By MARK OBERHARDT
A CHINCHILLA-bred racehorse’s remarkable group two victory in Sydney has made him favourite for the $1 million Golden Rose and removed any doubt he’ll be a strong chance when he lines up for the world’s richest race on turf.
Australia’s latest thoroughbred sensation, Rothfire, has a story that only racing could produce.
Nicknamed “The Thriller From Chinchilla”, Rothfire has been racing for less than a year but has already earned a reputation as one of the best horses to race in Queensland this century.
He joins a long list of racehorses with links to Queensland country areas that have gone on to national stardom.
“It’s a unique experience for small breeders like us”Wally Gleeson, breeder
The best known bush champion is Gunsynd who won 29 races and is generally regarded as the greatest “miler” (1600m horse) to race in Australia.
Gunsynd was raced by a group of business owners from the border town of Goondiwindi and is immortalised by a statue and museum in the town.
But Queensland country areas have had links to champions dating back to the 1886 Caulfield Cup winner Ben Bolt who did his early racing in Bowen and Mackay.
The 1959 Melbourne Cup winner Macdougal and the 1965 Caulfield Cup winner Bore Head were owned by Queensland graziers.
There are dozens of other elite horses who have been owned or bred in Queensland country areas.
Rothfire is well on his way to joining them after taking his record to seven wins and a second from eight starts when he won the Run To The Roses in Sydney last Saturday.
It took his prizemoney to $869,000 and much bigger prizes are looming.
Rothfire is now favourite for the $1 million Golden Rose, in Sydney on September 26, and he is among the top chances for Australia’s richest race the $15m Everest on October 17.
Wins in both races would take his prizemoney over the $7 million mark and make him the highest earning Queensland galloper of all time.
The gelding’s journey to competing against Australia’s elite horses has been the stuff of fairy tales.
Rothfire was bred by Gleeson Thoroughbred Connections which is a boutique breeding operation, at Chinchilla, run by Wally and Jill Gleeson along with their sons Jacob, Simon and Tom.
“It’s a unique experience for small breeders like us to be involved in a horse that looks as though he’s going to go on to be something out of the ordinary,” Wally Gleeson said.
“I think he could be a very good chance of delivering again, considering yesterday’s run was his first up run.”
Horse racing has played a major role in the Gleeson family’s lives for decades.
Wally Gleeson was a champion amateur rider and won the Corinthian Hcp (a race for amateur jockeys at Eagle Farm in Brisbane) on two occasions in the early 1970s.
His win in the Corinthian on Gallant Duke is still well remembered because it was the middle leg of the biggest treble (a bet to pick the winners of three races) dividend in Queensland history.
Jill Gleeson’s father, Ian Clarke, was a prominent owner whose horse Casawynk was a top stayer.
Her brother, Tom Clarke, a Chinchilla doctor, bred and raced another star galloper, Rudy, in partnership with their siblings Don and David.
The Gleesons’ son Simon is a long serving member of the Brisbane Racing Club committee.
The Gleesons have regularly sold horses at various yearling sales which have brought six figure prices.
However, Rothfire was not one of those and in fact was deemed not suitable for a main sale. (Representatives from companies visit studs to determine if a horse is an appropriate addition for their sale.)
“Gleeson Thoroughbred Connections started about 10 years ago as a small operation that we thought was going to keep us occupied,” Wally Gleeson said.
“Through some successes of sales and purchases of stallion shares we’ve grown from two broodmares to 20 broodmares.“
Rothfire is by the former smart sprinter Rothesay but at the time of the inspection he had been relocated from Glenlogan Stud to Lyndhurst Stud. (Rothesay has since had a golden patch of winners Australia wide).
His dam Huss On Fire had not produced any offspring of note and was retired as a nanny for other mares’ foals after there was no interest in Rothfire.
Unfortunately, Huss on Fire has since died from a leg infection but the Gleesons have acquired two of her daughters for future breeding.
The Gleesons tried to sell Rothfire to North Queensland but when there was no interest in him they offered him to Brisbane trainer Robert Heathcote.
But even that sale didn’t go smoothly as Heathcote was the victim of hackers and his original payment of $10,000 was stolen.
Heathcote paid a second $10,000 which has turned out to be a very wise decision.
He syndicated the horse with his wife Vicki the major shareholder.
“I said for months that from the early days Rothfire reminded me of my multiple Group One winner Buffering,” Heathcote recalled.
“I wasn’t saying he would be another Buffering but he is heading that way.”
Rothfire has become such a favourite in Queensland that he has already had a television documentary made about him.
The way the gelding is progressing it seems sure there will be several sequels before he retires.
“He is only an early three year old and hopefully there are a good few more seasons of racing to come,” Heathcote said.
In the meantime the Gleesons will be enjoying the ride.