STEVE HODGE – PART OF THE BROADMEADOW “FURNITURE” FOR 50 YEARS
STEVE HODGE is “back in the swim”!
One of Newcastle’s longest-serving trainers who also manages Newcastle Jockey Club’s equine swimming pool, he won his first race in nine months with Sebring Sun filly Lika Sun on the Beaumont track yesterday.
“It’s been that long I didn’t know where the Winner’s Bar was when they asked me to have a drink after the race,” Hodge said today.
“As well as getting back into the winning list, it was also nice to a win a race for Craig Ruttley, who bred the filly and the family stands her sire Sebring Sun at their Glenthorne Park property near Taree.
“I had sent a horse there to spell, and also a mare to be served by Sebring Sun (who is now in foal), and they asked me if I would like to train this filly.”
Sebring Sun won three races, including the 2015 Listed Rosebud (1100m) at Rosehill Gardens and was also placed behind Exosphere there in the $1m Group 1 Golden Rose (1400m) that year, whilst the filly’s dam Lotsa Lobban (who died two years ago) won eight races on country tracks.
Lika Sun (Darryl McLellan), at only her third start, beat her own sex in an 1100m Maiden yesterday – and her victory didn’t surprise her trainer.
But the filly’s starting price of $13 surely did.
“Lika Sun had shown she could gallop right from the start and Dylan Gibbons rode her on debut when she finished fifth in a 900m Maiden on a heavy track at Newcastle last October,” Hodge said.
“She pulled up shin sore, so we turned her out for six months and she grew and matured.
“I knew she would take improvement from her first run back late last month, and she was only narrowly beaten in another 900m Maiden on the course proper.
“She was in a country grade race this time, the step up to 1150m suited better, and yet she was still double figure odds, probably because leading Sydney stables (Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, Annabel Neasham, and Ciaron Maher and David Eustace) all had first starters.”
In terms of winners, it’s been a quieter season than normal for Hodge, who underwent surgery on Australia Day in January for a troublesome back, and his only previous winner in this racing year was My Naughty Boy at Scone last September.
But his commitments with the pool in the last five and a half years meant that he has scaled back his training operation.
“Whereas I usually had around 15 horses, I’ve cut back to five or six and now train basically as a hobby for friends,” Hodge explained.
“I couldn’t look after any more than that as the pool opens at the same time the track does, and I’m fortunate to have the help of Bianca Casetta and trackwork rider Josh Langridge.”
Hodge, who turned 65 in February, is approaching his 38th year as a trainer and has been part of the “furniture” at Broadmeadow for 50 years.
“I started going to the track when I was 15,” he recalled.
“Even though I’m not training as much as I used to, I’m still enjoying going to the track each day and seeing everyone,” he said.
“It’s a heck of a lot better than sitting at home doing nothing.”
When bitten fair and square by the racing “bug”, Hodge swapped tools for saddles.
Born and raised in the Newcastle coastal suburb of Merewether, Hodge’s family had no involvement at all with thoroughbreds.
“Dad was a builder and I was apprenticed to him for a few years,” he said.
“For some reason, I always liked horses and used to have ponies.
“Max Lees had just started training and had only a few horses when family friend John Colvin (the late former NJC employee who helped out various trainers in the early hours before starting his main job) began taking me to the track.
“John rode the 1967 Australian Derby winner Swift Peter work for trainer Greg Beuzeville at Broadmeadow, and also introduced me to Merv and Judy Maynard.
“Merv was still riding at the time, and I helped out at the stables at weekends.”
As his love for racing grew, he quit working for his father and linked with former leading Newcastle trainer Roy Hinton.
Hodge worked for him for 11 years, and says he could not have had a better tutor.
“They were terrific times,” he said. “Roy had a really good stable with horses such as Manawapoi (1976 Stradbroke Handicap winner), Swiftly Ann, Showcrest, War Chariot, Ontonic, Bandoo Bay, etc.
“And he won 11 races in a row with Lady Manina. I rode her in most of her work.
“I learnt so much from Roy, and he was always willing to pass on his knowledge.
“He was always very meticulous with whatever he did, especially how he fed, worked and exercised his horses.
“Roy was always careful not to gallop them too hard, instead giving them plenty of slow work.”
When Hinton retired at the end of the 1985-86 season, Hodge had the opportunity to step up as a trainer in his own right.
“Roy finished at the end of July in 1986, and I took over from the start of the new season on August 1,” he said.
Hodge didn’t take long to break through, fittingly winning his first race with a horse (Sailing Solo, ridden by Australian Racing Hall Of Famer Robert Thompson) previously trained by his former boss, at Wyong on August 14.
Whilst he began his career with only a handful of horses, he had great support from leading trainers Max Lees and Paul Perry.
“Both gave me horses to pre-train,” Hodge said, “I will always be most appreciative of their assistance.”
The month of May in 2003 will live long in the trainer’s memory. He went within an ace of scooping a remarkable Cups treble with locally-owned Silent Impact, who had won the 2000 Newcastle Gold Cup for Wyong’s Neville McBurney at the first Saturday stand-alone meeting held outside the metropolitan area because of “some important games” that were held in Sydney at that time.
Hodge was the fifth trainer of the Kiwi-bred gelding, who won the Group 3 Gosford Gold Cup (2100m) on May 8 at $31 and Listed McKell Cup (2400m) at Rosehill Gardens 23 days later.
Matthew Paget rode him in both races, but Bernadette Cooper (now Sky Racing Brisbane commentator) rode him in between when photo-finished out of the Listed Lord Mayor’s Cup (2000m), also at Rosehill.
And there’s a tale to tell there.
“Rosehill was very heavy that day, and the Cup distance was reduced from 2400m,” Hodge explained.
“Jack Denham’s Majestically nosed us out and was better suited at the 2000m, whereas our horse was looking for the 2400m.
“Silent Impact turned the tables a fortnight later when we got to the 2400m of the McKell Cup.”
Hodge also gained a reputation as an excellent tutor of apprentices. Blake Spriggs, Scott Thurlow, Mathew Scorse and Alex Stokes all spent time with him.
Spriggs was on loan to Gai Waterhouse when he rode five winners at a Rosehill Saturday meeting in July 2010.
And though not a jockey, godson Jack Marshall also came through the Hodge school of hard knocks.
“Jack went to the track and races with me and was always determined to be involved in the industry in some capacity,” he said. “He is now a highly regarded member of the RacingNSW stewards’ panel, and I’m very proud of him.”
The beginning in 1986 of Hodge’s training career gave him a totally coincidental but rather interesting thread to a well-known English soccer player of the same name.
That Steve Hodge was involved in the legendary Maradona’s infamous “Hand Of God” World Cup goal only a few weeks before his Aussie namesake launched his career.
It was a quarter-final against Argentina in Mexico City, and Hodge’s attempted back pass to goalkeeper Peter Shilton early in the second half somehow was intercepted by the freakish Argentine star, who punched the ball into the net.
It was incorrectly ruled a goal, hence the “Hand Of God” label, and the pair swapped shirts after the game.
Maradona’s famous No 10 jumper was housed in the National Football Museum in Manchester on display for two decades until Hodge not so long back announced he was putting it up for auction.
The result? An anonymous buyer forked out a cool A$12.4 million to secure the shirt, unsurprisingly setting a new record for sports memorabilia.
Our Steve Hodge had a succinct parting comment. “I have never met him, but wouldn’t mind being the other Steve Hodge.”
*Words John Curtis, June 20, 2023 – Pics Bradley Photos*