From Widgee to the big smoke - A million-dollar road trip

4 min read

By Bren O'Brien

There may be more high-profile rags to riches stories in Australian racing but surely few as remarkable as the one-time $4500 weanling Widgee Turf (Turffontein), who surpassed $1 million in prizemoney with his 11th win in Saturday's IRT VOBIS Gold Mile at Caulfield.

Around 1800km separates the small town of Widgee in the Gympie Region of Queensland and the hubbub of Victorian Owners' and Breeders Day at Caulfield in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs, but it was a journey that Gordon and Marlene McIntosh were happy to make to see their star 5-year-old reach a significant milestone.

It was a trip to Melbourne almost five years ago that started this story when Gordon McIntosh decided he'd like to go to a horse sale, in his case, the Great Southern Sale at Oaklands Junction.

Widgee Turf's winning connections

“Although I have been brought up around horses all my life, it was actually the first time I had ever been to a sale like that, having lived up in the bush,” Gordon McIntosh said last year.

“I remember looking at the other weanlings (at the sale) making $100,000 from the big studs, but it was a bright, alert, chestnut colt that caught my eye.”

“I liked the Turffontein horses and his progeny like Fontein Ruby, but what got my full attention was the way he walked. He was really stepping out."

“The handler could hardly keep up with him, he walked with such purpose." - Owner Gordon McIntosh

“The handler could hardly keep up with him, he walked with such purpose, so I thought this guy is on a bit of a mission, and as nobody wanted him, I couldn’t help but put my hand up."

The bright, alert chestnut that caught Gordon McIntosh's eye, Widgee Turf as a weanling

The other side of the story was Little Plains Stud and octogenarian owner Barb Ivill, who really liked the colt, but because of ill health couldn't be at the sale.

She admitted she was disappointed that Lot 84, one of nine she had through the sale, only reached $4500, while trainer Patrick Payne told McIntosh that he may have got away with the buy of the century.

On the road again

So it was with particular enthusiasm that a couple of years later, Gordon and Marlene undertook a 17-hour road trip to watch Widgee Turf debut in a modest 3YO maiden at Swan Hill. He won that day, and has been winning just about every second start since, giving the McIntoshs one brilliant road trip after another.

Payne has done an expert job of cashing in on the rich VOBIS Scheme with the Victorian-bred gelding, collecting plenty of bonuses on the way while winning a couple of stakes races as well, the 2018 G3 Victoria Hcp and the 2019 Listed March S.

He tackled the big boys and girls in the Group 1 Doncaster Mile earlier this month and while tenth, acquitted himself more than adequately.

But it was Saturday's success which stood out for Gordon McIntosh, who struggled to contain his emotion after Widgee Turf's 11th win saw him reach $1.142m in prizemoney.

"I think that's the most important win he's had," McIntosh said after the race. "The VOBIS scheme - for Victorian owners and breeders - you'd be mad not to be in it."

"To win one in town, but now to win 10 and he's over a million dollars today. It blows me away. It doesn't happen very often with a $4000 horse."

"It doesn't happen very often with a $4000 horse." - Gordon McIntosh

The win was also significant for jockey Brad Rawiller as his first at metropolitan level since he returned from a career threatening neck injury suffered in a fall at Cranbourne last October.

"First city winner back from my fall, so I'm pretty happy," Rawiller said.

Billy Egan had ridden him to nine of his ten wins before Saturday, and 17 of his 28 starts.

Widgee Turf following his VOBIS Gold Mile win

The journey is far from over, with the McIntoshs preparing themselves for a slightly shorter road trip of 200km to Eagle Farm in early June for another shot at a Group 1.

"Patrick's a pretty astute man," McIntosh said. "A brilliant horseman and I think the Stradbroke (Handicap on June 8) is next on the list."

Meanwhile, back at Little Plains Stud, Barb Ivill is looking to create the next episode of the Widgee Turf story.

His dam Greyhound (Kala Dancer {GB}), who wasn't served for five years after Widgee Turf was foaled, returned to Turffontein at 22 years of age last spring, with hopes high for a full sibling to the $1m earner.