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Pallamallawa-owned mare Invincible Gem to take on Winx at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday

PALLAMALLAWA farmer Phillip Tonkin’s incredible start to racehorse ownership is set to continue at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday – Golden Slipper day – when his four-year-old mare Invincible Gem takes on out-and-out champion Winx in the 1500m $1million George Ryder Stakes.

Tonkin, better-known around Pallamallawa way simply as ‘Roughie’, shares ownership of Invincible Gem with his brother-in-law, Quirindi cattle farmer Charles Hill.

The mare has racked up five wins from just 12 starts during the past 18 months, including a runaway win in the 1600m Group 3 Spring Stakes at Randwick and the 1200m Group 2 Missile Stakes, also at Randwick.

Invincible Gem, trained at Newcastle by Kris Lees, also finished a luckless, nose second in the 1600m Group 1 Randwick Guineas last spring behind Inference.

Proud bushie Phillip “Roughie” Tonkin, from Pallamallawa near Moree, will be trackside at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday to watch Invincible Gem, a mare he part-owns with brother-in-law Charles Hill, take on champion Winx in the Group One George Ryder Stakes (Image: Copyright Bill Poulos).

And to make Saturday’s big day of super-racing just that little bit more daunting for Tonkin and Hill, they also own emerging sprinter-miler Kool Vinnie, the current 9-2 favourite for the 1400m $150,000 Provincial Championships Qualifier at Kembla Grange’s corresponding meeting.

But while the run has been an eye-opener for this pair of proud bushies, the dream nearly became a nightmare last year when Invincible Gem was struck down with severe colic.

“She got crook last year and went for a spell, and we nearly lost her,” Roughie said.

“There were two blockages caused by colic and the vets had to open her right up . . . she was a 50-50 chance of making it for a week or two after the operation.

“But she has come out of all that really good and had a good hit-out in the Canterbury Stakes first-up,” he said.

Invincible Gem, the mare with a Lazarus lifestyle, worked home nicely from worse than midfield in the Group One sprint to finish a closing third behind last year’s Epsom winner Happy Clapper and dual Group One winner Global Glamour, beaten two-and-three-quarter lengths.

“She might have run out of puff just a little bit that day but that’s got to be expected after so long out,” Roughie said.

“We were over the moon just to see her out there and happy again.

“She suffered slight bruising during the race but she’s over that and we’ll have a crack on Saturday,” he said.

Invincible Gem’s grand-final is the $3million Doncaster Mile at Randwick on April 7.

Taking on Winx in the George Ryder Stakes is a task not for the faint-hearted, but it’s a task that is also unavoidable.

There’s no point dodging the great mare, Roughie reckons.

“She’s got to go to the Olympics at some stage and play A-grade, so we may as well do it now, but don’t start asking awkward questions like ‘how would it feel to own the horse that beats Winx?’,” Roughie chuckled.

Invincible Gem races clear to win the Group 3 Spring Stakes at Randwick last year (Image courtesy of Bradley Photos).

“Just to be in the same mounting yard as Winx is a thrill, and most of our family is going to be there so it will be a good day out, I hope,” he said.

Roughie still pinches himself as he marvels at the ride Invincible Gem has taken him and his brother-in-law on during the past 18 months.

“It’s all still a bit of a dream but we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves . . . we’ve been lucky to be with the right people with the right horses, and it’s good to see some good stuff happening in our part of the world,” he said.

About three hours after Invincible Gem clashes with Winx and company in the George Ryder, stablemate Kool Vinnie angles for a berth in the Provincial Championships Final in the Kembla Grange Qualifier.

If luck had been on the gelding’s side last start in the Wyong Qualifier, Kool Vinnie would have already secured a berth in the $500,000 Final at Randwick on April 14.

Kool Vinnie got a long way back at Wyong before being nosed out of third placing behind qualifiers Just Dreaming, Manhattan Mist and Witches.

“He got jammed up three times in the straight, and it’s only a short straight at Wyong, whereas the straight at Kembla Grange is 400m long and every horse gets its chance,” Roughie said.

“We expect him to get back – that’s how he races – and finish in a hurry.

“The final is worth half-a-million dollars and the qualifying races are worth $150,000 each so it’s great to see the racing industry put on something like this for provincial-trained horses,” he said.

Roughie joked that he “just might do a Singo” on Saturday and land a helicopter at Kembla Grange after watching Invincible Gem attempt the near-impossible against Winx at Rosehill Gardens.

“It’s only about 120km up the motorway, so you never know,” he winked.

Words and Image Copyright: Bill Poulos