Tucabia?s cult hero
By Tony White
'Team Tucabia', take a bow.
Fledgling trainer Felicity Firth, sister Diana and her husband Russell Ball, who run the general store at Tucabia, and a gelding nicknamed 'Mad Max' were the toast of Grafton yesterday after Umatrick scored a breathtaking win in the $12,000 John Carlton Cup (1200m).
Before a large crowd of racegoers on Westlawn Finance Prelude Day, Umatrick's one-length win over last year's winner Sir Dan and Elite Ted, kept a 12-month dream alive.
When the gelding finished third in last year's John Carlton Cup, Firth hatched a plan to come back next time around and win the event.
"We're into the Ramornie now. I'm thrilled, simply over the moon," the 35-year-old Tucabia-based trainer said.
"It just doesn't get any better."
Umatrick is now assured of a place in the $125,000 Qantaslink Ramornie Hcp (1200m) next Wednesday.
The story behind Firth and her acquisition of the five-year-old son of Umatilla is a heart-warming, rags to riches tale.
Firth worked in supermarkets, grafting a living with horses for 10 years before taking out her trainer's licence three years ago.
"I've always been around horses all my life but I worked helping Cathy Cameron (Grafton trainer) for 10 years," Firth said.
"I learned a hell of a lot from her. I owe her a lot.
"A couple of years back I decided to take out my own licence and muck around with a few horses. Umatrick has been unreal.
"Cathy had him for his first two preparations after we got him from Victoria.
"He's a typical Umatilla, he's just got better with time. I've only had the odd horse but this fellow is a real dream come true for all of us.
"This is a really big thing for us. I'll be sweating bullets leading up to Wednesday."
On the recommendation of a bloodstock agent, Firth contacted the original Victorian owner of Umatrick when the horse was for sale.
"The lady originally wanted $8000 to $10,000, but we only had a budget of $2500," Firth said.
"We couldn't afford to pay that much and I told her if she didn't come down in price my sister (Diana) would take up an option she had to Rory's Jester instead of buying the horse.
"She eventually rang back and said we could have him for $2000, which was less then Umatilla's service fee."
Umatrick has now won 11 of 34 starts and more than $90,000 in prizemoney.
Around Tucabia, Umatrick has become a cult hero with a strong following.
"All week everyone has been coming into the store wanting to know how he'll (Umatrick) go," part-owner Russell Ball said.
"I just tell them we're hoping.
"We've got a chance in the Ramornie now."
In her excitement cheering Umatrick onto victory, Diana Ball broke her glasses.
"I just left them in the bin. This (winning) is too exciting," she said.
Umatrick was ridden by New Zealand-born hoop Bruce Compton, winner of more than 100 Group races, who will again partner the gelding in the Ramornie.
Team Tucabia are on the rise. Bring on the Ramornie.