James Healy (right) celebrates with Craig Williams the Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes win of Loving Gaby
The words bully, arrogant, handful and strong willed might not be the first words punters would choose to describe The Valley’s new Sprinting Queen Loving Gaby, but her strapper James Healy knows her better than most.
The words tough, genuine, trier and classy may resonate more with the adoring racing public, words James also uses to describe his now Group 1 Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes winning superstar.
“You go and check every morning just to make sure she’s got four legs,” Healy says with a wry smile.
He isn’t joking.
“One morning she just fell to her knees saddling up and cut her head open, but that’s just Gaby.”
Healy and Loving Gaby first met at the beginning of 2018 and have shared an unflappable bond ever since. One is an aspiring young horse trainer making the move to the big smoke to further his career, the other coming with a hefty price tag to fulfill and expectations to match.
“She was a $500,000 filly and from day one you could tell she was worth every cent,” says Healy.
“I think we arrived at the Caulfield stables the very same week and it’s been quite the journey since.”
That price tag now looks all but a distant memory, with $1.68 million in prizemoney alone after the I Am Invincible filly maintained an undefeated record at The Valley, having also secured the Group 3 Scarborough Stakes in late September.
Loving Gaby is the first foal from Maastricht, a New Zealand mare who finished third at The Valley in the 2015 Alister Clark Stakes for Team Hawkes. Such was Loving Gaby’s impact, even before her Group 1 triumph in October, her dam fetched $2.25 million earlier this year.
But what turned out to be here crowning moment almost didn’t happen as Healy explains.
“We had her set for a mile race, but she worked that well at Breakfast with the Best on Tuesday morning and clocked one of the quickest last 400 metres, the boys flipped and changed their minds.”
Co-Trainer Dave Eustace told media post-race it was a ‘8.29am decision’ before 8.30am acceptances.
The victory was a significant one for 28-year-old Eustace, not only as Loving Gaby became just the second filly in the race’s 51-year history to win the race, but the first of his three Group 1 triumphs he had witnessed live.
“I think they were recently described as racing’s odd couple, which is probably about right… what do they say, opposites attract,” laughs Healy.
“Dave gets a little nervous and Ciaron might not tell you, but he does, because he goes about checking the horses every two minutes in the week leading up to a big race.”
It was also Healy’s third Group 1 win as a strapper for Maher, having led back Srikandi to her Stradbroke and Tatt’s Tiara wins in 2015.
“Any Group 1 is special and it’s a real reward for the long hours,” says Healy.
“We all got pretty excited and celebrated pretty hard with all the staff Saturday night.”
Healy is also the strapper of Humidor and described the win as a good ‘pick-me up’ after failing to gain a start in the 2019 Ladbrokes Cox Plate field.
The 24-year-old, who previously worked for trainer Rob Heathcote, hails from a Brisbane racing family, with his grandfather a trainer, uncle a jockey and father an avid racing follower.
A move to Victoria was all in earnest of pursuing his own training career, but first a big Autumn preparation is in store for Loving Gaby.
“The scary part is her head hasn’t caught up to her body,” suggests Healy.
“The best might still be to come, she’s a pretty special horse to have a heavy two-year-old season and come out the other side better.”
Potential Autumn options include the T.J. Smith or the possibility of a trip to Dubai, which is yet to be agreed upon by connections.
In the interim, we’ll know where to find Healy.
“I love The Valley, it’s the best racetrack in the world,” Healy says.
“Nothing beats a Friday night under lights.”
That we can agree on.