It's In The Blood

Bandi’s Boy

If Bandi’s Boy (The Brothers War) – the new pride of Goulburn – can win Saturday’s $1 million Country Championships Final (1400m), even the eyes of the most hardened bushies drawn to Randwick for the big day might be more than a bit moist.

It would be one of the more emotional, battler, stories you’ll see all year.

Talk about your humble backgrounds.

Trained by the horseman’s horseman Danny Williams, the type of bush bloke you might see pictured on the front of a Banjo Paterson anthology, Bandi’s Boy is a son of The Brothers War (War Front). Since being bought from the US by Kooringal Stud, he’s only had 78 runners with five crops racing.

The 13-year-old’s track highlight was a Listed win at Chantilly, so it was more with an eye to his pedigree – and names like Danzig (Northern Dancer), Mr. Prospector (Raise A Native) and Nijinsky (Northern Dancer) – that Kooringal’s Angus Lamont bought him.

While his numbers haven’t been vast, and he stands off the beaten track at Wagga, his runners have brought 49 winners, at 64 percent – including two stakes winners. Bandi’s Boy became the second one last Saturday in Rosehill’s Star Kingdom Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m), to follow Phillip Stokes’s Ancestry and his nine wins including two at Listed class.

Despite the small numbers, The Brothers War has come up with two runners among the 16 for Saturday’s final: Bandi’s Boy, the $2.40 favourite who booked his place two starts back by winning at Moruya, and Asgarda, trained at Wagga by Doug Gorrel, who ran second in Albury’s lead-up heat, alongside four wins in 11 starts, and is a $23 hope.

Bandi’s Boy’s rags-to-riches credentials go on. He’s out of Tibidabo (Hinchinbrook), a mare who cost $1,500 at a 2013 Inglis weanling sale, and who won two races out of 20, at Coonamble and Goulburn, coincidentally the towns where Williams is A. From, and B. Now lives.

Furthermore, Bandi’s Boy was bred by John Woods, a battler farmer from Cowra and long-term committeeman of the Forbes Jockey Club, who’d come from the NSW country heartland. This meant he’d been known to Williams for many years, and a friend of national treasure and racecaller Col Hodges.

Woods had been in breeding and ownership for a long time, as recounted by Hodges in an article for Racing NSW after Bandi’s Boy’s Group 3 triumph last weekend.

More than half-a-century ago, Woods owned a horse named Taren Lad (Teranyan), who won the time-honoured Flying Handicap at Bedgerabong Picnics. If you don’t know where Bedgerabong is, you’re not alone. It’s a speck out the back of Forbes, and has a claim to fame in that Hodges is from there.

After the win, probably carrying 15 stone 23 or whatever they used to say, Woods tried to auction Taren Lad but rejected the final bid. That was $1,600, which given the time and place spoke volumes for his opinion of the horse. It was high enough that he and trainer Roy Parsons took him to the big smoke, devising the kind of old-fashioned “bush smokey” plunge that would have got Paterson’s pen moving.

At Warwick Farm on a Saturday, in a 1200-metre handicap, Taren Lad went up at 66-1. The boys from the bush piled in, he started at 50s, and halfway down the short straight he darted through a gap to hit the lead. In the excitement, Hodges recalls, Parsons lost his balance and took a tumble down the grandstand steps.

He was helped up spluttering “Did we win?”, only to learn another roughie, Berrinup (Supreme Courage), had bloused him in the last stride.

Woods was briefly a picnic jockey, then became involved in eventing and showjumping. Williams recalls Woods was picked for the Olympics one year, but baulked at the obstacle that he’d have to pay his own way, quite rightly.

After all these years of battling, with horses and farming, Woods finally got a good one, when the Coonamble and Goulburn-winning Tibidabo went to The Brothers War, then standing for $8,800, after a mating designed by Kooringal’s Lamont. To be fair, Tibidabo did run second in a Rosehill Highway Class 2 at her third start – hopefully with her 100-1 odds not not missed by her owner Woods.

And the odds against being a good one were later magnified when he became his dam’s only foal. Tibidabo died a year after that birth, and Bandi’s Boy was hand-reared for Woods by Lamont, who’s abbreviated name – Gus – is consequently what the horse goes by to his mates.

Lamont says he considered The Brothers War a good match for Tibidabo on type – he on the compact side and she on the larger – and pedigree. Both carry Mr. Prospector, Nijinsky and Danzig in their first six removes.

Moreover, Lamont liked the strong Star Kingdom (Stardust) influence in Tibidabo, with two appearances by his son Biscay, in particular the relatively recent one in the mare’s fifth generation as sire of Marscay, Bandi’s Boy’s third damsire.

“The Brothers War is just a nice style of horse who gets an athletic kind of horse, and he has some lovely bloodlines,” says Lamont. “And what I saw early was that he was leaving better types with mares with Star Kingdom and Mr. Prospector.”

