Sonya and Goldie: The real, heart-warming story of a horse happy in his retirement
Goldie’s about as plain as they come.
You’d hardly notice him if he walked past you. He comes in a plain brown wrapper, with a head that even his mum wouldn’t look twice at.
He wasn’t the best on the racetrack, nor was he the slowest. But when he started feeling his old legs recently and trainer Sonya Smith knew it was time to retire him, she never once considered just sending him off into the unknown.
And today, if you visit the Menangle harness training centre one afternoon you might see the pair on their afternoon walk round the stables, Smith on top learning to ride, visiting the neighbours.
The bleeding heart critics of horse racing would have you believe Goldie, race name Let’s Strike The Gold, will be cruelly discarded now he can’t be flogged to earn prizemoney any more. Won’t Smith simply move on to exploiting the next horse, like Lincoln Farms’ up-and-coming colt Make Way?
The inconvenient truth for those getting unwarranted traction over their annual protests is that Smith, like thousands of her fellow trainers, wants only the best for her animals.
Smith says it makes her blood boil when she sees and reads the rubbish about racehorses being mistreated and discarded when in fact they’re the most pampered of all animals.
“I spend more money on my horses than I do on myself,” she says.
Goldie has always come first for Smith and her partner, top horseman Anthony Butt.
The pair spared nothing when they took over training the horse in 2018, marvelling at the job he continued to do despite racing with five screws in his legs.
Goldie was no world-beater but he still won five races for them, only one with a winning stake of more than $10,000.
Earlier in the year, however, when he started feeling his eight-year-old legs and scans revealed a hairline fracture under one of the screws, Smith knew it was time to retire him.
“We love him so much and thought enough’s enough, we don’t want him to break down.”
Smith has rehomed horses previously, like Mister Hairy Maclary who found an approved owner through Harness Racing Victoria’s Hero programme.
“But I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Goldie. Ants has always told me not to get too attached to the horses but they’re my life and Goldie’s such a gentleman.
“He has the kindest nature and even though we’ve got 25 horses here now I’ll have him for life. He loves still being in the stable and goes in with the other racehorses and the babies. He’d never kick.”
Smith has successfully completed months of rehab on Goldie to make sure he’s sound enough to do something with.
And she was amazed when, fresh in from the paddock, Goldie never turned a hair when she hopped on his back for the first time.
“I didn’t have a saddle, just a lead rope on his halter, and we walked round the barn without a care.
“I rode gallopers for my aunty in Invercargill when I was young but he’s teaching me to ride again.
“He makes my afternoons. I’m really happy when I’m riding him.
“There are a queue of people wanting to ride him now - everyone loves him - and he’s so quiet I’d let my son on him too.
“I’m not a show person but eventually I’d like to do treks with him.”
Mostly, though, Smith says Goldie is her companion.
Smith recalls one night at the Melton trots when Goldie won, a bystander observed the bond between the pair.
“He was being quite naughty, pawing the ground, but this lady said whenever I walked away and he couldn’t see me any more he stopped. He does it at home in the cross ties too. If I go round the corner and hide, he stops. He has an eye on me the whole time.
“He’s so intelligent. He knows my car. When I drive past his paddock he snickers because he knows it’s me.”
Smith admits to spoiling the old timer, with extra brushing sessions or a nightly carrot.
“He’s as fat as a pudding pie now and his coat is amazing.”
Smith says it wouldn’t have mattered if Goldie had been the slowest horse in the stable, she’d still love him the same.
“But I’m no different from thousands of other people who try to find good homes for their horses.
“Some you can’t rehome - like big, old stallions who bite and kick, and the only time I’d put a horse down was if it was in pain and the best thing for it.
“All this talk of how racehorses are mistreated is bullshit. They love running - they’re bred to do it - and they get the best possible care.”
* For the record, Goldie, aka Strike The Gold, raced 89 times for his owners Don, Ann and Glenn Cotterill and Lincoln Farms’ John and Lynne Street, notching 15 wins and 15 placings for A$178,714 in stakes.
The Bettor’s Delight gelding, a young brother to crack pacer and now sire Gold Ace, won six times at Alexandra Park for trainer Ray Green, despite an injury which kept him off the track for 17 months between April, 2015 and September, 2016.
When he arrived in Australia in December, 2016 he quickly showed his toughness, winning three of his first eight starts for the Fitzpatrick stable, and running a mile at Menangle in 1:51.9.
He won five of his 21 starts for Smith and Butt, including a hat-trick in March-April 2018.
More news in Harness
Better draw will help Frisco but Ray’s quartet for Friday all in early stages of new prep
Argyle salutes at last and Mark confident he’ll keep the till ticking over in the next grade
Unlucky Argyle deserves to be rewarded at Albion Park tonight - just no bad luck please
Ray looking forward to Lincoln Lou and fully oxygenated Frisco Bay at Cambridge on Friday
Our runners this week
Saturday night at Albion Park
Our runners this week: How our trainer rates them
Friday night at Auckland
Race 2: Frisco Bay
“He obviously needed the run last week. He pulled his way round the field and sat outside the leader but he couldn’t cop a run like that first-up and got tired. The ability is there, whether he’s fit enough or not we’ll find out. But I expect him to go well, the three draw is much better than last week.”
Race 2: Lenny Lincoln
“He’ll probably need a race but he’s capable of running a slot. He’s unlucky not to have won a race, all three of his seconds were good. He’s got a bit better with each of his trials this time in and he got home well last Saturday, after coming widest on the turn.”
Race 3: Obadiah Dragon
“The way the race was run at Cambridge last week, his effort wasn’t bad at all. Moni (Monika Ranger) said he felt strong and, if he’d been a few slots closer, he would have been right in it. He’ll be improved for the run.”
Race 3: Leo Lincoln
“He’s very consistent - he’s only missed a couple of cheques. But he’s another just coming back and should improve with the run.”