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When small-time trainer Mick Tubman made a spontaneous decision to go to the 2009 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale, he found a low-flying bargain that would claim the G2 Silver Slipper on her way to winning more than half-a-million dollars.
Trainers looking to get best odds about a fancied runner really should keep their mouths closed when speaking to the press, but Mick Tubman could never help himself when asked about his beloved filly Chance Bye.
To be fair, the top price was long gone anyway: the trainer, and what seemed like half the people in his home town of working class Wollongong had a habit of snipping the early ‘overs’ on fixed-odds markets anyway.
“I’ve seen three two-year-olds better than her: Vain, Manikato and maybe Luskin Star,” he said before the 2010 Silver Slipper, the then-unbeaten filly’s third start, before adding, “I am not old enough to compare her to Todman, but she is right up there.”
After rattling off a comparison with the unofficial ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Australian two-year-olds, the ever-quotable Tubman kept the one-liners coming.
What did you like about her as a yearling?
“Same as I look for in every filly, she has a head like a princess, an arse like a washerwoman’s and she walks like a hooker.” And then, more succinctly, but equally unfiltered: “She’s built like a brick outhouse.”
Sometimes it was the buzz from a few afternoon beers adding to the confidence levels, but Tubman, a part-time carpet layer who in truth was a hobby trainer with a handful of horses in his backyard stables next to Kembla Grange Racecourse, was always happy to talk up his pocket dynamo in the newspapers and on television and radio, even if the hype was eating into the race day odds.
The fixed-odds operators were wary after Chance Bye had been backed from $25 into $4 on debut in the Inglis Nursery. That came after a 12-length win in an 800m Kembla Grange jump-out. Second start she was smashed in betting by the locals again, this time starting odds-on in the Inglis Classic.
Tubman’s delivery was dry and he had the timing of a stand-up comic. He was a great match for Chance Bye; both of them delightfully unrefined and direct. Despite Chance Bye’s positive attributes – the aforementioned big backside and strut – she had such poor conformation that regular jockey Kathy O’Hara once quipped, “she looks like her legs were painted on backwards.” Paddock watchers knocked her, calling her “a bag of bones”, and bookmakers wanted to take her on, but she ran like a mini with a V8 engine and cost the Sydney bagmen plenty.
Chance Bye is a play on ‘chance buy’, a name already registered, and a reference to Tubman’s fateful trip to the 2009 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale in Sydney. Tubman hadn’t planned to attend but had nothing better to do and was happy to keep a mate company on the two hour drive into the big smoke.
As a trainer, Tubman was a scrapper, surviving on a handful of tried horses and budget yearling buys, and one of his best was a Gai Waterhouse discard he had won two races with named Geiger Spirit.
Geiger Spirit was a half-sister to Chance Bye’s dam Rouge Femme. It caught Tubman’s eye in the catalogue and when he saw the diminutive filly was passed-in, he offered $15,000 and was going home with a horse. He just needed somebody to pay for it. He called Jack Knight, an old mate and ‘concrete recycler’ from Sydney who had made his money crushing old bitumen to sell as road base.
Knight was in. Along with Tubman’s ever-present ‘stable foreman’ Glen Murphy, they made a tremendous team. After Chance Bye’s explosive debut, his phone ran hot with jockey agents, all of them looking to steal the new Slipper pre-post favourite away from O’Hara, but she was now a rusted-on part of “Team Tubman”, too.
“They can call all they want, but they are wasting their time, Kathy is the jockey,” Tubman said. “The horse runs for her and she will be riding her anytime she goes around.”
Before the 2010 Silver Slipper, Chance Bye had already reached ‘people’s horse’ status. The coverage of the “Fairytale Filly” had become so saturated in the local press that even Tubman’s ‘lucky rooster’ was getting stories written about him. TV crews were a regular site at the old stables. A master storyteller, Tubman would tell them about the day the rooster turned up at the stables and his luck changed. Never mind the fact the rooster would attack any visitors if they turned their backs. Chance Bye was thus given the stable name “Chicken”, not just because she was by the sire Snitzel.
“She is a living certainty tomorrow and she will win the Golden Slipper as well,” Tubman continued with the Silver Slipper push. Chance Bye’s first two starts were in sales-restricted races but now she tackled all-comers in a key Golden Slipper lead-up.
In another show of speed, Chance Bye handled the rise in class to claim the Silver Slipper by one-and-a-half lengths. She started $1.75 favourite: this time they saw the South Coast punters coming. Earlier on the same day though, another Kembla ‘battler’ Kerry Parker took down the big guns with a $12 outsider named Brilliant Light. The underdog double for trainers from “The Gong” made for a payout for those in the know, including Tubman.
Chance Bye faded to finish ninth in the Golden Slipper, but even then the $50,000 cheque far outstripped that initial outlay of $15,000.
After finishing third first-up as a three-year-old in the Group 3 Silver Shadow Stakes, Chance Bye was the victim of severe interference in the Golden Rose. She was never quite the same and was retired after just three more unplaced runs.
Having secured more than $500,000 in prizemoney and bonuses, Chance Bye was offered for sale as a broodmare. Maybe it was fate again, but the “Fairytale Filly” fell just $10,000 short of the $350,000 reserve.
“Do you know how hard it is to knock back $340,000?” Tubman said at the time. “We will be keeping her as a broodmare.”
Sadly, Chance Bye died in a paddock accident in 2016. Days later one of her two foals, part-owned and trained by Tubman, Dreams Alive saluted at Kembla Grange. Of course O’Hara was riding.
Chance Bye won’t be remembered among the pantheon of great two-year-olds, but the betting plunges she landed ensure it will be a long time before she is forgotten at Kembla Grange.
At 75, Tubman’s health is ailing but that trademark mischievous grin and sparkle in the eye is there when the name Chance Bye is mentioned.
“We have some great memories,” he tells Asian Racing Report, “We had a lot of fun, and we landed some bets. What more could you want? She was a very special horse.”
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