Champion Rough Habit obviously gets well looked after at his home with Cambridge Thoroughbred Lodge in New Zealand. Who said putting on weight is bad for you?
At the end of May each year, I'm finding it harder and harder to get excited over the Group 1 Doomben Cup.
Last year Defier had been going like a squashed snail prior to the race. He couldn't possibly win, so got “potted” here. That's just before he smashed the track record! I didn't get a chance to go double or nothing, as they immediately retired the gelding. Maybe I was a bit stiff – as the next six horses across the line (in order) were Pentastic, Upsetthym, This Manshood, Cut The Cake, Another Warrior and St Basil. Cumulatively, they have won 4 races from 51 starts in the year since (Another Warrior 2, This Manshood 1 and Pentastic 1)! In fairness, on song, Defier was a classy galloper.
We desperately need a top class racehorse to win the Doomben Cup again. The problem is, try as I may, it is impossible to close my eyes and think a star will be born next Saturday at Doomben. Or maybe we just got horribly spoilt in the 1990's when the great Might And Power graced us with his presence in 1998. What a day that was. A huge crowd was in attendance. Like a big kid in a lolly shop I went down to the 200 metres mark and stood up against the rail, straight after the race prior to the Doomben Cup. Like in the primary school days I had “barred” my spot to watch the great horse. The problem was 35 minutes later a cheeky kid called Intergaze would dare to put it to the champion as they passed in front of me - and was going to spoil the reason I had gone to the track. I can’t remember what I did five minutes ago, yet to my grave I will remember saying to my son-in-law on that day, “oh hell, he’s gone”, as those two great horses joined issue right in front of us. Make absolutely no mistake at this point – Intergaze headed him and had him on the ropes. But Might And Power wasn't going to let 20,000 odd people down and he rallied to stave off the challenge of the conqueror of champions – Intergaze. One year later, in 1999, Intergaze came back to the scene of that stoush, and won the Doomben Cup, to exact revenge for his defeat from the year before.
But it will be earlier in the 90's that would spoil every racegoer and probably leave people like myself and many others cynical of what constitutes “class” in a racehorse and being uncomplimentary towards this year’s Doomben Cup field.
A chap called John Wheeler from New Zealand had landed here in 1990 with an ill-bred horse called Rough Habit. If you think “ill bred” is a bit harsh, well his father Roughcast was unproven and his mother Certain Habit had not won a race and nor had her mother, her grandmother or her great grandmother! Four generations of dams had not won so much as a humble Maiden anywhere between them. Rough Habit was having just his 10th race start at his Brisbane debut – and he got beaten into second place. History would prove the horse that beat him went okay – his name was Stylish Century!
Next start, Wheeler stepped him out in the Queensland Derby and Rough Habit earned Group 1 glory for his astute trainer. Rough Habit would go on to win a further 10 Group 1's throughout Australasia. He would win at Group 1 level in the three eastern seaboard capitals of Australia – Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and he would also win at Group 1 level in New Zealand. When stumps were pulled on his career, Rough Habit had faced the starter 73 times and had recorded 29 victories, 15 seconds and 7 thirds – for earnings of A$3,737,932.
The most extraordinary aspect of the career of Rough Habit was that it would be in a foreign country to the place of his birth and training – Australia – and more specifically in Brisbane, where he would rule. It is a remarkable achievement that over four consecutive years he came to Brisbane and won a Group 1 race.
Following his Queensland Derby win in 1990, Rough Habit would make the Doomben Cup his own – winning three consecutive runnings of the race – 1991, 1992 and 1993. In 1990 as a 3YO, he had run 3rd in the race to Eye Of The Sky and Solar Circle on route to his Derby victory.
In all three Doomben Cup wins, Rough Habit was ridden by a former countryman – Jim Cassidy. In 1991 he defeated Ray's Hope and Multisync, in 1992 Kinjite and Captain Cook filled the placings and in 1993 fellow New Zealander Kiwi Golfer ran 2nd and Palate was 3rd.
