HUMBLE beginnings often lead to amazing endings.
And while there is still a bit more to play out in the career of the seven-year-old staying gelding Cooter Cha Cha, never have truer words been spoken.
The catchily named stayer, who is trained at Bendigo by Daryn Drust, finds himself in the unique position of chasing three-straight wins, in a race and at a track both still to be determined.
A second win on the trot arrived at Hamilton last Monday over 2200m. It was the gelding's sixth win in total from 39 starts, for earnings of a tick over $90,000 - a pleasing return for connections.
But whatever prize money the horse might earn pales in significance to the galloper's sentimental value to his owners, in particular Rochelle Thompson, better known to most as Shelley.
Thompson, who lives at Shelbourne - about 25km from the Bendigo CBD - also bred Cooter Cha Cha, only exacerbating her affinity for the beloved gelding.
His three recent wins at Hamilton and last month at Wangaratta, and before those, six starts earlier at Horsham (all at benchmark 58 level), have come to mean much more to Cooter Cha Cha's connections.
They have been the perfect pick-me-up at a time when the spirits of many have been dampened after weeks and months in COVID lockdown.
"He's gotten a lot of us through it," Thompson said.
"I have family and friends in Melbourne who have a share in him and he's giving everyone a buzz.
"Of course Melbourne is far worse off than us - they can't do anything (under lockdown). We're at least coming out of it."
Like so many, life in lockdown has been relatively harsh for Thompson.
Until late this week, contact with friends and family for the 62-year-old was limited entirely to online and over the phone during stage three restrictions in regional Victoria.
Her employment with pump manufacturer and service provider Flowserve in Castlemaine has been performed from home.
Regrettably, but understandably, her two greatest loves - trips to the racetrack and her regular attendance at rock and roll dances - have been on hold.
It was the combination of her two passions which led to the horse's naming.
"We do a dance called Cooter Cha Cha," she said.
He's gotten a lot of us through it COVID). I have family and friends in Melbourne who have a share in him and he's giving everyone a buzz.- Shelley Thompson
Not that she dwells much on the negatives, arguably the biggest blow through COVID was the loss of a foal through an infection.
"I had a beautiful colt by Ready For Victory and the Victorian Equine Centre tried for two weeks to save him, but he didn't pull through," Thompson said.
"Sarah (Dr Sarah Jalim) did a fantastic job and we thought he almost made it at one stage, but we lost him.
"It was hugely disappointing, but I guess racing has its ups and downs."
Horses - and particularly her love of racehorses - have dominated Thompson's life since she was a child, although just why and how this passion grew has an element of mystery.
"I don't come from a racing family, I just fell in love with racing,' she said.
"Unlike other teenagers, I didn't have posters of pop stars on my walls, I had Gunsynd and Phar Lap.
"As a kid, my brother gave me an Australian stud book, so I used to study pedigrees, so I've probably had a love of thoroughbreds and pedigrees probably since I was 10.
"I used to used to watch the Melbourne Cups on television with Galilee, Light Fingers and Red Handed ,and I just fell in love with the scene."
Her passion eventually saw Thompson start dabbling in breeding horses before later becoming heavily involved in a program aimed at rescuing and rehoming brumbies from the Northern Territory.
About a half-dozen of the thoroughbreds Thompson has bred have made it to the track, with mixed results.
They include Shim Sham, a cousin to Cooter Cha Cha, who had five starts for Drust, and Cooter Cha Cha's half-brother Blazing Chillie.
Undoubtedly her favourite though has been Cooter Cha Cha, whose father Delightful Choice and mother Cavalry Lady were both unraced, and who has risen from those humble beginnings to claim six race wins, with the potential for a few more.
The fact both parents never saw the racetrack was never a cause for alarm for Thompson.
She pointed to her good friend and pedigree analyst Kristen Manning, who landed a Group 3 success with Quilate, whose parents were similarly unraced, as to what could be achieved in racing.
"I got my original foundation mares off Kristen and one of those mares was Cooter Cha Cha's mother," Thompson explained.
As the wins have mounted - more quickly at the front end of his career with three from his last eight starts - Thompson has proudly been there with Cooter Cha Cha every step of the way.
His latest success gave the gelding back-to-back victories for the first time in his career. For Thompson, it offered a chance for reflection on the journey so far.
"He was always a nice looking foal ... leggy and very confident," Thompson said.
"I was there when he was born and he got to his feet straight away and gave me a nudge to push me out of the way.
"He does that to Daryn now. If Daryn puts his back to him he will give him a shove.
"He's always been a bit cocky and had an opinion of himself.
"Even though he was difficult to break in, Daryn always thought he had something.
"When he was doing his trackwork, he would always be very strong at the end and the jockeys would always say this horse has plenty of stamina. He gets to a cruising speed and just stays there.
"It did take him nine starts to win his first race; we did have to figure out a few things - wet and dry tracks, distances, that sort of thing.
"He seems to have found his niche now - heavy tracks. But even then he's a bit quirky.
"Even though he gets a wet track sometimes, he doesn't like the surface because some of them are a bit shifty and sandy.
"We had our fingers crossed he would like Hamilton and he did."
Thompson paid tribute to Drust's perseverance and patience with Cooter Cha Cha and looked forward to what the horse and trainer combination could conjure next.
"I'd never knock back six wins, and there's more to come," she said.
"He's a lively seven-year-old. He' got plenty of runs in him yet.
"Three in a row would be nice."
Unlike other teenagers, I didn't have posters of pop stars on my walls, I had Gunsynd and Phar Lap.- Shelley Thompson
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