By Andrew Adermann
In the spring of 2017 at Caulfield Racecourse, Damian Lane successfully steered home Cool Chap in the Ladbrokes Up For The Challenge Handicap over 1700 metres for trainers David Hayes, Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig.
Three weeks ago on January 18, the Robert Heathcote-trained Cool Chap trotted out on to Eagle Farm racecourse, more than 800 days after that Caulfield triumph – his most recent win.
The seven-year-old gelding broke his drought that day, scoring a comfortable one length win in the Roku Gin Open Handicap over 1600 metres, and backed it up two weeks later with another triumph in the OSIM Open Handicap again at Eagle Farm.
This coming Saturday, Cool Chap will be chasing an unprecedented third straight win as the $3 favourite in the $75,000 Canadian Club Open Handicap over 1600 metres at Eagle Farm.
“This preparation started back in October with a couple of cracking trials, then a super third placing first-up to stablemate Deep Image,” Heathcote said.
“Things then didn’t go quite right for him through the back end of last year but then all of a sudden, he’s hit this little purple patch of form and it’s just luck.
“Just quietly, he is absolutely loving the new Eagle Farm track as well.”
Chappy, as he is affectionately known, was first trained in Melbourne by Peter Moody, debuting at Warrnambool in May 2015 and scoring a maiden win in his second start at Mornington.
Within the year, he had been transferred to the Lee and Anthony Freedman stables, after Moody stepped away from training.
He showed promise as a young three-year-old stayer, winning the 2016 VRC St Leger at Flemington and in the following start running third in that year’s South Australian Derby.
By mid-2017 the journeyman had again found himself in a new stable after Lee Freedman’s move to Singapore, this time landing with the Hayes, Hayes and Dabernig partnership before finally making his way to Queensland with Heathcote early last year.
“He came up to me in May 2019 and I loved him from day one,” Heathcote said.
“A change of environment for horses can sometimes pick them up, particularly when they are getting a little older, and look what it’s done.
“I love these older horses and you just have to find that secret to them, and for Cool Chap it’s just to not do a lot with him and save it for his races.
“He is just a lovely, lovely horse; he’s given his owners a wonderful journey and that journey, whilst it has been a little frustrating, he’s still won over $800,000 in prize money and given them a lot of fun.”
Like Heathcote, Cool Chap’s group of loyal owners never doubted their horse’s ability and despite a near three-year luckless period, they stuck true with their boy knowing success wasn’t too far away.
“They call him the bridesmaid, a bit like Tom Melbourne in that he loves coming second,” part-owner Theresa Cross said.
“We had a bit of trouble early with jockeys not riding him the way he probably would’ve liked but I think we’re starting to see now when the jockey gets it right and doesn’t get too eager on him, he’s going to win.
“During that drought of wins, we thought at certain points that maybe he was done and just didn’t want to do it anymore.
“And that was fine with us, he’s given us so much fun and if he didn’t want to do it anymore then that was okay.
“He’s very cocky now, he seems very happy with himself at the moment.”
The decision to send the horse north proved to be a catalyst for success, and the Heathcote stable was the obvious landing spot.
“We wanted to bring him up to Queensland to have a shot at the 2019 Winter Carnival, and I had a few horses with Rob (Heathcote) already so that was an easy decision to make,” Cross said.
“Rob is a great trainer, he never pushes his horses and is always looking after their wellbeing, especially with Cool Chap now being a little older.
“It’s been amazing for us being Brisbane-based having Chappy up here in Queensland, that win in the Roku Gin Handicap was the first time we’d ever seen him win in person.”
The Cross-family’s share in Chappy was Theresa’s present for her husband’s 40th birthday, and despite international buyer interest, she says that she wouldn’t trade him for the world.
“After he won the St Ledger, we got a few offers from Hong Kong that got as high as $1.5 million,” she said.
“Everyone kept saying to us that we have to take that price, but with that money you’re going to just buy another horse anyways so why would we sell?
“We love him too much, he’s just too important to us and we do it because he love the horse and do it with friends – it’s not about the money for us.
“We go and see Chappy every week and feed him some carrots, and Rob lets us come and go as we please.
“We love seeing him as much as we can and he loves seeing us, he just cuddles right into you and is just a lovely boy – he is genuinely a part of our family.”
While his racing days aren’t quite over yet, you can be rest assured that Cool Chap will be well looked after in retirement.
“In 23 years, I can confidently and proudly say that we’ve re-homed every single horse that has come through our stable,” Heathcote said.
“We absolutely love our animals and always ensure that they get well homed post-racing.”