By Darren Cartwright
They were once Stradbroke Day race rivals, but now Hopfgarten and Ecuador will team together in a nightly spectacular at the Ekka as champions of the Off-The-Track program.
The two black-type winners will take part in All The Pretty Horses Equine Experience in the Main Arena at Ekka under the command of master horseman Dave Manchon.
As a major partner of the Ekka, Racing Queensland is also behind the new twice-daily Queensland Off-The-Track showcase titled ‘Horsing Around Show’ which also features Ecuador and Hopfgarten.
The nightly spectacular's third Off-The-Track star is retired harness pacer My Shadow Strike, who raced three times at Ekka and returns to the Main Arena under the command of owner Anthony Cootes.
For Hopfgarten and Ecuador to be stage ready for the Main Arena show, they spent six weeks being schooled for the nightly spectacular.
“Being part of a show with more than 40 horses, with whip cracking, the noise of the crowd and large flags being waved is a feast for their senses,” Dave explained.
“They have both trained together for the show and have done extremely well.”
In their only race clash, Hopfgarten, who was trained by Robert Heathcote, won the Listed Wayne Wilson over 1600 metres at Eagle Farm in June 2018. It was the second Wayne Wilson for Hopfgarten who also won two Group 3 races.
Time to chill! Mel Sharpe with Hopfgarten enjoying a day at the beach
The Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained Ecuador ran ninth in the Wayne Wilson. Coincidentally, that was the penultimate career race for both.
Following his retirement in June 2018, Heathcote’s racing manager Mel Sharpe took ownership of Hopfgarten.
Ever since she crossed his path as a three-year-old, she had always wanted to care for the son of Mossman.
“When I started at Rob’s, back when he was a three-year-old, I rode work and when I jumped on him I said straight away that I wanted him when he was done,” Mel said.
“I loved his whole demeanour, the way he looked and travelled.”
Mel said she was a fan of Dave Manchon’s work and shows and had no hesitation in offering Hopfgarten for the Ekka and Queensland Off-The Track presentations.
“I had a lot of confidence in David, all his horses are always presented well and he puts on a cool show," she said.
“Hopfgarten is a versatile type and not much worries him... so when they asked, I was happy to say ‘yes’.”
Hopfgarten on his way to winning the Group 3 Gunsynd Classic at Eagle Farm
Besides winning three Listed races, Ecuador also ran a gallant second to Winx in the Group 1 Epsom Handicap over 1600 metres at Randwick.
While the All The Pretty Horses spectacular features a few dozen free-running horses, Hopfgarten and Ecuador will be ridden during the show.
Despite their extensive racing careers, they required fine-tuning under the saddle, Dave said.
“We have been teaching them in their post-racing life, so we have more body control, and can control them left and right, and control their shoulders and feet.
“Then we got them used to accepting, and getting used to, the sound and movement of a whipcrack and used to carrying a flag that waves across their eyes.”
Since retiring, Ecuador has been tried in several disciplines, including showjumping and dressage, by proud owner Bianca Argyros.
He was competent without starring unlike his time on the racetrack and is now Bianca’s pride and joy.
Bianca Argyros puts former middle-distance star Ecuador over the jumps in his post-racing career
“I don’t think I could live without him, he's my prized possession and I’m very protective over him,” an upbeat Bianca said.
“I wanted to go down the showjumping, eventing path... so we dabbled in everything.
“We've done dressage, showing, cross country and showjumping, and he took everything into his stride and performed to the best of his ability and I could not fault him. He gave his all.
“Now, we are at things like this (Ekka) to show off his career post racing.”
My Shadow Strike was already conditioned to performing on the big stage and did not need fine-tuning by Manchon.
The rising 14-year-old won eight races and was placed another 29 times through his career under renowned Brisbane harness trainer Jeff McMullen.
“Anthony owns him and is a real cowboy, and he’ll have the chaps on, and a big moustache and My Shadow Strike fits in perfectly. He looks like he’s riding through a valley,” Dave said.
Dave will talk about training methods for retired horses which includes his two stars of the turf, Hopfgarten and Ecuador, who are also duxes of his classes during the twice-daily ‘Horsing Around Show’.
It is staged at 11am and 2pm, in the Show Ring, located near Gate 4 (near the corner of Brookes St and O’Connell Tce). Thoroughbred judging will take place in Ring 1 in the Main Arena from 8am on Monday, August 8 and includes 10 categories with more than 65 entries.
Categories range from Mares 4YO and Over to Geldings Any Age, and Best Presented Horse and Handler. With Racing Queensland having presenting rights to the Champion Thoroughbred Gelding, Stallion and Mare Class and the Supreme Champion Thoroughbred Class.
Winners of each category will be announced following the judging.
Racing Queensland’s Education Team will also be promoting exciting and fulfilling career opportunities in racing in the sunshine state on Monday, August 8.
They will provide the public with opportunities to try their hand at riding a mechanised horse simulator stationed opposite Stockman’s Rest.
Are you looking to retire and rehome your racehorse? Or are you a prospective new off-the-track owner searching for a retired racehorse? Click here to connect with the QOTT Acknowledged Retrainers. Click here to find out more about all Programs offered by Queensland Off-The-Track (QOTT).