February 6, 2015 11:16 am
By Tim Egan.
It was 1982 and my wife Jo and I were operating a riding school, just outside of Cowra in the central west of N.S.W. when I first met a thoroughbred by the name of Bold General.
Friends of ours were members of a syndicate racing the horse and as he was spelling on their sheep property, not far from our place, they invited us over to have a look at him. At the time, the horse, a four-year-old, liver chestnut gelding had had six starts and finished last each time. He had accumulated just $40-00 in prize money and it soon became apparent, that our friends thought that Bold General’s future may lie somewhere other than at the racetrack, perhaps a riding school.
As Jo and I, together with our friends Marcia and Peter, stood in a paddock watching, Bold General decided to go for a run. Up until now, I really had not been interested in the horse, but that was about to change. As he cantered around the paddock, Bold General began to jump patches of thistles which were scattered around the paddock. I was impressed. The horse was very light on his feet and had a real spring when he leapt the thistle patches, clearing them effortlessly. Before Jo and I left, I had agreed that we would take the horse and try him at jumping.
I was disappointed to learn a couple of weeks later, that the other syndicate members were not as ready to give up on Bold General, as Peter and Marcia. The horse was going back in to training.
Several weeks later, Bold General was ready to race again. The event was a maiden handicap at Grenfell. Jo and I went to watch. I was confident that another last placing would see Bold General on a float heading to our place. Half way up the straight, everything was going as I had hoped, with Bold General loping along in last place. Suddenly, the whole complexion of the race changed. The second last horse began to go backwards faster than Bold General was going forward, or at least, that was how it appeared to me. The result was, that Bold General finally managed to beat a rival home. He had finished second last.
On the way home, I wasn’t too sure where this left Jo and I in terms of acquiring the horse. I thought that the syndicate members may have taken some heart from this sudden form reversal and decide to continue with Bold General’s campaign. I needn’t have worried. Two days later, Peter was on the phone and arrangements made for Bold General to come to our place, to be trialled for a showjumping career.
Initially, I just used him in the riding school. He had a comfortable canter and seemed to have a good temperament. You could use him as a lead horse, or just sit back and follow the group, it didn’t faze him. The next step was to start lunging him over obstacles. I always preferred to start a horse jumping this way. They learn to sort themselves out to an extent and gain a bit of confidence, without any interference from the rider. Finally I started to ride him over some small obstacles. I wasn’t happy with the result. I found myself jarring him in the mouth over the jumps, something I’d always prided myself on not doing. I couldn’t work out why this was happening.
At the time, I was also starting off another slow racehorse and to me, whether on the lunge or under saddle, he seemed to be going better than Bold General. I loved the spring Bold General displayed over the jumps and the way he tucked his forelegs well up as he went over jumps on the lunge. He had ability, it was just that he and I weren’t clicking when I rode him over the jumps. Jo and I had invited Olympic eventer and World Cup show jumper, Vicki Roycroft up to our place to do a showjumping school, so I decided to stop riding Bold General and to just lunge him over jumps until Vicki could come and have a look at him.
At the school, which we were running over two days, I elected to ride the other thoroughbred, but over dinner that first night, told Vicki about this little thoroughbred I’d recently started schooling. I told her I thought he had ability, but that I was having a couple of problems with him. She said to bring him out during the lunch break the next day and she’d take a look at him.
Vicki wasted no time with Bold General the next day. She hopped on and immediately sent him at the showjumping course the more experienced horses had just taken. I couldn’t believe it. It turned out that Vicki had the impression I’d done more with him than I actually had. Bold General cleared the course, but his inexperience was obvious. Vicki was impressed with the horse. I was just pleased that both horse and rider were still in one piece.
Before she left for home that afternoon, Vicki said she liked the horse and if he came on the market, she’d be interested. Within a fortnight, Jo and I had bought Bold General for $250-00 and sold him to Vicki for $600-00, with an additional $50-00 to cover the cost of floating.
When Bold General boarded the truck bound for Mount White, neither Jo and I, nor Vicki, could ever have imagined what this fifteen two and a half hand horse would achieve.
Soon after getting Bold General, Vicki changed his name to Apache and it was under this name that he was to reach international stardom as a show jumper.
Vicki took her time with the horse. She immediately turned him out for a spell for a few months, hoping that he might grow a bit taller. He didn’t. He never made 15.3 hands, no matter what shoes Vicki put on him. When he finally came in to work Vicki brought him along patiently. It was Vicki’s husband Wayne Roycroft, a former Olympic medallist in eventing and future Olympic gold medal winning eventing coach, who first realized Apache’s ability. “Every part of him was built for jumping,” Wayne said.
Still Vicki took him along slowly, educating him in D grade showjumping events around the country. After he won a D grade class at Maitland, an Irish dealer wanted to buy him. Wayne put a figure of $15,000 on the horse, a ridiculous price for this class of horse at the time. The dealer thought about it but in the end declined, leaving Vicki and Apache to follow their path to international glory.
By 1985, Apache had established himself amongst the top showjumping horses in Australia. “He is special because he can be very brave and very careful at the same time. I think that is the biggest factor with him. A lot of horses have ability like him, although he’s got amazing ability, but he is so brave.” Said Vicki at the time.
