When Jacqui met Red

24 June 2022 Written by Michael Sharkie

She might be famous for her presence on our TV screens and for many, her much-followed social media channels, but when Off The Track ambassador Jacqui Felgate needs some downtime, she knows just the place – on the back of her Off The Track horse, Red.

Former Seven Melbourne newsreader Jacqui Felgate has chased down her share of leads across her accomplished career, so digging up an old race replay surely couldn’t be a difficult task.

Curiosity got the better of Off The Track ambassador Felgate one afternoon as she groomed her horse Red in his stable at Jolong Park at Bangholme in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. She’d come to know the 15-year-old gelding like an old friend, riding and caring for him, but she had never seen him race.

“He raced as Vada Rosso. I knew Ciaron Maher trained him and I knew that he wasn’t exactly the fastest horse but I wanted to see if I could track down one of his wins. I did some digging with Racing Victoria and soon enough the replay arrived in my inbox,” Felgate explained.

“He won two races, the one they sent me was at Warrnambool and he absolutely smashed them. Rick Macintosh was the race caller, watching him win and thinking about where he was now, it was a proud moment. A lovely moment.”

Felgate had ridden horses as a teenager but the demands of her career and her young family saw her lose touch with the animal for a few years, days at the races were one thing but time in the saddle was another joy altogether. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Felgate reignited her love of riding at Jolong Park at Bangholme, first with an old Irish horse named Kit and then with Red.

“Another rider at the farm was leasing him when I met him, but she ended up buying another horse, so I took over the lease. After a couple of months I decided to buy him,” Felgate said.

“I think it’s not necessarily about what makes a good horse, but more about what makes a good horse for you as an individual. I feel safe riding him. I trust him to the point that I can put my nine-year-old Maddie on him and be confident that she will be OK. He’s helped me learn and become a better rider, now he’s helping Maddie to learn.”

The beauty of Off The Track thoroughbreds is that they are so hardy and adaptable. At 15 years of age, Red has found a role far from the racetrack that stimulates him and gives his owner joy; importantly too, the connection with his previous owners has been reignited.

Felgate is a popular social media figure with a growing list of over 200,000 followers on Instagram. Posts about Red featured heavily during the pandemic and through those, connections were made with Red’s breeder and former owners.

“They saw the posts and reached out. We've created this little network now and I keep them all updated about how he’s going, send them photos and things. He wasn’t the best racehorse but to think that his breeder and former owners still care years later about the horse they bred and raced, it’s really beautiful,”  Felgate said. 

“It’s not all about the money and the punt and stories like Red’s prove that. Michael (Felgate’s husband) bumped into Ciaron Maher at an event after I bought the horse and told him I’d bought Red. He remembered him, still knew his brand and was genuinely happy that the horse was being cared for. Ciaron would have had thousands of horses in his care and nothing to do with Red for twelve years, but he still remembered him.”

After his initial retirement from the track, Red had a successful career as an eventer before his owner decided that a slower pace of life would suit. Now “fat and happy” as Felgate describes him, as a pleasure horse, he is one of hundreds of ex-racehorses that are living and working happily around the country.

“He’s had some life when you think about it. He’s quirky and he’s a character but most importantly he’s a beautiful animal. We love him, he’s a part of our family and we hope he is for many years to come.”

Images courtesy of Racing Victoria