Imagine if you knew about an un-raced horse that had trialled so well that it was impossible for it to be beaten—a horse with such a talent that it would end up being one of the most popular weight-for-age gallopers of its day but you would get about 25/1 ($26) on it in a provincial maiden, and on a day that some of Australia’s biggest bookies fielded.
Well, that happened on Wednesday, 18 April 1979, at Seymour in Victoria, at a meeting that just happened to correspond with the AJC Oaks meeting at Randwick.
A horse named Shady Deal had beaten some really smart horses to win seven trials in New Zealand, and many touts over there were waiting for its trainer, Alan Jones, to produce it. Jones was too smart for the prying eyes, and sent the horse to Australia. In an astute move he changed its name to Torbek, very similar in sound to Torbreck, a poorly performed maiden that was plodding around in Victoria at the time.
Jones quietly prepared the horse for its racetrack debut, but shortly before the Seymour entries closed he sent the horse to Bendigo trainer BA Fawdrey who only had a small team at the time, and had a reputation as a battler who didn’t win races out of turn.
On the day of the race, a group of informed Melbourne punters flew to Sydney, set to plunder the big interstate bookmakers fielding at Randwick. Local bookmakers thought little of Torbek’s chance of winning the maiden, and opened him as long as 25/1 ($26). A string of big bets were struck in Sydney at odds of 16/1 ($17).
According to a report in The Sporting Globe, leading Sydney bookmaker Bob Blann was hit for bets risking $120,000, and fellow bookmakers Jack Waterhouse and Bruce McHugh were also claimed for large wagers. The besieged Sydney bookmakers tried to lay off some of the money back into the Seymour ring, which in those days would have consisted of about 40 bookmakers, including a number of metropolitan fielders.
At that time in Victoria, the off-course tote closed 15 minutes before the jump so those who wanted to follow the money were unable to join in. Torbek’s price tumbled quickly, and by starting time it was the 5/2 ($3.50) second favourite. According to The Sporting Globe, Fawdrey’s instructions to jockey Robert Heffernan were, ‘Jump him out, ride him like a sprinter and he will win’.
Torbek won easily and, after some questioning by pressmen, it transpired that the New Zealand owner of the horse had no idea that Fawdrey was training it.
At its next start Torbek went back to Jones as trainer, winning a 1200 metre progressive at Kilmore where, again, it was heavily backed into odds-on favouritism. Then, a couple of weeks later, with Wayne Walters as trainer, it won an open welter at Pakenham by six lengths.
Torbek went on to win 23 races in its career, including such big races as the Toorak Handicap, the Marlboro Cup, the St George Stakes and the CF Orr Stakes.