Damien Oliver celebrates on River Lad after winning the Stradbroke Handicap.
Damien Oliver celebrates on River Lad after winning the Stradbroke Handicap. AAP Images

Rockhampton galloper claims Stradbroke victory

ROCKHAMPTON'S Capricornia Yearling Sale produced its first Group 1 race winner on Saturday when the Natalie McCall-trained River Lad claimed the first prizemoney of $1million in the Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) run at Eagle Farm, Brisbane.

Ridden by champion hoop Damien Oliver and starting from barrier 15 as a $31 chance, River Lad was defiant in his fighting win over Temple of Boom.

The victory capped an amazing tale that has a distinctly Rockhampton flavour.

The River Lad story has many chapters starting in disappointment for his Childers owner-breeders, Ray and Rosemary Anderson and family of the Sarna Syndicate on Sunday, April 19, 2009.

That day at Ken McCaffrey's Capricorn Yearling Sale at the Rockhampton Showgrounds, a rather plain looking Top Echelon-Ikeymo bay yearling gelding was offered for sale.

As Lot 88 he attracted little interest and was passed in at $4000 and retained to be raced by the Sarna Syndicate.

It was to be a prophetic decision as River Lad has gone on to wins 13 races and $1,176,500 in stakes.

It is hard to believe that at his second start on February 27, 2010, River Lad finished near last in an Eidsvold Maiden when ridden by former Rocky apprentice Karla Cross.

River Lad soon atoned as former Rockhampton trainer Frank Crick bought him home to Callaghan Park to win the $123,000 Capricorn Classic (1200m) under Damian Browne on April 9, 2010.

Not all that long later River Lad was transferred to aspiring trainer Natalie McCall the daughter of Rockhampton regular, the Sunshine Coast trainer Ray McCall.

River Lad only had one other Callaghan Park appearance, winning under Jason Kropp on May 5, 2011 beating now champion show horse thoroughbred Savannah Dawn.

Interestingly, Frank Crick originally trained River Lad's grandmother River Of Destiny in Rockhampton where she won four juvenile races in the 1989-90 season.

River Lad is in some ways lucky to be with us, as Crick was sickened one day when River Of Destiny escaped while swimming behind a boat in the Fitzroy River only to emerge scaling rocks on the Quay St side.

River of Destiny went on to win Brisbane races for Bruce McLachlan and was later placed at Flemington.

When mated with Canny Lad in 1994, River Of Destiny produced Ikeymo the dam of River Lad.

Ikeymo was a virtual racetrack dud failing hopelessly under John Stephens in a Callaghan Park barrier trial on August 27, 1998 and never winning a race.

When Ikeymo mated with Top Echelon (Umatilla - Advisory) which incidentally was trained by Ray McCall, the millionaire River Lad was to be the result.

Top Echelon only raced seven times for two Brisbane wins and now stands at Oakwood Farm, Haiglea for a $4000 service fee.

Natalie McCall assisted her father in training Top Echelon at times which makes the Stradbroke win an all family affair.

Top Echelon is also the sire of Rockhampton star sprinter Our Boy Malachi who will be attempting an historic back to back Newmarket win at Callaghan Park on June 19.

The Capricornia Yearling Sales almost attained a Group I winning double on Saturday when Looks Like The Cat was a close third in the J.J. Atkins (1600m) at Eagle Farm.

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