IT'S been an amazing journey so far for the connections of Whata Journey, and following the mare's third straight win, hopes are high the trek is only getting started.
Owned by Bendigo's Norm and Margaret McCloy and named in honour of their daughter Julianne Morris' long and brave battle against breast cancer and a myriad of other illnesses, the Julie Douglas-trained four-year-old produced arguably the finest effort yet of her short career to win at Bendigo's Lord's Raceway on Wednesday night.
A stirring victory, engineered to perfection from the sulky by Glenn Douglas, followed victories last month at Melton and Shepparton.
Whata Journey's latest success boosted the daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven and the McCloy's mare Whata Avenue's early career record to three wins from five starts, with all three wins coming since the switch in stable to the Douglases at Strathfieldsaye late last year.
There was no mistaking from whom the cheers in the crowd came from as the mare surged towards the winning post on Wednesday night, with a big contingent of the McCloy family, including Julianne and her sisters Katie and Sally and their children, urging their pride and joy on to victory.
The noise did not go unnoticed on the track, where the tactical battle was being fought and won by astute horseman Douglas.
"We do hear the family when you're out there," he said post-race
"I'm fortunate to win enough races and you sort of become a little blasé, but you do really love it when the crowd and the owners get involved. It makes it special.
"This really has been a special journey and to have the family here makes it all the better."
Thrilled both to see the mare notch her third straight win and to get his first win aboard her after Jack Laugher took the winning steers at Melton and Shepparton, Douglas considers What Journey still very much to be a work in progress.
"She's a lovely horse. At the moment I think she is winning on pure ability, not anything else," he said.
"She still races erratically, she switches on and switches off, but she has got enough raw ability at the moment just to do it.
"Ideally that's not how we want to drive her, but we had a little bit (of ability) on the field tonight and she got the prize."
Starting from gate seven and having to do plenty of work to find the front, this was no doubt the toughest of the mare's three wins.
Douglas insisted he was not overly concerned with how the race panned out.
"It was a terrible draw, but as I said to Norm (McCloy) before the race, it's only a bad draw after the race. You have to take the good draws with the bad," he said.
"The horse is learning and she will get better from that.
"When we can drive her a bit quieter she will be better for it, but for the moment it is what it is."
With three straight wins under her belt, Douglas said he and Julie might look to up the ante a bit with Whata Journey, confident there were even better times ahead for the mare.
"For the moment she is only getting to where she's got to be, we probably haven't worked her properly at home, in the way we'd like to," he said.
"But we have been able to do enough for her fitness and for her to be able to educate her and race at the same time.
"We'll have to start looking harder now where we go. There's still a bit to go with the journey, which is great for the family.
"They've been through a lot, but they put a lot of love into their horses and it's a family event for them.
"I hope it continues on for them - she is doing a lovely job."
Whata Journey's win capped a nice week at the track for his owners and breeders, the McCloys.
They picked up a second win in three starts with their Queensland-based pacer Whata Roller at Albion Park on Tuesday, while their three-year-old Whata Sport finished second on the same day.
There's still a bit to go with the journey, which is great for the family. They've been through a lot, but they put a lot of love into their horses and it's a family event for them.- Glenn Douglas
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