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Dick Roden: A global all rounder - Queensland History of Racing

Queensland History of Racing

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Dick Roden: A global all rounder

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The central Queenslander's life (November 8, 1925 to August 21, 1991) was a complete journey. He rode, owned, cared for, trained, backed, selected, bought, sold and loved bloodstock.

Courtesy of his father Bill's occupation, Dick Roden's foundation blocks in Mackay were set in a veterinary-come-racing environment.

"Our grandfather Henry James Roden taught Dick to ride. He had a property called Boonie Doon between Capella and Clermont and when my brother (Dick) was little he used to go out there and watch all the horses," recalled Veronica Taylor.

"He went to Gatton College as a teenager but he got sick towards the end there. He also did a lot of amateur riding."

Dick was an all round star sportsman with pursuits in football, cricket, athletics and boxing and that versatility was to be replicated in the thoroughbred world.

At 21, Roden had a job as a racing steward at Rockhampton. There he met his future wife Elaine Frawley. Her father Nieve was on the same panel and he was to rise to be the chief stipe for the Queensland Turf Club in Brisbane.

In 1965 the pair were to sit opposite each other in a crucial situation.Dick Roden and his wife Elaine

Roden did not relish the role as a patrolman and George Moore, his Mackay childhood mate and show ring rival, helped him get a trackwork gig in Sydney with Jack Green at Victoria Park. Work in the menswear department at David Jones provided some vital cash but that initial southern stint lasted only a matter of months.

Soon after in 1949, Dick decided to train and the base for his difficult, opening stand was in Toowoomba.

Falcon Man, at Eagle Farm, was his first winner.

Gresford became the "shingle maker" when Dick, Elaine and their highly talented apprentice David Hetherington shifted to Brisbane. After landing a 66/1 to 6/1 betting move the speedster then flopped on a heavy track and entered history as the first beaten contender to be swabbed by stewards.

Gresford's owner took umbrage at such a move and bailed out. The Rodens scraped together a 1000 pound down payment to keep the galloper in their string. At the horse's next start at Doomben on firm going the cash flowed on cue with the odds tumbling from 33/1 to the quaint call of "no betting". The plunge was landed.

Then Gresford again broke new ground by being the first horse to travel interstate by air from Queensland. Dick was backing his judgement. When he accompanied Hetherington for the lad's fifth placing on Royal Radiant (50/1) in the 1953 Melbourne Cup, he saw the Moonee Valley track, felt his sprinter would be suited and organised a sortie.

Two runs on the saucer course with Hetherington aboard resulted in wins by 12 and eight lengths and two betting coups came off.

Then back on home soil the 1954 QTC Lightning was added to Gresford's income column.

In the 1954/55 season the stable's star two-year-old New Joy had seven Brisbane starts for five victories, an unfortunate second and a grand third in open company.

In 1957 the Newtown Wonder filly was runner-up to Teranyan (G. Moore) in the Doomben 10,000, the race her stablemate El Khobar had collected the previous year whilst still eligible for restricted class.

That 1956 success in the Brisbane feature had been remarkable. The three-year-old had scored by 10 panels in Encourage class at Eagle Farm but was considered harshly handicapped at just seven pounds under weight for age in the 10,000. He drew the extreme outside in the 25 horse field but still ran a mere tick outside the record.

The Gabador entire, along with the future dual Derby winner Monte Carlo, had both been targets of Roden at New Zealand yearling sales during the era when Australian currency regulations placed a quota on spending. Dick wanted to buy them but had reached the allowable 6000 guineas limit.

Luckily Roden eventually got to train El Khobar. Illness had limited his juvenile season to two unconquered Auckland assignments.

Owner Wolff Fisher sent the bay with a growing reputation over to Roden for a go at the Brisbane Carnival.

El Khobar also saluted in the QTC Ascot Handicap in August 1956 and then accounted for the high class Syntax in the AJC Warwick Stakes before repeating the dose in a special match race against the weight-for-age star over eight and a half furlongs at Canterbury.

His nine start Australasian program netted seven wins and two placings and the USA became the next hunting ground. He scored there three times and also set a Santa Anita track record. He was an American stud hit with 12 of his first crop of 14 finding the winner's circle.

