Faith in Roman Toia truly rewarded

Sally House has once again been rewarded for giving Roman Toia another chance in life.

The Cambridge trainer saddled up Roman Toia to win the Laser Plumbing Te Puke 1300 at Tauranga yesterday and afterwards, when toasting the courageous son of Pins, she reminisced over the problems which he has had to encounter from birth.

Roman Toia came to House to be prepared for the National Yearling Sales, but it soon became evident the horse had a problem. “He wasn’t putting on any weight and the feed was coming out through his nostrils in a type of foam,” she said.

A veterinarian was called in and after an inspection and a stunned look, a second opinion was requested. The diagnosis was uncommon palate deformity which, according to veterinarian studies, affects approximately 0.1-0.2% of the equine population.

The condition is a malformation of the soft and sometimes hard palate where the left and right side fail to unite. There is a gap between and instead of all the food going into the stomach some of it goes into the lungs.

The most common early clinical signs as a foal include milk coming out of both nostrils and coughing while nursing. Some foals with smaller defects in the palate are not thrifty and develop recurrent lung infection. Larger palatal defects produce more severe clinical signs and are life-threatening because of feed material going into the lungs.

“The vet said there was no hope for him and he wanted to put him down,” recalled House. “I asked if he could be all right as a show horse and was told he wouldn’t be any good to compete.”

However, House refused to accept defeat and she persevered with Roman Toia. “I tried all types of feed and worked out the only way to feed him was on the ground,” she said.

Roman Toia defied the odds by not only getting to the races, but winning his first trial, at Cambridge in September 2007. And now he is still in winning form as a seven-year-old.

He broke through for his first raceday win in his 11th start, at Pukekohe in April 2009, after four placings. Grant Cooksley was aboard that day and won on him again in his next appearance, 12 days later at Te Rapa.

Roman Toia again picked up a double in the summer of 2011. Reese Jones guided him to victory at Ellerslie at odds of 36/1 then Cooksley was reunited with him when he beat the talented Mae Jinx at Te Rapa at odds of 19/1.

Roman Toia had to settle for a few placings last season and at the end of that campaign his owners, Wayne Beatty and Ian White, decided to call it quits with him and concentrate on other horses. But House still believed in the horse.

“Wayne and Ian asked me if I wanted to race him and they persuaded me in the end,” said House. “Just before he had his first race back I asked them if they were sure they didn’t want a share. They turned the offer down.”

Roman Toia was eighth fresh-up at Thames then ran the race of a big improver when second to Ebullient at Taupo on December 30. Despite that encouraging effort, punters shied off him yesterday and he was allowed to start at the surprisingly long odds of better than 11/1.

House couldn’t believe the dividend and neither could Jones, who has been his regular rider since Cooksley shifted to Queensland. “The winner at Taupo ran under 1:9 and my horse needed the run,” said Jones. “He also needs a hard track and he got that. I thought he was a good thing.”

The only concern during the race came when Roman Toia was held up in the trail early in the run home. But Jones manoeuvred him into the clear and Roman Toia burst to the front to beat the favourite Alvesta.

The last winner House had at Tauranga was Runaway Bride, who broke through for her maiden win on the track two years ago, paying $83.70.

Roman Toia has now won almost $47,000 in stakes with a record of five wins and 12 placings from 42 starts. Not bad for a horse who had no future!