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Remembering Regal Roller, King of Caulfield

Trainer Clinton McDonald shares the story of his popular chestnut gelding Regal Roller, the bold frontrunner who was for a time unbeatable over his favourite Caulfield 1400m course.

A racetrack career that earned three Group 1 wins and a shade under $1.5 million in prizemoney is – though undoubtedly good going – unlikely to justify more than passing acknowledgement within the star-studded history of Australian racing.

But mention the name Regal Roller to anybody known to have a punt in the early 2000s, and you will likely elicit the wistful smile, misty-eyed shake of the head or steely glare that says ‘I’m ordering another round so I can tell you this story properly’ normally reserved for true legends of the turf. 

An imposing front-runner, at his peak Regal Roller ruled the Caulfield 1400m with an iron fist. And the punters worshipped their king accordingly. 

For trainer Clinton McDonald, much of the chestnut gelding’s cult status was borne out of his aggressive front-running style. 

“He was just one of those special horses. Everyone loves a leader, like Vo Rogue and those type of horses, because you don’t see them too often,” McDonald told the Report, almost twenty years to the day since Regal Roller’s debut.  

“But when they’re explosive like that, and they kick on the turn and the punters are on and cheering, there’s nothing better.” 

When they’re explosive like that and they kick on the turn and the punters are on and cheering, there’s nothing better.

A homebred by the Canadian stallion Regal Classic, Regal Roller was bred and raced by Brian and Joan Durran, long-time supporters of a training dynasty that included legendary horseman Ross McDonald and Clinton’s maternal grandfather, Bon Hoysted. 

“My grandfather trained for them, then my father and then myself, so three generations, and Regal Roller probably gave them the highlight of their career in racing,” said McDonald.  

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Clinton McDonald and Regal Roller after winning the G1 Dubai Racing Club Cup in 2004. Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images).

The chestnut with the big white blaze would prove a slow burn, suffering persistent hamstring issues before breaking his maiden at the sixth time of asking at Benalla in March 2003, with Nick Ryan in the saddle. The wins would come a lot more frequently thereafter, backing up at Yarra Valley a week later for another all-the-way win. 

“Once we got him up and going and he learned how to find the line, and we worked out how to ride the horse, he was away,” said McDonald. 

Regal Roller’s first look at what would become his cherished Caulfield 1400m course came two starts later in May 2003, when the then three-year-old again led from ‘go to whoa’ beneath Brendan Fenech. This victory would not feature in his imposing record at the track and trip however, with Regal Roller subsequently losing the race after returning a positive to cortisone, traces of the stifle treatment still lingering on race day.

After a winter spell Regal Roller returned from the paddock a bigger, stronger, improved galloper, a theme that would repeat throughout his career, and one characteristic of the Regal Classic breed, who generally tended to get better with age and racing. 

“Throughout his career he probably put on 80kg and ended up racing around the 540kg mark.

“When he came back from the paddock that year he was just flying at home, we elected to run him in an open 1400m at Bendigo first-up. 

“Nick Ryan rode him again and the horse was 50-1 and he was unbeatable. I virtually said to Nick ‘This thing will just win, just point and shoot and away you go,’ and that’s what he did.” 

I virtually said to Nick ‘This thing will just win, just point and shoot and away you go’, and that’s what he did.

Two starts later Regal Roller would score his first ‘official’ win over the Caulfield 1400m, running his opposition into the ground under Danny Nikolic, saluting by four-and-a-half lengths again at the healthy odds of $17. 

A Group 3 third behind talented Kiwi Thorn Park gave connections a sighter in stakes class, and after two unplaced Flemington carnival runs, the paddock called again. 

True to that slow-maturing Regal Classic blood, 2004 would be the year Regal Roller announced himself. 

His autumn preparation culminated in an all-the-way victory in the G3 Victoria Handicap (track: Caulfield, distance: 1400m, if there was any doubt), but it was the spring where Regal Roller – improved again by another winter spell – would unleash his imperious best. 

Starting with the G2 Liston Stakes on August 4, ‘The Roller’ went on a four-race winning streak, the first three over his pet track and distance, each won from the front with Mark Flaherty in the saddle.

The Memsie Stakes (then a Group 2), a maiden Group 1 in the Rupert Clarke Stakes, defeating star mares Our Egyptian Raine and Alinghi, and a second elite win – toughing out an extra furlong under 57kg in the Toorak Handicap – rounded out the winning streak. 

On display in all four wins were that trademark sustained speed, brilliant acceleration and an ability to handle Caulfield’s challenging turns that belied the gelding’s imposing stature. And his army of fans lapped it up. 

For McDonald, one run in particular stands out. 

“His best and most devastating win was the Memsie, he just unleashed in the straight that day and put five lengths on them real quick.” he said. 

Incredibly, for a horse seemingly with a birthright to seven furlong races, Regal Roller managed to run fifth in the 2040m Cox Plate a fortnight later at Moonee Valley, beaten just three-and-a-half lengths by Savabeel. If not for the persistence of roughie Miss Potential in vying for the lead at Regal Roller’s girth, he could have finished significantly closer.  

“His Cox Plate run was unbelievable, he couldn’t run 2000m down a well but he ran super,” said McDonald. 

His Cox Plate run was unbelievable, he couldn’t run 2000m down a well but he ran super.

“We had a fantastic day. The owner paid the $110,000 late entry fee to get him in and got $100,000 back for running fifth, so he said it was the best $10,000 joy ride he’s ever had.”

A third Group 1 success followed in the autumn of 2005, with Regal Roller defeating the ultra-consistent Super Elegant in the Futurity Stakes (Caulfield 1400m!), before recording what would prove a final career victory when landing good bets first-up in the G3 Bletchingly Stakes.

After four more starts, the best of which was a half-length third behind the great Makybe Diva in the Memsie, Regal Roller would run his last race in February of 2006 after succumbing to knee injuries. 

Regal Roller (far right) enjoying paddock time at Living Legends with Fields Of Omagh and Good Ba Ba. (Photo by Living Legends)

Fittingly for a horse that captured the imagination of so many, Regal Roller would find a home after racing at Living Legends, where he was appreciated for his kind and gentle nature until his passing due to laminitis in 2014. 

Of Regal Roller’s 12 career wins, nine came at Caulfield (including all seven of his Group successes), with seven of those over his pet 1400m. 

“He was such a terrific horse, he set us up as a stable and I’ll always be so grateful for him,” said McDonald. 

So will we all.  

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