Tornado Valley and Kate Gath are well clear on night 1 of the Inters, last Saturday night.
Tornado Valley could easily be an Inter Dominion trotting champion by Christmas.
Even if he doesn’t win the final next week, the Skyvalley gelding has been the best trotter in Australia since winning the Grand Prix at Melton in March.
When the seven-year-old won on the first night of the Inter Dominions, it was his 16th win from his last 18 starts in Australia, and he has won over $230,000 in the last nine months.
One would assume this would be all good for his breeders in Richmond hairdresser Petina or Tina Gaugler and Ashburton horseman Terry McMillan, who raced Tornado Valley for seven wins and numerous placings and stakes worth $71,000 before selling him to Norm Jenkin and the Gath stable.
But not exactly, because neither Gaugler or McMillan have a filly from the immediate family outside of his dam in Begin, and she has been notoriously difficult to get in foal over the years.
The now 16-year-old daughter of Sundon has only produced two colt foals since Tornado Valley proved her first and Begin was the only filly foal they got from her dam in the Lordship mare Bega.
“She was actually an open class trotter in the making and I thought her foals were going to be my retirement fund.”
The two colt foals are a four-year-old son of Monkey Bones in Iron Eagle and a three-year-old by Majestic Son called Steel Dust, both of which are expected at the workouts in coming weeks.
McMillan has an awful lot of time for Steel Dust in particular, describing him “as the best looking horse you’ll ever see”.
“No one has ever been able to explain why Begin has been so difficult to get in foal,” said McMillan.
“She was actually an open class trotter in the making and I thought her foals were going to be my retirement fund.
“She kept coming up empty again last season but I said to Mike (Heenan at Trouble Lodge) give her one more go, and she finally got in foal to Creatine after being served the day before he went back to America.
“She’s due around Christmas and a filly would be a very nice present.
“That will be my foal and a filly would probably be worth more than a colt, so I might look at running one through the yearling sales, since I’m getting too old to be breeding for much longer.
“It would be good if someone else got the chance to carry on with the breed.”
McMillan had thought he was on to something when Gaugler bred Begin and gave him a half share to train.
Bega was from Gaugler’s NZ Trotting Stakes winner Chesapeake and she had produced foals and winners by the likes of Pernod Eden, Grant Our Wishes and Straphanger before producing her first foal by Sundon.
“I figured we’d be in business with a Sundon from that breed. You wouldn’t read about it though – for a long time Begin couldn’t trot a yard,” said McMillan.
“She would pace everywhere even when she was walking, and later even when she was racing as a trotter she would pace around before the start.
“I qualified her as a pacer as a three-year-old and gave her one race, but she wasn’t a nice pacer.
“Not long after that I thought to myself – I think you’re about ready to trot.
“So I took her to the Ashburton track one day in the same shoes but without the hopples.
“I just took the overcheck off and let her go, and she trotted a half in three – that was the first time she ever trotted for me.
“She would have been an open class trotter, but you could never get her away from the barrier, because she would always pace away.
“She might have only won two races, but look them up and you’ll see what I mean.”
Sure enough when Begin won races at Washdyke and Addington within three months, she was away very slowly and looped the field to win very easily.
On the second occasion she came off the unruly mark on 20m to upset the hot favourite With Intent, although Denis Nyhan was very crafty and skilful in running a lot of seconds with that fine mare.
Begin would win further trials beating the likes of Speculate and Our Sunny Whiz, the latter occasion after McMillan had sent her north to Michelle Wallis for more mobiles.
And she would have the odd placing to the likes of The Fat Controller and Doctor Mickey, but up in the classes a bit one couldn’t afford to be giving them big head starts.
Towards the end of her career, Begin was tried to no avail by Murray Pash, who had married Gaugler’s sister.
Two wins from 56 attempts over four seasons was hardly the record of a good horse, but Begin clearly had a lot of ability, and there were no surprises when her first foal turned out to be a good one.
“Tornado Valley was a lightly-framed horse and I always said his best seasons would be at six, seven and eight.
“He was born to race a mile-and-a-half and less and when a horse starts winning, they tend to get big and bold.”
All of which just makes Begin’s record on the track and now at stud – just three foals during eight seasons and no fillies to date – all the more frustrating.
All this began back in the 60s when Gaugler’s father, Noel Berkett, trained a mare called Royal Smoke and acquired her for breeding.
She only produced four foals during a lifetime at stud – colts by Court Martial in Mingo (unraced but used lightly at stud) and Pacific Hanover in Sleepy Hollow (3 wins), and fillies by Good Point and Individual.
The latter one was no good but the Good Point one was Susquehanna, who was also much better than her two wins suggest.
Not a lot is known about Good Point, a son of Good Time and a trotting-bred mare who produced 16 winners, five of them trotters.
Susquehanna was one of those trotters when she was meant to pace.
“She should have won the Trotting Stakes, but she got locked away on the fence and never saw daylight because there was no passing lane in those days,” recalled Gaugler.
“In her next race at Addington, she easily beat pretty much the same field.
“She was owned by Noel and my husband Don (better known as Charlie), but I borrowed her in her second season at stud, and bred her to Game Pride to get Chesapeake.
“My husband once lived on the Susquehanna river in Pennsylvania and that flows into Chesapeake Bay.”
Chesapeake was a good filly and romped away with the Trotting Stakes in 1982, giving Berkett his last big race success before being forced into retirement as a driver at the age of 65.
Much later when that rule was removed, Berkett returned briefly in 1996 to drive a daughter of Chesapeake in Grand Jete to win a race at Gaugler’s local Nelson meeting.
“That was a really memorable occasion – lots of people lined the fence to cheer Noel home.
“Chesapeake was a good mare and she was just getting going when she fractured a sesamoid and that was the end of that.”
The Gauglers didn’t have much money to play with at this point and entered into a foal-for-foal arrangement with Globe Lodge when Chesapeake went to stud.
In this way a good trotting mare was bred to pacing sires in Lordship, Stortford Lodge and Dancing Master and produced a run of fillies which included Bega and Grand Jete.
Likewise when Bega went to stud, she was on loan to other parties when producing the winning fillies Hershey, Hanginthere and Strapon, who all wound up in Australia.
Strapon produced a good filly in Barefoot Sally (12 wins, $108,000), who won a mile race at Menangle last month in 1.56.9.
Gaugler then bred the Sundon filly Begin and the colt Dante’s Peak, who had to be put down as a yearling after badly damaging a leg.
Two more foals were bred from Bega while on loan, with McMillan breeding Desert Blue, a one-win trotter who was also unsound.
So that is how Tornado Valley came to be.
He might have come from Ashburton and now be an Australian, but his background and history very much lies around Richmond, near Nelson.