Importantly Roden had handled a horse capable at an international standard. No doubt for future reference he mentally noted the qualities required. Another overseas association was developed with Stanley Wootton of Star Kingdom fame.

Although Roden reached the top level of Brisbane trainers on the money table he copped the tip from a fellow Queenslander, namely jockey Neville Sellwood, that Sydney offered better returns. During his student days Dick had met Neville during catch ups with George Moore when he was indentured to Brisbane's Jim Shean.

The resultant move by Roden, after a handful or so years as a trainer, to buy Dan Lewis's Randwick set-up was linked to an uncanny omen in that the stables had already housed the winners of five Sydney Cups and a Melbourne Cup.

Halfway through his career as a conditioner, the Rockhampton born Roden, at age 34, prepared Macdougal in 1959 for an extraordinary treble with the gelding securing the Brisbane Cup, AJC Metropolitan and the Melbourne Cup. (See last month's Tales of the Past)

Other feature winners that carried the Roden polish included Kev Mar (1953 Queensland Guineas, 1954 AJC Villiers), French Charm (1955 Moonee Valley Stakes, 1956 Theo Marks Quality), Baron Boissier (1957 Hotham Handicap, Colin Stephens Stakes, 1958 Alister Clark Stakes), Mac's Amber (1957 Toorak Handicap, Chipping Norton Stakes, Alister Clark Stakes), Raajpoot (1961 Queensland Derby-Queensland Cup double) and Hoa Hine (1962 QTC Oaks).

Roden came to a pivotal point when a client brought Stan Fox to visit his Midstream Lodge stables. The mining magnate was looking for an interest for his wife Millie and the upshot was that Dick purchased a few yearlings to prepare for them in 1965.

He also paid 1750 guineas for a Wilkes colt that was closely related to the triple Derby winner Royal Sovereign. The Rodens named their hopeful Nebo Road after Dick's childhood address near Mackay's racetrack.

Later Fox wanted to expand his involvement exponentially and challenge the supremacy of trainer T.J. Smith. Roden turned down the chance to head a massive string because he strongly preferred to keep his operation a hands-on affair.

Brian Mayfield-Smith, a north Queenslander, did accept the role and broke Smith's 33-year reign in 1986.

In August 1965, the Rodens put a lot at stake by backing their failed Winter Carnival hopeful Gabadan at Eagle Farm. Gabador's son was first home but lost out at a protest hearing chaired by Nieve Frawley. The circumstances of Colin O'Neill's ride was such that he was sentenced to a lengthy term on the sidelines.

The financial fallout for the Rodens saw them sell Nebo Road to the Fox's whose babies had not made it as spring prospects.

For the 1965 Breeder's Plate Roden legged George Moore up on their new buy.

The team triumphed, but with Moore in England in 1967 (saluting in the Epsom Derby on Royal Place) Athol Mulley was in the driver's seat when the major laurels were awarded to Nebo Road in the VRC Newmarket.

The final phase to Roden's tenure as a licensee was blazing, exciting and lucrative.

Dick had won the 1967 Canterbury Guineas for Stan and Millie Fox with Honeyland.

In 1968 he went to the New Zealand sales with Tom Whittle who was keen to pick up the bay's full brother. Alas they were underbidders but on the return flight Whittle happened to sit next to Felipe Ysmael who had made the final bid.

Whittle mentioned that his trainer thought the Alcimedes-Beehive yearling, that was a Trelawney Stud product like Macdougal, would win a Derby. Bingo! The Filipino businessman arranged for his new colt to join Dick's side in Sydney along with some of his Melbourne contingent.

Two members of that squad, namely Tereus and Silver Strike, landed massive betting plunges for the combination and Roden's ability to provide the goods on a nominated day was again to the fore.

However after a productive period Ysmael was disqualified in a running and handling case involving Follow Me in late 1968 and he sold Divide and Rule to the Rodens.

The colt had been out of a place twice at two and, after the sale, was gelded after a third failure.

Dick suffered a breakdown, had a rest from training and Neville Begg took over the conditioning of Divide and Rule. Under his watch and in the presence of Dick and Elaine, the three-year-old thrashed Gallicus and Mighty Concorde by five lengths in the 1969 AJC Derby. The effort was a class act and his partner Darby McCarthy completed the day's top double when Broker's Tip prevailed under him in the AJC Epsom.

