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Charged up after Queensland Off-The-Track Cup

2 February 2024

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By Andrew Smith

The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but someone forgot to tell that to retired racehorse Charged.

Back in his racing days, the gelding had 18 career starts at tracks across the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Nanango, Dalby and Goondiwindi.

It was in the hometown of the great Gunsynd where Charged posted his only win in August 2008, trained by local horseman John Byrne.

Retirement from racing followed just over a month later, but the chestnut galloper’s career was only just beginning.

A little over 15 years later, the now 20-year-old is excelling in the showjumping arena.

Competing as Simply Red Charged, he finished as runner-up in the inaugural Queensland Off-The-Track Cup as part of the 2024 Magic Millions Polo and Showjumping Day last month.

The new showjumping class at 90cm was open to all off-the-track thoroughbreds and their riders who are broadly involved in the industry, and was designed to create an incentive and competition pathway for thoroughbred equestrian enthusiasts.

The horse they call “Red” around the stables is owned by the Wozniak family, and it was 18-year-old Bella that was on board for the remarkable second place.

“I did the Ekka a little while ago and the nerves hit you when you’re riding, but not like that they did that day,” Bella said.

“I don’t know why, I’ve done bigger tracks than the 90cm…but I think just the amount of people there and everyone watching, my whole family and partner were there - everyone’s hyping me up and money’s on the line.

“I think our first round was really a shock, I don’t know why but he’s absolutely capable of it and I think going into the second round the nerves hit me even more going around again.

“Coming up to the second last jump, he slowed down and you could hear everyone on the sideline cheering - we got to the last jump and I was patting him, he did so well.

“We took some quick turns that I’ve never taken before and he just felt on fire that day.”

Following qualifying events in Toowoomba in November and in Sydney in December, 15 finalists battled it out for a $50,000 prize pool on the Gold Coast.

It was 2008 Beijing Olympian Peter McMahon who took the spoils on the day, claiming first place on Immortalis (competing as Royal Talisman) by 1.12 seconds over Bella and Simply Red Charged.

In a field that also included the King’s niece and former Olympian Zara Tindall MBE, Bella said she hadn’t been intimidated by her opponents.

Bella Wozniak and Simply Red Charged at the QOTT Cup.

“It’s always a competition no matter where you go, there’s always going to be that bigger and better horse, but you’ve just to go out there and try your hardest,” she said.

“I personally don’t go out there for the money - I go out there because I love doing what I do and it’s the same with Red, he loves doing what he does.

“I’m pretty much a passenger a lot of the time so his speed reflects him, and it’s nothing to do with me so getting into the top five finalists, it did shock me quite a bit.

“I honestly was happy with fifth and when we got second - it was pretty exciting and exhilarating.

“That’s why I feel like it was such a shock to me that I did get second because there were so many big names out there.”

For Bella’s mum Belinda, the result did not come as much of a surprise after consistent top three finishes for Red at showjumping events across the state throughout the past six years.

He had enjoyed placings in competitions on the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Larapinta, Gatton, and even all the way up to the Far North in Cairns and Tully.

Bella and the gelding out of Legal Opinion/Secret Dancer had also placed a gallant sixth in the Queensland Off-The-Track Program Showcase at the Ekka in August 2023.

It was the first edition of the QOTT Cup that provided an opportunity for Red and Bella to really show off their competitive streak on the big stage.

“I’m not going to lie, I was expecting that she would do really well - he’s been an amazing horse for us, he’s never ever not come home without a ribbon so I was expecting she would get in the top five,” Belinda said.

“Unbeknownst to Bella, I actually entered her without her knowing and we went up to Pittsworth for the qualifying - I basically just threw her into it so we were pretty excited as a family to see her succeed and bring home second prize.

“It’s the most amazing experience, to be on that stage - I just think it’s the most phenomenal opportunity for off-the-track horses to have the opportunity to have a life doing something else.

“I think with big prize money and stages like that, it’s definitely a place that you want to showcase your horse so I think it’s fabulous opportunity for horses that are coming off the track to get out there and find their home.”

Bella and Belinda with Red at Willow Vale.

Based on a property in Willow Vale, the Wozniak family had been searching for months for their next horse for Bella to ride.

The search proved fruitless for a while until a Facebook post in October 2020 about Red from a friend caught Belinda’s attention, and she made the trek with her daughter to Glen Haven Park in Kilcoy.

“We had a criteria that I was following - Red was definitely not that,” Belinda said.

“The criteria that we thought was everything we wanted…it turned out to be not what we wanted at all, because he’s our dream horse.

“He was older at the time and I was concerned we wouldn’t be able to get that longevity out of him…but Bella rode him and within the first 10 minutes we knew that was the horse.

“I said to the owner Damian, ‘can we just have an hour, we’re going to go home and discuss this’ and we didn’t even make it home, we both looked at each other and said ‘that’s it, that’s the horse.’

“He’s been absolutely amazing for Bella, he’s given her so much opportunity, he’s been so brave…he’s given her the confidence and experience now to train other horses and other off-the-track horses.”

It didn’t take long for Bella and Red to strike up a connection, making their debut together at a show in Toowoomba in late 2020.

“I think I put him in a 70 or 80cm class and it felt like I was riding a rocket,” Bella said.

“There was not much control, he sort of took the lead and off he went and I think we placed fourth in every single class.

“Through the years we’ve progressed up and I think my biggest class with him was a 125cm and he’s just absolutely capable of whatever you put him to - he’s so honest, so brave and he really is a one in a million.

“On his back, he’s just the most honest horse you can’t put him anything past him - he’s really got that go in him and I’ve even taught him tricks as a 20-year-old, he really loves to learn as well.”

Bella and Simply Red Charged after finishing second at the QOTT Cup.

The Wozniaks have five horses in their care.

Belinda can attest to Red’s young-at-heart nature and eagerness to learn.

“Red doesn’t know he’s 20, he thinks he’s a seven-year-old – he goes out there and as soon as that bell rings, his V8 engine just switches on,” Belinda said.

“His energy levels would be equivalent to a seven-year-old, he’s got the most perfect round manners, and he’s absolutely beautiful in the saddle, he’s safe as houses.

“I can take him out trail riding and go swimming with him and he looks after me, and then Bella rides him and as soon as he sees a jump he turns into beast mode so he’s just so versatile really, he’s an all-rounder.”

The family says Red will let them know when it’s time to retire from showjumping, but there’s no plans for that any time soon.

As for Bella, she has one eye on following her heroes and competing in the equestrian at the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.

While that won’t be with Red, the youngster is keen to continue making the most of the Queensland Off-The-Track Program to help transition thoroughbreds into retirement.

“Red is not going anywhere, absolutely not - we will keep him until his last day,” Bella said.

“I’ve retrained thoroughbreds before so definitely look at maybe getting another one in the future, but for now he’s my main man.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to have classes like the Subsidised Lessons Program and people dedicating these classes to these horses, they are so special.

“I believe every horse off the track should have a chance to showcase what they can do and I feel like the Queensland Off-The-Track gives them that opportunity.”

Bella and Simply Red Charged at the QOTT Cup presentation ceremony.