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Mon 19 April 2021

By Jordan Gerrans

Group 1-winning trainer Wendy Roche is known as the larrikin with the horse who drinks beers and enjoys pizza.

And, ahead of the trainer and last-start Queen of the Turf Stakes winner Nettoyer, heading to Queensland for the TAB Queensland Winter Racing Carnival, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Roche.

The Warwick Farm-based trainer lived near Port Douglas for around 16 years earlier in life, in a tiny town named Mount Molloy.

Born and bred in Murwillumbah, Roche became involved with a barramundi farm in FNQ and would travel just under an hour every day from Mount Molloy to Mareeba to ride track work and tend to her small team of horses.

In those days, Roche did not even train in her own name – a far cry from a duo of Group 1s on her resume in early 2021, with a star horse that eats pizza and drinks frothies, no less.

“I have had horses my whole life; I was a very good equestrian rider and my partner was in racehorses, we went up there to north Queensland and had a break,” Roche recalled this week after Nettoyer’s upset win a Royal Randwick on Saturday afternoon.

“We eventually got into horses up there, as well.

“I did not get my official licence until I was in Murwillumbah, but I was always around the horses as a stable hand up there with my horses at Mareeba.

“Mount Molly is a town of just 20 people, so I would travel the 40 minutes to Mareeba every day to be with the horses.”

Reminiscing on her time in the north, Roche quickly remarked about her good times at bush tracks like Cooktown, Laura, Mount Garnet and Einasleigh, whilst also declaring Mount Molly had the best pub in FNQ.

The big guns of racing in north Queensland are still the same names – Tom Hedley and Roy Chillemi – with the famous orange colours still winning races for fun in that part of the world.

“They are all mates of mine, Tom and Roy, I used to race them and beat them,” she said with a laugh.

“I will have to give Tom a call when I come up for the carnival, he is a mate of mine.

“In those days we trained under my partner's name Barry Butler, I always rode track work after equestrian.”

After her FNQ stint, Roche eventually went back to Murwillumbah and then on to Sydney.

Roche is unsure who will ride Nettoyer in her, potentially, three Queensland runs, but says champion hoop Tommy Berry may stick with her.


Post-race on Saturday, Berry said Nettoyer appreciated “getting her toe in the ground.”

“She was in a great mood and when she is in one of those moods, she is at her best,’’ Berry said.

“I was very confident a long way out.’

If Berry cannot be secured, Roche is likely to turn to gun West Australian hoop William Pike or Chris Caserta.

Looking ahead to the TAB Queensland Winter Racing Carnival, Nettoyer heads towards the Group 2 A.D Hollindale Stakes at Aquis Park on May 8, then on to the Doomben Cup, before a potential crack at the $1.5 million Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap.

“With a bit of luck, we will look to the Hollindale and then the Doomben Cup,” she said.

“We might chuck a nomination in the Stradbroke, too.

“Because they go 100 mile an hour in the Stradbroke, she is a backmarker, she might come home well.”

Looking ahead to the Hollindale, Roche says the race shapes as a "mini Doncaster", such is the quality that is setting itself for the race in three weeks’ time.

Nettoyer, who has never been north of the border before to race, has a mind of her own Roche says, and is unsure how she will map out the Queensland trip.

The winner of $2,508,700 from seven career victories does not like to be worked on the grass or sand and needs an all-weather Polytrack surface.

With the Sunshine Coast’s surface being redone, Roche may be forced to go back and forth between Brisbane and Sydney during the carnival.

Roche had similar concerns when the seven-year-old mare travelled to Melbourne late last year.

“She is likely to have two more runs in Queensland and then be retired to stud," Roche said.

"I hope she can go to Exceed And Excel in the spring.’

Roche is likely to bring a couple more from her stable to Queensland in the coming weeks.