Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Chillemi's "football team" aiming for Cleveland Bay glory

3 August 2021

218449934-4202254373156403-2750803623072869546-n.jpgBy Jordan Gerrans

As Roy Chillemi collects his 16th Cluden Park trainers’ premiership, the experienced Atherton Tablelands trainer says his “football team” is coming together nicely ahead of the 2021 Cleveland Bay Handicap.

After winning 16 of the last 20 premierships in Townsville, Chillemi’s business model and strategy as a trainer has changed over the last few years.

Chillemi’s stable is backed by Cairns Jockey Club President Tom Hedley, as he mainly focusses his attention on yearlings and two-year-olds, with Hedley’s tried horses mostly going to leading Cannon Park trainer Stephen Massingham.

The 72-year-old explains his stable like a “football team”, buying yearlings that turn into winning two-year-olds that eventually become Open Company gallopers.

One of his Cleveland Bay contenders, Grey Missile, came through that same route, raced as a two-year-old as he built through his grades.

d1ee440e-a872-4d5c-b25c-f7bcddec8cc0.jpgAnd, while Chillemi likes to use the “football team” scheme, it was limiting his opportunity to racehorses in lower Class and Benchmark races.

That is where his other Cleveland Bay hopeful, Willygood, comes into the equation – filling a void as the veteran horseman explains it.

The Reset mare did not follow that path, landing with Chillemi’s team after four career starts in Victoria and to his surprise, she has gone from a tried horse with not much form to a genuine light-weight chance in the time-honoured sprint race of North Queensland within the space of just a few months.

Leading into Saturday’s $100,000 feature over 1300 metres, Willygood has won her last four and five of her last six at Cluden Park.

“She has just improved,” Chillemi said.

“Once she got fit, she just started winning and they have been good wins.

“I am not sure what the quality has been like that she has beaten; I am not sure any of the horses she has beaten will feature in the Cleveland Bay.

“This will be a test for her the Cleveland Bay but she is a trier that likes to win, if she is good enough, she will win, but I am not sure if she is good enough, just yet.”

Of his “football team”: Oriental Girl, Love Is Blind, Higher Realm and Tennessee Boy have come through the juvenile races and will now tackle the older gallopers into the future.

Reigning Townsville 2YO Classic champion, Palencia, is the next youngster on the way up – a gelding the Hedley team turned down a $400,000 Hong Kong offer to purchase.

Respected Townsville hoop Graham Kliese rode the five-year-old mare, Willygood, in her last triumph in Weight For Age grade and thinks a Cleveland Bay win is not out of the question, with the galloper who has had just 14 career starts.

Grey Missile RETIRED 2021

3be0d9b0-40cf-4559-bfd0-39d930a9a0f0.jpg“It was a super win. If the ride comes up (in the Cleveland Bay) I’d like to ride her,” Kliese said.

“She was exceptional. I was bolting, almost touching heels and the gap just wouldn’t come. 

“If the run comes, she streets them and I’m a genius, if it doesn’t and I stay in there I’m a mug.

“She had to win that to get into the Cleveland Bay and I had to have a dig.

“I had to pull her out sideways, wait for the widest horse to go and then start up again. She just flew.”

If Willygood was to win the Cleveland Bay of 2021, she would follow a similar path of stable-mate Grey Missile.

Willygood is a lightly-raced five-year-old, with just 14 career starts to her name.

When Grey Missile won the race in 2018, he was just a three-year-old having his 18th start and like Willygood, won the WFA race as a lead-in qualifier.

Since winning the Cleveland Bay all those years ago, the grey gelding has campaigned with the Edmonds team on the Gold Coast, winning in metropolitan grade as well as running in the money on six other occasions.

Chillemi admits Grey Missile isn’t the stunning galloper he once was but still has something left in the tank.

“He is not as good as he used to be, he is just not showing the form he had because he has a few tweaks and rattles as all of us do as we get older,” Chillemi said.

“His first-up run was really good and then the last two have not been the best.

“Maybe the Cleveland Bay as a race will suit him as he will not need to be restrained, he can just go.”