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In the racing industry bloodlines say it all

By Tony McMahon

Mind you, though, it is not just the domain of the thoroughbred as family ties run just as deep in the veins of their handlers better known as strappers.

Presently, Rockhampton racing has its own dynasty in that regard through mother and grandmother, Melinda Morris, daughters Ashleigh, 31, and Jess Ladbrook, 34, and the latter’s son Will, 16.

The commonality they share as strappers for a number of Rockhampton trainers is ‘the love of the horse.’

While publicly the exhilaration and euphoria created by winning a race centres around the trainer, jockey and owners, the bond that strappers develop with ‘their’ horses is priceless.

Afterall, they are the virtual carers of the horse who attend to their every need in the routine that thoroughbreds undergo daily.

As the Poms would have it ‘it’s not all beer and skittles’ rather the reverse - hard physical work all outweighed by devotion.

Think about it as the strapper feeds them, leads them, makes their stable beds, washes them and grooms them and in countless cases pays more attention to their horses than themselves.

To the loving strapper the horses are akin to their children and seriously they treat them accordingly.

Matriarch of family Melinda Morris has been the ‘right hand lady’ around the Callaghan Park stables of trainer Lyle Rowe for about 13 years.

Melinda divulged she had been around horses all her life but being a gentleman or to be more precise through fear of offence, I dared not asked her age.

“I was riding a horse before I could walk. My dad Ray was a champion Rodeo Cowboy and Camp drafter who actually rode before the Queen at a Royal Sydney Show”, Melinda proudly said.

However, mention the name Cannyclimb and Melinda’s smile lengthens just as the chestnut’s stride did the day he won the Rockhampton Cup in 2011.

“Yes, Monty (Cannyclimb) was a favourite. I’ll always remember that day,” she said.

Melinda’s maternal instincts came to the fore when she added ‘both the girls Jess and Poss (Ashleigh) have strapped and led-in Rockhampton Cup winners as well.’

So they did as the following year in 2012, Ashleigh was over the moon and resplendent when Ernie (sorry I meant Writer) provided her with a Rocky Cup winner as well.

Jess Ladbrook, the partner of Callaghan Park trainer Jamie McConachy didn’t have to wait much longer either to bring about the Cup treble as Fred gave her that lasting memory in 2014.

Silly me, all strappers refer to their horses by stable names with Fred being Vandalised and naturally he remains one of Jess’ favourites.

“I loved Fred. You become so attached to the horses virtually sharing their lives and they provide us (strappers) with so much enjoyment.

Reggie is another favourite. To devote so much time to him and have him win three consecutive races after he hadn’t won for almost two years was so fulfilling. It is not just all about the winning horses, I love them all,” she said.

Reggie if you are wondering just as I was is Friendly Dragon.

Latest member of the family joining the ranks is Jess’ son Will Johnston, who has been strapping horses and working around stables for about two years.

While young Will hasn’t tasted Cup glory yet he has led in his share of winners with the first being one under mum’s care at the time in No Finer Jet.

Pop the question as to why strap horses and muck out their stables and Will’s answer is the same – “I just love being around the horses.”

So much so it seems Will, son of former champion local apprentice jockey and now trainer Darryl Johnston, is taking it to the next level.

 “I am just about ready to start riding trackwork for Dad,” Will said but come race day you can bet he’ll still be strapping and as they say in racing parlance ‘leading them in.’

Winners we hope, Will.