Home Hill News

An Ugly Duckling named ‘Namdrae’

Namdrae winning a 1000 metre event on the Cluden track in Townsville

By Ricky Gudge

HORSE racing stories, which have been disseminated over the years, are a common subject amongst even the most apathetic of people – owners, trainers, jockeys and patrons who all have their favourites.

This story is one of the best of mine and to the best of my knowledge and from what I have been informed, Home Hill has only ever had one Townsville Cup winner.

For those of you who do not understand the significance of winning this race, I would like to tell you that the Townsville Cup would stand as one of the most prestigious races in Queensland, outside of the Brisbane area.

In 1971, Humphrey Heatley bred a foal by the stallion, Sampan on Byrne Valley station.

He was broken in by a bloke named Roy Dennis, the son of a good friend of George Eardman, who originally hailed from Ravenswood and worked for Humphrey.

The foal showed very limited ability, in fact it was flat out picking his feet up and would constantly trip on a clump of grass.

Disillusioned, Humphrey sold the horse to George, who then syndicated the ownership between himself, Lenny Piva and Tom Bonke.

They needed a name for the horse (remember George’s last name – Eardman) and they decided to reverse those letters resulting in its registration as Namdrae.

Even under the experienced eye of one of North Queensland’s top trainers, Gilbert Bow, to say that Namdrae had developed into a physical specimen would have been a gross over statement – he was small in stature and had the look of a brumby.

He certainly did not set the track alight and after a few preparations, he had not even won his maiden, with more money going out then what was coming in.

Tom Bonke decided he wanted out of this donkey. Peter Tapiolas, a well-known horse trainer from Home Hill, took on Tom’s share and began the training of Namdrae.

Even with the wealth of experience Peter had, he never would have expected what was about to unfold.

Namdrae took to the open-style stabling by the lily-padded lagoons on the Tapiolas farm like a duck to water.

Namdrae had very little early pace, so Peter, with the riding skills of one of North Queensland’s best jockeys, Billy Cullen, decided to ride him as cold as a mother-in-law’s kiss and it was then that Peter realised he may have discovered the secret to this nag…

this horse, that was flat out walking in a straight line, won six straight under Peter’s guidance.

The north’s racing carnival was under way, so on a Saturday in July, 1975, Peter entered Namdrae in North Queensland’s top sprint, the Cleveland Bay Handicap.

He was beaten a nose, so Peter entered him in the Cluden Stakes over 1400 metres on the following Monday – and Namdrae won.

Showing no ill-effects of having two starts in two days, Peter elected to start him in the Townsville Cup over 2060 metres the coming Saturday.

Forty-to-one was the early bookmakers’ quote and many so-called experts said he had no chance, even Cluden race caller Graham Sewell on the radio questioned the thoughts of the horses’ connections.

You know there are times when negative comments can bite you on the backside… this was one of those times.

Namdrae started like normal, dropping to the tail of the field and was still stone motherless last on the home turn. With Billy Cullen’s urgings, Namdrae was pulled to the centre of the track and released a finishing burst not often seen at Cluden. 

He won by almost three lengths going away from them. The winner’s cheque was $10,000, which, when put into perspective, was well and truly enough to buy a house in Home Hill.

I remember going the races as a very young lad with Peter’s youngest son, Ross and seeing Namdrae win again at Cluden.

However, I am unsure what ever happened to this little champion. He more than likely lived out his days on the Tapiolas cattle property enjoying a well deserved rest.

I suppose that old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover could not be truer for this wonderful little horse.