Could THIS be the rags-to-riches horse that ends Yorkshire’s 65-year wait for a winner of the Epsom Oaks?
Semi-retired printer Philip Rolls certainly hopes so as his horse Lady Heidi prepares to put her Classic credentials on the line in tomorrow’s Tattersalls Musidora Stakes – the day one highlight of York’s £1m Dante festival.
It is a formidable task. This race, which celebrates Musidora, who won the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks in 1949 for Malton trainer Charles Elsey, has attracted a stellar field, headed by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Cambridge.
Yet Rolls, a great-grandfather from the Yorkshire Dales, has nothing to lose.
His horse, which cost a bargain 8,000 guineas as a yearling at the sales in October 2012, confirmed his judgment when winning the Listed Silver Tankard Stakes at Pontefract last autumn.
“We only need to finish third tomorrow for us to get our money back,” joked Rolls who co-owns Lady Heidi with his wife Jacqueline and their daughter Kim.
“What I am looking for is not necessarily the win, though it would be nice, but whether she is staying on at the end of the race. It will tell us whether she will be able to get the extra two furlongs in the Oaks. Musidora was the last Yorkshire-trained horse to win the Oaks in 1949. It’s about time we won it again.
“I’m looking forward to the race with some trepidation. We want her to do her best, don’t we?
“My advice to any pensioner is not to shove your money in a pension pot which will only go down. Put it in a racehorse and keep your fingers crossed. Why leave it to the taxman?”
Rolls, whose business used to print beer mats, has owned racehorses with varying degrees of success for the past 30 years.
Yet, while a Musidora victory would be the most significant of his career in racing, it would mean as much to Lady Heidi’s Middleham-based trainer Phil Kirby, who continues to accumulate winners.
“We chose Phil because he’s young, he’s up and coming and we would prefer Lady Heidi with a smaller yard rather than someone who has 200 horses,” said Rolls.
“I love to go up to the gallops at Middleham – the views are spectacular. It’s either like Wuthering Heights or you can see for miles. She has been working well at home. I go to see her every week – I’m very much a hands-on owner.
“For me, personally, yes I would like her to win. But I am not chasing the glory. I would be more pleased for the trainer and his wife, and for the horse, than I would for myself. That sounds a bit of a cliché, but it is genuinely true.”
Rolls always had great faith in the daughter of Aidan O’Brien’s 2002 Epsom Derby winner High Chaparral, but his enthusiasm was not matched by others at the Suffolk sale hosted by Tattersalls.
He recalled: “She was only very small, a pot-bellied little filly and she was overlooked by people. It was as simple as that. But it was just a no-brainer – on that pedigree you had to buy her. She had a very strong page indeed.
“She was a very, very fast little filly who ran all over the field – uncontrollable energy. With the trainer, if they don’t put her on the horse-walker first for half an hour, she will throw you off.
“When they take her out, she just wants to go. She is very full of life. She was an ugly duckling who has turned into the beauty of a swan.
“As she is by High Chaparral, we started calling her Heidi. She was bred by Melba Bryce whose daughter Gina is the Channel Four Racing presenter. It’s uncanny, she said they had the same ‘pet name’ for the horse.”
As well as the Epsom Oaks, Lady Heidi also holds an entry in the Irish equivalent.
Like at Pontefract, she will be ridden by Silvestre de Sousa who served his riding apprenticeship in Yorkshire with trainers like Mark Johnston.
He has a point to prove after it emerged that he would be competing for rides against a resurgent Kieren Fallon at the Godolphin yard run by Saeed bin Suroor.
To de Sousa’s disappointment, he has been overlooked for the ride on True Story in Thursday’s Dante Stakes – the last, and most significant, of the premier Epsom Derby trials.
As for Rolls, he is living the dream in the hope that diehard racing enthusiasts can still compete for the top honours against the richest – and most powerful – owners in the world.
To prove the point, Rolls points to his second acquisition, Indy, who holds an entry in the Irish 2000 Guineas after winning his racecourse debut at Doncaster for vastly experienced Thirsk trainer David Barron. Like his owner, he is one to watch.