Roughly, Hard Work Rewards salute for Gardner at Alice Springs

Racing Online - Tips - Roughly, Hard Work Rewards salute for Gardner at Alice Springs
Trainer Paul Gardner with his sons

After having a three-year break from training, Alice Springs-based has made a grand return with some success in November.

Gardner, who had his first winner with Private Express at Toowoomba in March 1995, has recently attained his owner-trainer licence and currently has Roughly, , Fair Go, Miss Mcgregor and Design Artist at his disposal.

The in-form Roughly, a 10-year-old mare, and Hard Work Rewards, a nine-year-old mare, who both won at on Saturday, were previously under the care of fellow Red Centre trainer Leah Walling-Denton.

Eight-year-old gelding Fair Go, formerly trained by Aileen Vanderfeen in Bendigo, is a recent arrival and has had three starts in the Alice with his best effort a third, while Miss Mcgregor and Design Artist have yet to make their NT debut.

Miss Mcgregor, a five-year-old mare, was formerly trained by Karen McCarroll in Wellington in NSW, and Design Artist, a four-year-old mare, was formerly trained by Darryl Rolfe in Canberra.

Roughly, High Work Rewards and Fair Go have in nine races since November 5, when Gardner officially returned as a trainer with Roughly (twice) and High Work Rewards saluting.

Before Gardner stepped away from training, six-year-old Roughly was his one and only runner at Pioneer Park on July 13, 2019, with the mare coming third.

“Unfortunately, things weren't going too well for me and I got out of training – it's been a long road back,” Gardner said.

“That wasn't the only issue, I had a lot of other things going on in my life at the time.

“Marriage breakdown after nearly 30 years and then I got cancer.

“Seven operations I ended up having in a couple of years – they kept missing the cancer.

“All good at the moment, every three months I've got to have a checkup.

“I worked in the industry for a fair while before I got my owner-trainer licence.

“That was always the plan, to get back training – I've just got my own horses and it's paying off at the moment.”

The renaissance of Roughly since July has engulfed NT racing, and justifiably so as she has had her leg injuries, so the fact she is still racing after debuting in Bendigo in March 2016 is a great story.

Before debuting for Gardner in June 2017, Roughly was trained by in Victoria and then , who started out in before relocating to .

Roughly, who has had 58 starts for 16 wins – including six wins in her past 11 starts – was seemingly bound for retirement after winning over 1200m in the Alice in September 2020, but in May 2022 she made her with a sixth over 1000m in the Red Centre.

“My son Jeremy and a couple of others were in her at the time and she got to a stage where they thought she couldn't go on,” Gardner said.

“When she was with trainer Carly Cook she wasn't 100 per cent, so they spelled her and my son bought her out with a couple of owners and we put her in the paddock and basically just let her be a horse for a couple years – she's come back all healed and strengthened up.

“It's good, we've given her the time, I've come back around the same time – she obviously went with to start with because I was working for Phil and then went to Leah Walling-Denton.”

Hard Work Rewards, who didn't race for five years after injuring her back offside fetlock in Darwin in July 2017, is also back in action.

After winning her comeback race for Walling-Denton in August, she had a further seven starts before saluting for Gardner on Saturday.

“The Sydney vet who did the operation on Hard Work Rewards in Darwin did a really good job,” Gardner said.

“It went vertical through the joint – the vet had to pin it and screw it from different angles to hold it together without restricting the joint.

“My son had her X-rayed in the Adelaide Hills by a vet just to check it out and they said that she had a bit of arthritis, it looked OK, but they could see a little bit of an issue with it.

“At that time we decided to retire her and just put her in foal, and because she's that quiet she'd make a beautiful pony for the grand-daughters or daughter-in-law.

“She then had a foal and when we brought her back to Alice we had her X-rayed again and it all looked really good, so we went forward with her.”

With the support of his family, Gardner has a spring back in his step.

“I've got three boys – Jeremy, Joshua and Jacob – they were all there at the races on Saturday,” Gardner said.

“They all help out, along with my daughter-in-law Dani, who is married to Jeremy – they've stuck by me as I went through a pretty dark stage there for a while.

“I've made some 14 trips to Darwin for operations, chemotherapy and radiation and all that sort of stuff, but they've done a really good job.

“It's actually a cancer that they've never seen before, it shows under the microscope as a skin cancer (BCC), but it was starting to do what melanomas do, so they were taken aback why it was so aggressive.

“But it's all worked out good, the doctors have got on top of it, so at the moment I'm clear.”

Gardner's stable will no doubt increase, and looking ahead to 2023 all appears promising, but at the moment Roughly and Hard Work Rewards are certainly the shining lights.

“Next week (December 4) there's a 1400 for High Work Rewards and Roughly in their own grade,” Gardner said.

“I think that could be it for them both for just a while.

“They're pretty old girls, but I won't spell them so to speak, but they will get nice little let ups and a bit of a freshen up.

“So they're in next week and I'll work it out from there, but I'm looking to give them a little bit of time off, but not too much.”

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