Drugs and alcohol took David Vandyke to hell and back. A $10,000 filly took the trainer and the battlers who own her to racing heaven.
Whether odds-on favourite Yankee Rose wins Thursday’s $1 million VRC Oaks or not, Vandyke and his fellow battlers are already living the dream.
The horse only had her first start a year ago, but her third in the Cox Plate has made her the bookies’ pick for the fillies’ classic.
“It’s been amazing, for myself and the owners, just a group of battlers, and it’s been a fairytale come true – win, lose or draw tomorrow,” Vandyke said on Wednesday.
“It’s a dream come true.”
It took a long time for Vandyke to get his fairytale.
He started as a trainer as 21-year-old David Hayes.
The 50-year-old, who changed his surname to his mother’s maiden name to avoid confusion with racing’s other David Hayes, has had a remarkable comeback from drug addiction and suicide attempts.
He has been to hell and back, as he put it, but is now clean and sober. He has not had a drink in 18 years nor taken a drug in 10.
It took the slightly-built Yankee Rose to deliver Vandyke’s first success at Group One level: the Spring Champion Stakes last month, at her first attempt at 2000m, and the Sires’ Produce Stakes in April.
Yankee Rose has already earned more than $2 million in prize money with her two Group One wins, second in the $3.5 million Golden Slipper and third in the $3 million Cox Plate.
Darby Racing bought her as a yearling for $10,000 before syndicating her to a group of mainly first-time owners from all walks of life – construction workers, retirees, receptionists – who had dreamed of owning a racehorse.
The filly loves attention, whether it’s the big crowds trackside or parading for the cameras on Wednesday.
“She’s a real showgirl,” Vandyke said.
The Oaks will be the first time Yankee Rose has raced over 2500m, but Vandyke thinks she will be hard to beat should she make the distance.
He is flattered the TAB has already installed Yankee Rose as the favourite for next year’s 3200m Melbourne Cup, but taking it one race at a time.
A Cup tilt would pit the battlers and their bargain buy against the racing prowess and financial might of one of the world’s richest men – Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed who continues his three-decade bid to win an elusive Cup – and retired Australian businessman Lloyd Williams.
Williams refuses to say how much it has cost him to become the most successful owner in Melbourne Cup history, with a record five wins after Almandin’s victory on Tuesday.
“You need a lot of luck and things have got to go right. It’s not an easy thing,” he told reporters at his Macedon Lodge training centre outside of Melbourne.
“There’s a lot of people all around the world trying to win the Melbourne Cup.”