyone he was going to win, so it was huge.’’
King works in advertising, Lavers is an electrician, while Butterworth works in sponsorship and events management.
The latter pair went to school together and have been friends since they were five while King met them playing soccer as teenagers. They’ve been virtually inseparable since.
The Kosciuszko result not only represented a new high for the BPC it’s been life changing for the trio, all in their mid-30s.
“Richie is getting married and it’ll help pay for his wedding,’’ King said.
“But in terms of the day, it was like winning the lottery with your best mates. It’s indescribable, I don’t know if we’ll be able to top that day and the experience.
“We love racing, this is Nathan’s first horse but Richie and I have owned different shares in different horses. I think it is going to be fun for us over the next couple of years.’’
Given Belflyer is trained at Grafton, it’s a safe bet he’ll be aimed at going one better in next year’s Ramornie after going down to Havasay earlier this year.
When it comes to the 2019 Kosciuszko, King and the boys will be on the other side of the fence – unless they happen to be winning slot owners again – trying to secure their horse a chance to defend his title.
And with the ride they’ve just been on fresh in their memories who can blame them.
“Hopefully as the current champ he’ll be one of the more sought-after horses,’’ King said.
“We’ll be going wherever he is and John has some nice races in mind for him but we’d like to get back to this race.
“It’d be amazing to be involved again, it’s such a great concept. The build up, the interviews, the lunches, the whole experience.’’
*This article was originally published in the November edition of the Racing NSW magazine