After victory in the World Cup qualifier at Wentworth Park in Sydney, Apache and Vicki were selected for the Australian team to go to Paris for the World Cup.
The first event Apache contested in Europe was in Geneva, Switzerland. It was a two day show which attracted the best show jumping horses in Europe. Vicki and Apache’s international campaign got off to a great start. The pair finished third in the Grand Prix behind the European champion Paul Shockermohle riding Orchidee, and Apache finished second in the Leading Horse of the Show Award.
Following Geneva, the Australian team finished third behind France and the U.K. in the Nations Cup in La Braile, France. Vicki and Apache were the only Australian combination to complete two clear rounds.
From there, it was on to Rome for the Rome Grand Prix, rated the number two show-jumping event in the world. It was here that it all came together for Vicki and her brave little thoroughbred, which by now had affectionately been dubbed “Le Kangarou” by his legion of new fans.
There were fifty six of the world’s finest showjumping horses vying for top honours in the Grand Prix, but after two rounds over huge jumps, only two horses, little Apache and the giant Argonaut, left to fight out the finish over a shortened course. Both horses had a rail down, it was a case of fastest time wins. The prize money, the trophies, the acclaim went to the gallant Aussie battlers. In winning, Vicki achieved what no Australian and no woman had ever achieved before.
The story didn’t end there though. The Australian team took out the Nations Cup. “There were four very proud Australian riders as the anthem (Australian) and the flag was raised.” Recalled Vicki.
Apache had left Australia with a $400,000-00 price tag on him. By now that price was looking cheap. The decision was made to sell him. Figures as high as $750,000 were mentioned at the time, but ultimately, it was not money but a good home for her wonderful, brave little Apache which influenced Vicki’s decision. Accordingly, she sold Apache to Alan Bond’s daughter Sue.
Apache never again matched the performances he had under Vicki. Upon his retirement, he was returned to Vicki and died on the property owned by she and Wayne, at the age of nineteen.
As for Jo and I, Vicki gave us two of the trophies she and Apache won at Rome and left us with some wonderful memories of a slow little thoroughbred which liked to jump thistle patches.
She also had the following kind words to say about us in a magazine article she wrote about Apache: “ I am eternally grateful to Tim and Johann Egan who were responsible for me buying him.”
Our relationship with Wayne and Vicki didn’t end there. I continued to promote show-jumping and eventing schools for them. Some months after the sale of Apache we got another thoroughbred, a strong five-year-old bay gelding, which stood about 16 hands. I immediately set about trying to find out if this horse had any jumping ability.
The first step as always, was to start lunging him over a couple of obstacles. It didn’t take long before the horse started to show a bit of ability. He was no Apache, but then both Jo and I knew that we would never have the likes of him again. Apache was a champion, pure and simple.
This new thoroughbred wasn’t going to make a show-jumper, but I definitely thought he showed enough to suggest that he could make a handy eventer. It wasn’t long before we had another school lined up for Vicki. By now Jo and I were really hopeful that she would take our new prospect. We renamed the horse Second Chance in anticipation. Well Vicki came down, stayed with us, did the two-day school and left. Second Chance followed her back to Mount White a few days later.
Second Chance did indeed prove to be a handy eventer. He was sold by the Roycrofts’ to south-east Asian buyers and went on to represent Korea in the Three Day Event at the Olympics.
Next cab off the rank, was a feisty little thoroughbred chestnut mare, which we bought from our local publican, after it proved too slow even for country racing. After yet another school, she accompanied Vicki home. Vicki named her Josie after Jo. Josie never made it to the Olympics, but she showed enough ability as a show -jumper, to be sold by the Roycrofts’ to overseas interests.
About eighteen months, we promoted an eventing school for Wayne Roycroft. Once again we had a horse that I thought displayed jumping potential. Wayne rode the horse, then rejected him. I wasn’t really surprised. Wayne was always more cautious than Vicki. I then invited a showjumping friend down to look at him. I had known Randy Porter for quite a few years. Randy at this time was competing at World Cup level and I really thought he would be interested in “Shortbread,” particularly since by this time, I had not only singled out Apache, Second Chance and Josie, all of which sold internationally, but also a thoroughbred named Kentucky Mariner, which I had recommended to an acquaintance in Albury, as a genuine show-jumping prospect. That horse, like Apache and Second Chance before him, went on to qualify for the Olympics. Like Wayne, Randy too knocked Shortbread back.
We ended up selling the horse to a family in Terrey Hills. It was there that his potential was recognized by one of Australia’s top event riders, who purchased the horse and trained him up to a point where Shortbread too, reached Olympic standard as an eventer.
I didn’t have the ability or knowledge as a rider to have taken any of these horses to the level of competition they reached, but I do pride myself on having a bit of an eye for a jumping horse.
Too many thoroughbreds have been slaughtered because they have failed on the racetrack, yet many of them possess talents outside of racing, talents which can make these horses very valuable commodities. This is why the work currently being done by the N.S.W. Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program is so important.
I would urge any owners of a slow racehorse to contact this organization and discuss a new career path for their horse. You may be pleasantly surprised with the result.
This post was written by Tim Egan