By Ray Hickson
You don’t hear of too many fairy tales starring an Akubra wearing cattle and grain farmer from north-west New South Wales but that’s exactly how Invincible Gem’s part-owner Phillip ‘Roughie’ Tonkin describes his start in racing.
The exciting four-year-old mare, rated a Group 1 winner in waiting, is the first horse raced by Tonkin and co-owner Charles Hill and she’s taking them on the ride of their lives.
That ride heads to Randwick on Saturday as Invincible Gem, trained by Kris Lees, tackles the Group 3 $200,000 Tramway Stakes (1400m) and Tonkin and Hill, along with their distinctive headwear, will be front and centre.
“I’ve always been mad on racing but never had a racehorse before her and another horse called Kool Vinnie,’’ Tonkin said.
“We don’t know how good she is yet.
“I go down to the paddock and reflect on it and I think it’s just a dream. She’s been a great little horse, hopefully she keeps herself fit and happy and she might race for a few years.’’
The story behind Tonkin and Hill, a cattle farmer from Quirindi, joining forces to race Invincible Gem is tinged with sadness.
The mare was bred by Theo Hill, Charles and Tonkin’s wife Julie’s father, who sent her mother Diamond Day to then unproven stallion I Am Invincible for just $11,000.
He also sent another mare called Keep It Cool and that mating produced Kool Vinnie, who has won three races from 10 starts.
But Theo died not long after both horses were foaled and the two farmers decided to race them.
“It’s been a good move and it’s a bit of fun,’’ Tonkin said.
“We were at a bit of a loss after Theo passed away. It was more a hobby and an interest to Theo but Gem has made it a bit serious now.
“Charlie does all the breeding side, I just go along for the ride, he’s shopping around now for a horse to take Diamond Day to now.’’
Diamond Day wasn’t served for three seasons after Theo’s passing but she’s due to foal to Time For War in October. Given I Am Invincible is one of Australia’s leading stallions and now stands for $110,000 it’s unlikely she’ll revisit him.
Though if Invincible Gem, already Group 1 placed, was to win an Epsom Handicap that may change.
Tonkin, dubbed ‘Rough Nut’ in his high school football days but shortened to ‘Roughie’ later on, makes the eight hour trek from his Pallamallawa farm, near Moree, to Randwick once more this weekend.
Invincible Gem winning the Missile Stakes at Randwick – August 5
The last trip was a successful one as Invincible Gem scored a dynamic first-up win in the Missile Stakes (1200m) on August 5, knocking over Group 1 winning stablemate Le Romain in the process to make it five wins from 10 starts.
“That was a bit of a dream. It was a brilliant ride by Corey Brown and the mare did the job,’’ he said.
“It was probably a little short for her at 1200m, I think her pet distance is going to be 1400m or 1600m.
“It’ll be interesting to see how she goes against horses like Happy Clapper and Foxplay. Hopefully we’ll be in the winner’s circle.’’
Of course Invincible Gem will be on the undercard at Randwick with all the focus on champion Winx extending her winning streak to 19 in the Chelmsford Stakes.
Tonkin said racing on the same program as Winx will be exciting but isn’t in a rush to take her on just yet.
“The day might come and we’ll see what happens,’’ he said.
“Kris is a very smart operator and very shrewd with what he does with her, he’s been told not to over race her and it’s worked out so far.
“We just want her to be a good racehorse and a happy racehorse.’’