After disappointing in Melbourne, Divide and Rule was spelled and then slowly brought back but not with staying goals. Again under Roden's tutelage the versatile galloper had three autumn sprints with one eye-catching burst helping him scoop up the prize over a mere five and half furlongs at Rosehill.

A home state touch still existed down there.

Cheyenne, one of George Moore's ponies, was used to settle Divide and Rule down and jockey Bill Camer who hailed from the Burdekin River was bonding with the horse at the track and in competition.

The aim was to hit the bull's eye in Brisbane's winter of 1970.

Calamity called in as the horse was boarding the plane in Sydney. Divide and Rule hit his head and, post arrival in Brisbane, vet Fred Manahan did a lot of deft stitching. The prime fancy naturally missed work and the press surmised that a victory would be beyond him.

But only one reporter actually spoke to the trainer directly and, after the final Thursday gallop, Roden was again confident and told the Sydney writer Jack Ward that his horse "would run the race of his life".

Divide and Rule, although asked to set as a new weight carrying mark at 56 kilograms for three-year-olds, was supported nationwide from 10/1 to 5/1.

The 1970 Stradbroke Day racegoers witnessed a scintillating turn of foot as the Derby winner beat the Irish bred mare Gypsy Moss and the grey marvel Black Onyx in track record time.

The unplaced brigade included four Stradbroke winners in Cabochon, Mister Hush, Prince Medes and Rajah Sahib as well as Broker's Tip. The career bags of his superb opponents also glittered with Doomben 10,000, Epsom, Doncaster, Cox Plate, Caulfield Guineas, Oakleigh Plate, and Newmarket trophies.

A figure approaching a million dollars was reportedly the overall betting windfall. Others suggest it was much higher. Given the lead-up drama some media outlets were nonplussed about the superlative form shown by the heavily backed commodity and some may have rued the fact that they did not interview the master conditioner pre-race in person.

Gypsy Moss, with a five pound weight pull on their Stradbroke handicaps, accounted for Divide and Rule (59kg) in the Tattersall's Cup but it was an all round rout (as even money favourite) come Doomben Cup day despite the 57 kilogram impost.

The victory, again with Camer up, over Rajah Sahib and Shorengro was slashing as was the betting plonk and this time the tally included investments in the Stradbroke-Doomben Cup doubles.

The Rodens picked up a six figure sum by leasing their star to American interests. Stateside the Alcimedes gelding collected US$70,000 in purses, taking on gallopers of the calibre of Ack Ack and Fort Marcy. To boot during that period Broker's Tip, Always There and particularly Daryl's Joy were waving the Australian flag.

Soon after Roden retired from training and used his expertise in the bloodstock business.

He played a key role for the Gold Coast-based Thoroughbred International, a Brian Maher-led enterprise that had Queen's Road, Shannara, Sharp Edge and Raffindale among its assets. Roden was particularly involved with the promising, but ill-fated, sire Adraan.

Although sons Richard and Daniel did not follow through into racing, Roden's nephew Tim Taylor has with shares in Consular and the 2009 Blue Diamond winner Reward for Effort.

Tributes expressed after Dick Roden's passing at age 65 focussed on his warmth, his quiet, modest and gentlemanly nature. The man who was suited to any company had always stayed silent about his contribution to charity.

"Dick wasn't a punter in the gambling sense. He only ever backed his own horses," said Veronica Taylor's son Tim.

As a schoolchild Roden had seen his father have a five pound lash on Peter Pan, Darby Munro's mount in the 1934 Melbourne Cup. The flaxen chestnut was a 14/1 chance and the payout must have seemed like a fortune for a nine-year-old while the atmosphere in the Mackay betting joint would have been indelibly exhilarating.

More than 50 years later he told journalist David Corser that that was when he started dreaming of training a Melbourne Cup winner.

When Roden's great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland, fellow passengers included the Danbars, the family that was to race Peter Pan. Moreover Dick and Elaine became great friends with Darby Munro as he was their initial Sydney landlord!

While there is tint of destiny in some of the happenings in the life of the 2005 Queensland Racing Hall of Fame inductee, fate alone does not yield the richness of the crop that Dick Roden sowed.

His deeply rooted experience, energy and basic principles brought many lofty plans to fruition.

Article by Ross Stanley

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