The Doomben Cup was first run in 1933 and only one other horse – Earlwood – has won the race more than once. He won in both 1959 and 1960.
Rough Habit first saw the light of day on the 2nd of December 1986. As stated previously, there was nothing in his pedigree to suggest he'd be any good on the racetrack. His father Roughcast was an 8YO stallion when Rough Habit was born. Roughcast was a grandson of Star Kingdom, via Noholme. In an amazing breeding story, Roughcast would throw only one Group 1 winner in his entire stud career – Rough Habit. He could not throw a Group 2 or Group 3 winner, but did manage to throw a couple of New Zealand listed winners – Rough Harbour and Rough Legend.
Rough Habit's mother – Certain Habit - was 9YO when she gave birth to her famous son. She has thrown six individual winners in her days as a broodmare, including multiple Group 3 winner and Group 1 placegetter Citi Habit (x Citidancer). A full relation to Rough Habit raced as Navenby, but he could only win two races in his life, including one in Sydney and he retired having won just $A26,600. Buoyed on by the great career of Rough Habit someone worked on the theory of “putting the best to the best and hoping for the best” and so Certain Habit was sent to Australia to be mated with champion stallion Danehill. The resultant filly foal was born in 1994 and raced as Danish Habit. She managed to win three races – two in Melbourne at Moonee Valley and earned $A66,875 but that “theory” failed again, as it has done throughout the annals of thoroughbred breeding! Sadly, Certain Habit passed away during 2004, at the grand old age of 26.
Rough Habit thrilled racegoers on both sides of the Tasman, but clearly excelled in Brisbane. His Doomben Cup feat will never be topped. His Stradbroke win of 1992 (he had also won the 1991 Stradbroke) had to be seen to be believed. If people don’t get goosebumps when they play Wayne Wilson’s call of that Stradbroke, well they should go stamp collecting or engage in some allied activity, because they weren’t cut out for racing. He also won that Queensland Derby, so 6 of his 11 Group 1 victories were in Brisbane.
At Doomben racecourse they have named a bar after the great horse. I couldn't think of anything more patriotic of a racegoer next Saturday, than to stand in the “Rough Habit Bar” and reflect for a moment or two on a couple of great race calls by our broadcasters as they described in graphic detail how this horse would weave a passage in the straight bound for victory – yet again. They could think of John Wheeler dancing on the bar after the last – not a pretty site - but nevertheless acknowledge a wonderful training performance having been achieved, by a great New Zealander.
On Saturday at Doomben they'll also run the “Rough Habit Plate” - a listed race for 3YO aspirants named in honour of the great galloper.
Today Rough Habit resides at Cambridge Thoroughbred Lodge and forms part of the “New Zealand Horse Magic Show” on a 100 acres farm in a picturesque rural setting on the Rotorua Thermal Highway about 25 minutes from Hamilton. It is open most days for the public to visit and costs NZ$12 to watch the “one hour show” and see the likes of Rough Habit and the champion retired New Zealand pacer Christopher Vance in the flesh.
It’s a pity they don’t clone racehorses. For I could be like the big kid again, barring my spot at 200 when Might And Power went around again in that Doomben Cup showdown with Intergaze, or I could go over the road to Eagle Farm and watch Rough Habit in his amazing 1992 Stradbroke win – again and again. I’d be a bit older and smarter next time though. I’d nail those bookies to the wall. Fancy betting those silly odds a champion in a Stradbroke? Their 20-1 looked under the odds at the turn and it looked about right at the 200, but it is on the mirror they pay and he looked 5’s on with 50 metres to go and eventually won like an odds on chance. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.
The Rough Habit's of the world allow us to distinguish between the word “champion” and “chaff bandit”. The Rough Habit's of the world can win three Doomben Cups or be classy enough to run over the best sprinters in Australasia in a couple of Stradbroke’s. The Rough Habit’s of the world are the reason we all love racing.
That's why Saturday might be officially Doomben Cup day – but it’s really Rough Habit day.