Holy Roller (horse)
Holy Roller (foaled 18 October 1992) by the Biscay stallion Sanction out of the mare Secret Blessing, was a large Australian Thoroughbred racehorse of the mid-to late-1990s. He won 12 of his 26 races and a developed a cult following amongst Sydney race fans. Bred and owned by Woodlands Stud, Holy Roller stood 18.1 hands compared to the average thoroughbred at around 16 hands. His career highlights included wins in the Bill Ritchie Handicap and the Crystal Mile.
Born at Woodlands Stud Denman, New South Wales, it took his dam over one hour to get him out. The foal arrived at 0240 and did not stand until 0320. Both dam and foal were exhausted and lay for almost an hour recovering. The foaling night watchman was a 6ft young man, and when the foal finally stood, he reached the mid-chest level of the watchman. Comments at the time included: "VERY big foal, enormous knees, fetlocks, etc."
His dam, Secret Blessing, was an average size mare, about 16hands, but very wide and roomy. Most of her progeny had been fairly large - her daughters tended to be wide like her, such as Genuflect, but Immense was tall and wide but not as big as her half-brother Holy Roller. His sire Sanction is a fairly tall horse, 16.1h.
Holy Roller was weaned off his dam in April 1993. He was always very easy to pick out amongst the weanlings in a paddock - he was taller than the Clydesdale foal which shared the same paddock, and stood out like a giraffe.
Woodlands Stud does not sell its yearlings but races everything it breeds; Trevor Lobb (general manager) and their private trainer John Hawkes assess the youngsters in November and divide them into the appropriate groups for breaking-in. When John Hawkes saw Holy Roller the first time, he said, "He would look good pulling a cart". The yearling was named for the evangelical preachers that used to roam the southern states of the USA (the Mississippi bible belt) commonly known as "holy rollers". He was left until the very last batch of yearlings for breaking-in and didn't go to Belmont Park (north east of Sydney) until May 1994. After the breaker had ridden him the first time, he said, "This huge lump knows where he is putting his feet and has tremendous balance". Holy Roller was gelded at an early age to try and slow down his rapid growth pattern, but it didn't work.
At breaking-in, Holy Roller measured 17 hands and weighed an estimated 660 kg. Each time he went out for a spell, on his return, he would be re-measured and always had increased in height. At the end of his racing career, he measured 18.1 hands. He had the sweetest temperament, very gentle around people and other horses, with his only dislike being dogs yapping around his feet.
John Hawkes was always very conscious of not putting any pressure on the horse while young, so he didn't start until he was a late 3 year old. Hawkes tried to keep for races on big open tracks but the horse won at Canterbury and Moonee Valley (both very tight-turning tracks). Holy Roller always had to race on the outside of the field to have the freedom to stretch out properly, otherwise if caught inside other horses, he would cramp up to avoid hitting the others.
Jockeys who have ridden Holy Roller him say it was like riding in an old Cadillac, very smooth ride, tremendous suspension but when the stride lengthens in the straight, they get whiplash in their necks; they also refuse to dismount straight off his back but rather get down onto a handy rail if possible, then drop to the ground. Another problem during a race was that the jockey was often unable to see horses in front of Holy Roller's neck and head (hidden underneath), and would have to trust to the horse to get around and past the smaller horse safely. Jockey Larry Cassidy said often he would ask Holy Roller to go forward in a race but the horse would refuse, then move out sideways and Larry would realise there had been an "normal size" horse in front of him but not visible from the saddle.
Holy Roller created extra work for farriers. Standard steel shoes are about 8 inches in length but the Holy Roller needed 14 inches per hoof, meaning the farrier had to start with a straight steel bar. Luckily he was a calm steady horse that did not scrape his feet, so the shoes did last about six weeks.
Upon retiring, his owners - "Chicken Kings" Jack and Bob Ingham - donated Holy Roller to Rod Hoare (NSW Equine Protection officer) who was looking for a big horse to do dressage work.