By Duane Ranger
Spare a thought for Peter and Chantal McMullen, who were forced to ride an emotional rollercoaster last week, when they should have been enjoying some deserved down-time.
The couple and their daughters, Rylee and Olivia, were spending a few days on the Gold Coast celebrating Chantal’s 28th birthday.
That was Wednesday December 4. The following night their Patrick Estate Stables, comprising 50 horses, were being threatened by the bush fires.
Then one of those horses – Mattgregor – won the only Group race of the weekend – the Group Three 2019 Be Good Johnny Sprint – at Albion Park.
“The fire would have only been a few metres from their property and the horses. We all rallied around to help and thankfully got them out in time,” said Tony Turpin, Chantal’s father.
All 50 standardbreds and the girls’ ponies were relocated to nearby Cold Mountain Stud, but all three of their runners were scratched from Friday’s meeting at Albion Park.
“It was a bit frightening. The fire came right to the edge of our footpath. The last thing we could do was race our team on Friday. Our neighbour across from us lost a huge amount of acreage, as well as his shed, but the good thing was that fire fighters managed to save his house.
“The Fire Fighters have been great. They have saved a lot of lives and property. There’s still a lot of firemen and women going up and down the street now. They seem to be always here. They have been wonderful, and so have all our friends,” Chantal McMullen said.
“The horses were all checked and were back home by today (Sunday),” she added.
By the time her husband had rushed the 90 minutes back to Turpin McMullen Racing Stables at Patrick Estate a big support group of horsemen, women and friends had rallied around to help.
These included Turpin and his wife Karen, John McMullen, Hayden Barnes, Craig and Donna McKinnis, Lachie Manzelmann, Reece Maguire, Brian McCall, Dan Russell, and Jason Carkeet.
McMullen (Chantal) cut the ‘Gold Coast get-away’ short and followed her husband home soon after. That’s when the harness racing karma started to kick-in.
The $3 favourite punters thought Mattgregor was a bright hope from barrier one in the big race, but many didn’t realise the ordeal that the 7-year-old gelding endured leading into that 1,660m Be Good Johnny Mobile Sprint.
Despite everything, driver McMullen (Peter) felt the son of Rob Roy Mattgregor, was strong enough to go close.
“He didn’t seem to be affected by the fire, even though they would have all been affected by smoke inhalation in some form. They were all very lucky. There was a lot of land around us burning and it would only have taken a wind direction for things to get a lot worse.
“We were lucky we had fire fighters and a great bunch of friends to help out,” McMullen (Peter) said.
He said Mattgregor was the one he first went to when looking to keep the horses safe.
“He’s our family favourite and stable star. He’s placed in a couple of Group races from bad draws before, but this was his first win. We are rapt – considering everything we have all been through,” he said.
McMullen rushed Mattgregor out of the gate from barrier one and from that point then led all the way, even though he was attacked throughout.
The brown gelding then paced the 1,660m mobile in 1:56 even with a 1:52.5 mile rate. His sectionals were 27.2, 28.9, 27.3, and 29.3.
Mattgregor had a head and 2.6 metres to spare over place-getters, Dream To Share (8) and Mach Alert (10). He has now won 18 of his 50 starts and placed in 18 others for $181,621 in stakes.
Meanwhile, the other highlights of the evening came via three Darrell Alexander Memorial Trotting heats.
McMullen also drove the Wayne Graham trained Empire Bay to win the first heat.
“He travelled well tonight after he caught them up from his 30m handicap. He should be tough to beat in the Group One Final in a fortnight,” McMullen said.
McMullen’s wife Chantal ironically also trained and drove Is Somethingburning in race eight, but they finished 11th.
The other two Alexander heats were won by the $2.40 Hayden Barnes trained favourite, Gee Up Neddy in heat two; and the Grant Dixon trained and Paul Diebert driven $3.90 second favourite Reign On Me in the third heat.
Another feature was the Dixon trained and driven Governor Jujon winning the $21,000 APHRC Members Cup.
The Cammibest 3-year-old colt pounced from the trail to beat his stablemate, Virgil by 1.3 metres with a 1:58.5 mile rate.
Governor Jujon has now won six of his seven starts, and placed in one other ($123,275) for his owner, Dr John Mammino.