Canberra horse Highly Geared is the eight-year-old mare that could help mend broken hearts and unite a grieving racing community at Rosehill on Saturday.
The Canberra Racing Club has rallied to get Highly Geared ready to race in Sydney this weekend as a tribute to trainer Garry Kirkup and Samara Johnson.
Kirkup was expected to come out of an induced coma at Canberra Hospital on Wednesday following a car crash, which killed Johnson – his partner – on Sunday.
The accident has rocked Canberra’s tight-knit racing community for the second time in less than a year.
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Most trainers and jockeys are still coming to grips with the death of track-work rider Riharna Thomson at Thoroughbred Park in March.
Kirkup’s son Ben said the family had been overwhelmed by support after flying from the Gold Coast to be by his father’s side.
He is also the majority owner of stable star Highly Geared and race two at Rosehill will be used as a chance to remember Johnson and rally for Kirkup, who has hand and foot injuries.
“It has been unbelievable, it’s been very touching and the support they’ve given just shows how popular dad and Samara are,” Ben said.
“We’ve had offers of everything from transport to spelling farms and everything has been sorted and taken care of.
“There’s been a bit of grief at the race track this year and they’re the toughest bunch I’ve come across, it’s been unbelievable, it one hell of a community, very competitive but very supportive.”
Highly Geared has won A$311,420 since she was bought as an untrained four-year-old for just A$12,000 in 2013 and has been accepted in the 1100m race at Rosehill.
“The owners are very keen to run for dad and Samara, it doesn’t matter if we win, lose or draw, it will an emotional day and no doubt Samara will be up there cracking the whip for her,” Ben said.
“It’s such very tragic circumstances but a win would certainly put a smile on some people’s faces for what has been a very terrible time.”
Doug Gorrell, who trains from the same stable as Kirkup, has taken responsibility for Kirkup’s 12 horses this week, with “countless helpers” keeping the business ticking over.
“I’m in the same stable block and have been great mates with Garry for the past two years… we’re best mates as well as competitors on the track, so when this tragedy happened it wasn’t even a question,” Gorrell said.
“We’ve had some wonderful help, Matty Dale has been a power of help and sent us track riders, while Anaelle Gangotena who works for Garry is just 18 and a wonderful young horsewoman who has really stepped up.
“We know Kirky’s routine because we’ve been here every morning for two years, so we’re following it exactly and the young girls here come help every day, there’s no end of support.”
Gangotena has worked at Kirkup’s stable for the past four months and said she was just trying to do her part following the tragedy.
“I worked with Samara every day and when I got to the stables on Sunday afternoon there were already six cars full of people asking how they could help,” Gangotena said.
“It’s just one big family here and everyone pulls together in the tough times, we’re just trying to look after the horses and do what we can.”
Racing New South Wales chief steward Marc Van Gestel said they’re supporting in any way they can to get Highly Geared to the races and Ben is confident the mare will run.
“Doug and Matty Dale have been fantastic ensuring the horses haven’t missed a bit… so nothing has really changed as far as Highly Geared is concerned and there’s no reason not to go forward and run it for dad and Samara,” Ben said.
“We hope to be able to have a chat to dad later this afternoon [Tuesday], I’m sure he knows Samara would love nothing more than the horse to go around and I’m sure he’ll want to as well.
“The young girl Anaelle has worked at the stables with dad and Samara every day for months and she fronted up Monday morning and was unbelievably strong.
“I’ve been splitting my time between the hospital and track and an hour of sleep here and there, but fortunately it’s been very easy with all the support. The bigger question which will only be answered with time is what the future holds for the stable.”