By Harley Walden
When Vo Rogue was gelded the veterinary surgeon who performed the operation looked down at his 11-month old patient struggling to come out of the anaesthetic, and decided the horse had no heart in him.
No heart! Six years later the little bay with no heart in him had 16 Group wins, a string of track records, a devoted public and a small matter of $2.93 million in the bank.
Vo Rogue was one of those gallopers for which the description “freak” is no exaggeration, the product of parents who never won a race between them, Vo Rogue fetched the princely sum of $5,000 as a weanling, which looked no bargain as he grew into a slow and ungainly juvenile with little interest in running.
Nicknamed Erky, he was always a curious looking animal.
With a thin, patchy coat that needed sump oil to protect it from the Queensland sun.
He was never near a syringe or a vitamin supplement, and if his trainer Vic Rail had had his way, his hooves would never have felt the farrier’s blow.
He was not hosed or shampooed, he was fed oats, lucerne, tick beans, sun-flower seeds and calf manna, with very little corn.
It might all sound a little eccentric, but there’s no denying Vo Rogue could run, like the wind.
Most of all he liked to run in front, with huge ground-eating strides that would break his opponents’ hearts.
It was a race tactic which would set everybody’s blood pumping a little faster. The punters knew what they were getting and the challengers knew what they had to do to beat him.
Not since Gunsynd in the early 1970s had a racehorse so captured the Australian imagination.
He won from 1000 to 2040 metres in every mainland state except South Australia, where he never started.
By the end of his career the six-year-old he had won 26 races and placed in 18 of his 68 starts.
“The people loved him not only because of his front running style, they loved him because of his will to win, “Rail said.
“He tries hard and he makes sure they get their money’s worth.”
Although his looks were unorthodox and his parents relatively undistinguished, a closer inspection gave clues to Vo Rogue’s ability.
He stood 16.3 hands, with an intelligent head, huge shoulders, plenty of rein and marvellous legs.
According to Rail it was the length of his stride that made him a champion, it also threw him off balance on rain-affected tracks, but on a firm surface he could foot it with the champions of any era.
After a superb five-year-old season which netted him six Group victories and more than $1 million in prizemoney, Vo Rogue returned to win four more races as a six-year-old, including group one victories in the George Main Stakes (1600m) at Randwick and the Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington, and his third successive Group Two C F Orr Stakes (1400m) at Sandown.
Victory Rail, so named because he was born the day the Japanese surrendered in the Pacific, had spent much of his life defying conventional wisdom.
When Vo Rogue turned the tables on Super Impose in the C F Orr Stakes in 1989 the critics had their answer.
Vo Rogue led from the jump and pounded down the Sandown straight to win the race for the third year running.
It was virtually a carbon copy of the previous year. Vo Rogue carried the same weight (57.5kg), clocked exactly the same time (1:23.30 and beat the same horse, Super Impose, by almost the same margin (1½ lengths).
“He’s proved the knockers wrong hasn’t he?” Rail said, scarcely able to keep his grin below ear level.
“He hasn’t lost anything”, nor had his part-owner, Gary Roberts, a professional punter who had taken all the 2-1 the bookies would lay, and confessed that Vo Rogue had “got him out of a hole”.
It was not the first time Roberts had emptied his pockets on The Vo, two years earlier he had paid $180,000 for a fifth share in the gelding that turned out to be the investment of a lifetime.
The two men closest to the champion galloper were Vic Rail his trainer, a bona fide Queensland battler with a curious name, who never appeared comfortable in his crumpled race-day suit.
In a tragic twist, Rail died in 1994, three years after Vo Rogue retired, after contracting the Hendra Virus.
Vo Rogue was ridden by a jockey called Cyril Small, who was thrust into the limelight by a mighty horse.
Small was born on a cattle property between Grafton and Casino in northern NSW and swears he was riding horses before he could walk.
He loved horses so much he even rode them to school in a small country town called Wyan, where his class mates numbered 20 at most.
Vo Rogue died on May 10, 2012 at the grand old age of 28.
A champion in all facets of the sport, the front-running champion would have people hanging over the fences when Vo Rogue amble back to scale.
They’d chuckle at the irony of this bare-footed, dusty-coated Queenslander, who dragged downed the toffs and was the best horse in an era of champions.