Tommy Berry holds an old flame for Stradbroke Handicap ride

A small gesture made one Sydney spring morning has led Tommy Berry to an unexpected date with destiny aboard Rothfire in the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap.

During one of the Queenslander sprinter’s Sydney trips, Berry walked past Rothfire’s strapper at trackwork and offered to ride the Robert Heathcote-trained horse in a gallop, despite knowing another jockey was already booked to partner him during his interstate campaign.

“I galloped this horse a couple of times when he was in Sydney, even though I wasn’t on him,” Berry said.

“Rob sent me a message later saying thank you and said he would keep me in mind in the future.”

Fast-forward to Queensland Derby day last month and Rothfire had just finished a brave fourth in the Kingsford Smith Cup.

With jockey James Orman unable to make the horse’s weight in the Stradbroke, Heathcote needed to find a new rider and making good on his promise, he sought out Berry and offered him the mount.

Berry committed on the spot and while the horse’s chances have been dealt a blow by drawing barrier 20, he gets some weight relief dropping back to handicap conditions.

“He had to do a bit of work the other day to find cover with 59 (kilos) on his back and he drops down to 54-1/2. He is going to be a great chance,” Berry said.

Rothfire has been through the wringer with injury over the past two years, but he has been warming up to another peak performance this preparation.

After running out of condition late when a first-up fifth in the Victory Stakes, he filled the same position on an unsuitable heavy track in the Doomben 10,000 then put the writing on the wall with a fighting last-start fourth to Apache Chase, beaten less than half a length.

While Heathcote concedes Rothfire might not be the force he was pre-injuries, he believes the four-year-old still packs a mighty punch.

“He probably defies veterinary science, the fact he is back racing in Group 1 grade,” Heathcote said.

“To have fractured a sesamoid and had two chips the size of your thumb nail removed, it is extraordinary he has come back this far.

“But he is sound, he’s healthy. Is he as good as what he was? No.

“But he’s still a bloody good horse.”

About RS NewsWire

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