Lamont notes Asgarda has a similar cross, with Biscay in the same spot in that mare’s pedigree, and Mr. Prospector there thrice in the dam’s first five generations.

Williams, recommended as Woods’ type of trainer by Lamont, soon told the owner that the horse, gelded early on, was extra handy. Hard bitten by the fates of farming in the bush, the 79-year-old Woods took a lot of convincing.

“He was very nervous about it all, and lacked the confidence,” Williams says. “Even for his first start, I had to encourage him that we should take him to Sydney. He felt Canberra would be better.”

Williams won that debate, handsomely. Bandi’s Boy kicked off in the Kindergarten Stakes (Gr 3, 1100m) of 2022. On a Heavy 9, at $81, he fared commendably when fifth of 11.

That sealed a return to Randwick – for a two-year-old handicap over 1100 metres, on a Heavy 10. This time, at $9, he won by a length – beating a filly into second called Zougotcha (Zoustar), who’s now won two Group 1 events.

Williams knew what he had, but Woods, it seemed, was still not daring to dream.

“I think it was a bit like winning Lotto, and so it just wasn’t hitting home. I kept telling him how good the horse was, but he wouldn’t believe me,” Williams said.

Alas, the misfortune – or misadventure – that would hinder Bandi’s Boy soon struck. He’s now four but has had only ten starts, winning five, having needed a year off.

First, he decided to leap out of Williams’ horse spa, landing on his back and lacerating the inside of his off-hind leg on the way out. Once healed, ligament damage arose in the same leg. It seemed Woods’ reticence to let loose had been validated.

“I had to tell John it was 50-50 whether he’d have a career or not,” Williams says. “We would have to bring him back very slowly, and hopefully he’d be the same horse.”

Eventually, in a tribute to the patience of both trainer and owner, Bandi’s Boy came back, again in town, last October.

After a middling sixth, second-up he laid doubts to rest with a length win in a Highway Class 3 (1200m). He then came third in the $250,000 Barn Dance (1300m) at the same course on Cup day, and, after another spell, he resumed in January to win a 1200-metre Benchmark 78, again at Randwick.

Woods, however secretly, might have finally started believing, for he brought daughter Margo, a self-described “non-racing person”, and her sons Jack, 20, and Charlie, 18, in on the ownership.

And then, with the exquisite timing so familiar to racing people, first misfortune struck – when the rambunctious Bandi’s Boy this time injured himself in a float – and then tragedy.

“I called John to tell him about the injury, but got no answer,” Williams says.

Woods had been planning to make his annual pilgrimage the next day – back to Bedgerabong Picnics – so Williams figured he was busy. But after more calls went unanswered in the next two days, some neighbours were raised, who made the grim discovery: Woods had passed away while out on his farm.

“Dad was always humble and quiet, and would never get too excited,” says Margo, a schoolteacher on the Gold Coast. “He’d say, ‘Aah, it’s racing – anything can happen’.

“But you knew he had an inkling about Bandi’s Boy – or Gus, as we all call him. And he was very excited, because he’d bred it himself, and he had a feeling he was a good one, which is why he wanted to bring us in on the ownership and share the good times together.

“He quietly had this knowledge, that if everything pans out the right way, this horse has got potential, and he was aiming at the Country Championships Final, which was a big dream. You could tell he was quite excited.”

Bandi’s Boy recovered, ran third in a Rosehill Benchmark 78 over 1100 metres on February 24, then headed to his Country Championships qualifier – a week before Woods would have turned 80. His family had been at Forbes for his memorial service two days earlier, then migrated en masse to Moruya. There, the tears flowed for Bandi’s Boy’s half-length win – and not just after it.

“My sister Jacqui had come out from the UK for the service, and she’d been busy with everything, but finally just as they were going into the barriers, it all got to her and she just burst into tears. She was sobbing throughout the race!” Margo says with a giggle.

Woods’ sharing of the joy with his family would also bring more than just thrills.

“My husband Craig and I went to Rosehill last Saturday,” Margo says. “We’d had the pressure of Gus winning at Moruya as a short-priced favourite, but then at Rosehill he wasn’t supposed to win, and he still did. I had a small bet at about $21. But my sister, who’s never had a bet in her life, went back to the UK and opened an account just to bet on Gus. He was 50-1 up there! She won almost 3,000 pounds!

“I think Dad wanted us in on the ownership just to be a part of the races and the social side. He was getting all excited about the big Newhaven party on the Friday night before the final.

“So it’s all a bit bittersweet. It’s great that Dad knew he had bred a good horse, but a shame he can’t be there for the big race. But I like to think he’ll be looking down on Saturday. At Moruya I looked up at the sky when they were in the gates and said, ‘C’mon Dad – bring him home’.”

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