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2004 FIRESTONE DIRECT FREE-FOR-ALL - Won by Roman Gladiator

When Robin Swain bought Roman Gladiator at the Premier Yearling Sale 33 months ago, he had ever intention of breaking the colt in, getting him running along, and selling him. Well that was the plan anyway.

After all, the Christian Cullen son out of Assisi was a spur of the moment purchase; Swain had ventured up from his home in Knapdale specifically to buy a particular filly, and when that plan went out the window he found himself lifting a finger later in the day so that he could at least take something home.

Placed in the name of Swain's wife Amanda and their good friends Peter and Marie Neil, from Sydney, Roman Gladiator sailed through his early education without a hitch and was soon at the races, winning his 2-year-old debut impressively during March 2003. The Swains didn't need to hunt for buyers, they came knocking themselves. "I remember Robin telling me on the phone that we had had an offer for $50,000," recalled Peter. "Well I turned that down, but then he won his second start as well and we got another offer, this time for $300,000." Swain rang his co-owner again. "Robin said to me...'half of $300,000 is a house'. And I replied...'well, half of a million is two and a half houses'."

The Neils had been friends of the Swains for quite a few years, ever since they first bought a horse off the called Oneinamillion, and Peter's faith that Roman Gladiator would indeed develop into something special one day - and thus should be hung on to - was installed by Swain himself. "It was just the way I had heard Robin talk about the horse early on," he continued. "He believed that Roman Gladiator was the best horse he had ever sat behind, and that as far as speed goes he had never driven a horse as fast. So I thought, well this is what we all dream about. I said to Robin that if we sell him, all I'm going to do is go and look for another horse like him to buy. As far I could see, we already had the horse.

History shows that Neil was indeed justified in trying to talk his partner around. When Roman Gladiator captured the Sires' Stakes Final at Addington this time last year, it was his sixth win from 11 starts. And the ride didn't stop there...victories at Ascot Park, Forbury Park and Winton earlier this year followed, and then Roman Gladiator gave his Sydney connections their greatest thrill in racing when he captured a Prelude and the Final of the New South Wales Derby in May at their 'local' track, Harold Park.

Roman Gladiator went out for a spell after that, and after winning his resumption at Addington last month with a super effort after pulling fiercely in the trail for the entire event, he was back at Addington two days ago to take out the $30,000 Firestone Direct Free-For-All with a brilliant late surge. The Neils were there too, coming across the Tasman especially to see their pride and joy on his big day. "It certainly beats listening to his races over the phone, which we have had to do a few times," Peter said. "It is not ideal, but it beats not knowing how he has gone though. We knew it was going to be a test for him today, and thought that Lennon was going to be a big danger, so to beat him was a great thrill."

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 11Nov04

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