The Jewish assault on Flemington
Horse Racing

The Jewish assault on Flemington

In the lead-up to the biggest horse races of the year, two racehorse owners and one man behind the scenes at Caulfield Racecourse spoke to The AJN.

Brae Sokolski, third from right, leading Yes Yes Yes back after winning the $14 million TAB Everest at Royal Randwick on October 19, 2019. Photo: AAP Image/Simon Bullard
Brae Sokolski, third from right, leading Yes Yes Yes back after winning the $14 million TAB Everest at Royal Randwick on October 19, 2019. Photo: AAP Image/Simon Bullard

BRAE Sokolski was on top of the racing world on Saturday when his horse, Yes Yes Yes, won the richest horse race on turf in the world.

“I wanted to run the horse. I had so much faith in him. He has vindicated us,” Sokolski, who convinced other owners and trainer Chris Waller to run the horse in the $14 million Everest, said.

“What more could you hope for in a horse?

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of every single person involved. Everything about this has just been fate.”

Sokolski almost became the first owner in racing history to win the Everest and the $5 million Caulfield Cup on the same day, but in the second event his horse Finche finished fifth.

While Finche still won $150,000, and firmed as a Melbourne Cup contender, for Sokolski horse racing isn’t about money.

Read more: The racing industry faces its demons.

Watch more: David Southwick’s father won the 1972 Caulfield Cup.

One of the greatest joys he gets in the sport is seeing Kaplumpich race because he owns the horse with a group of old friends.

“He’s a colt hero,” Sokolski said.

“A group of us were on a golf trip a few years back and a lot of the guys had never owned a horse but I told them I’m not giving them an option and we’re going into a horse.

“They all committed, but one of the guys pulled out and his name is Daniel Kave, whose ancestral Polish name is Kaplumpich, so we named the horse after him.”

The horse’s colours include a K that looks like a letter from the sefer Torah, navy blue because Kave is a Carlton fan and orange on the hat to represent carrot on the top of gefilte fish.

In this video, Sokolski and other the other owners celebrate a recent win by Kaplumpich.

While the horse might have a special place in Sokolski’s heart because of his friendship with other owners, it pails in comparison to his love of Kings Will Dream.

In last year’s Cox Plate, the race that racing purists see as the pinnacle of racing, Kings Will Dream was a genuine contender until a mishap at the starting gates when the horse struck himself.

Jockey John Allen quickly pulled up the horse only 500m into the race and hours after the race it was revealed the horse was in a critical condition with a fractured pelvis and ruptured blood vessel.

Kings Will Dream will race in the Cox Plate

Against all odds, Kings Will Dream overcame the injuries and this Saturday will try to win the race that nearly took his life.

“This could be the ultimate redemption story of him winning the Cox Plate 12 months after what happened.

“It would be one of the most extraordinary tales of the Australian Turf if that happens.”

When asked about retuning to the Moonee Valley track for the first time with the horse, Sokolski said he isn’t a superstitious person.

“It holds no fears for me because it could have happened at any race track.”

Kings Will Dream will line up alongside Humidor, as an emergency, and Verry Elleegant, also part-owned by Sokolski, and 11 other horses in the best weight-for-age race in Australia.

Winning the Everest was a dream, taking home the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup would be, for most people, only a fantasy.

“I never imagined this,” he told The AJN. “It’s beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I will own horses for another 50 years and I may never be in this position again.

“I’m just trying to soak it up and not take anything for granted.”

From left: Josh Rodder, Sonny Roth, Brae Sokolski. Photo: Peter Haskin

BUT Sokolski isn’t the only Jewish owner trying to win the big races this Spring Carnival.

Sonney Roth – who, like Sokolski, played footy for AJAX in his youth in Melbourne – has horses capable of winning the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup.

“It’s not about the money,” Roth said, “I’m passionate about racing and I just want the trophy or the plate.”

His Melbourne Cup horse Mustajeer, who won the £1 million Ebor Handicap in Europe recently, finished sixth in the Caulfield Cup on the weekend in his first Australian start.

“I have a vision of Mustajeer leading at the clock tower (which is famously located 150m from the finish of the Melbourne Cup) and it’s whether he can hold to win.”

Mustajeer, ridden by Damien Oliver on the way to the barriers, at the 2019 Caulfield Cup. Photo: George Salpigtidis/Racing Photos

Roth grew up with the racing industry in his peripheral vision because his family sponsored fashions on the field.

As the industry grew, and his business Antler Luggage expanded, it morphed into race-day sponsorships, permanent signage and Antler became a staple name in the industry.

“When you’re around racing all the time everyone wants you to be more and more involved and so we thought we might as well own a horse.

“Dad and I bought the first horse, 50-50, with our own colours but we soon learnt that it was a very expensive exercise and so we started taking small shares in more horses.”

Roth has become a well-known figure now, buying horses with multiple horse racing syndicates and finding some of the best overseas horses to bring back to Australia.

“I’ve been lucky enough to run in all the big races now, but the Cox Plate is the race for the purists because it’s the best horses in the country.

And his 2019 hope is Danceteria.

“Danceteria is the best horse I’ve ever owned.

“We are looking for a weight-for-age star in Australia post-Winx, and I really think that even if he doesn’t win the Cox Plate that he has a really strong future.”

Josh Rodder, Melbourne Racing Club’s Racing and Media executive, on the Caulfield track prior to the first race. Photo: Peter Haskin

JOSH Rodder, unlike Roth and Sokolski, will be behind the scenes as the Melbourne Racing Club’s racing and media executive.

Rodder wasn’t born into a racing family, but from an early age he was introduced to the sport when he and his brother played the board game Lose Your Shirt.

“We used to play it and then watch the Spring Carnival. We just loved the media and commentary,” Rodder told The AJN.

“When I heard Bruce McAvaney calling the Melbourne Cup in the 1980s I was captivated by his excitement and passion.”

Rodder was a rebellious child, and a handful for his teachers.

Rodder would play the board game lose your shirt with his brother as children.

But that all changed when he was properly introduced to his real passion.

“John Locco, who was one of my teachers and also the mayor of Brighton, knew I loved horses so he got me a job on Southern FM community radio on a racing show and also at the stables, where I worked with trainer Rob McGuinness.”

There was no turning back. “Once I bonded with the horses and touched the horses I feel the magic of a thoroughbred,” Rodder said.

“It’s hard to explain the feeling in words, but it’s something special.”

Rodder quickly worked his way into the industry further, and was fortunate enough to manage topflight jockey Jim Cassidy when he rode Diatribe to victory in the 2000 Caulfield Cup before earning a living buying and selling horses.

His life plan seemed set, but another twist saw him move across the country to Perth.

On one of Western Australia’s biggest race days, the Karrakatta Plate Day, in 2007, he received a phone call from one of his friends.

“I’ve just met your future wife,” Rodder recalls his friend saying.

“Suddenly on the other end of the phone was a former Israeli soldier, now a jockey, speaking Hebrew.

“I fell in love straight away.”

Josh and Talia Rodder.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Rodder moved to Perth to be with Talia, who he later married, and the pair have been together ever since.

“My Hebrew is as good now as it has ever been,” he joked.

It was a few years before the couple moved back to Melbourne, where Rodder started working at the Melbourne Racing Club.

In his current role at the Melbourne Racing Club, Rodder is able to impart his passion of racing onto others.

“If anyone rings me to connect with horses, whether it’s a parent that has a child with behavioural difficulties, a group of school kids or anyone else, I do everything I can to assist. It just changes your life.”

Being in Melbourne has also given Rodder an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, such as Sokolski. As he didn’t attend a Jewish school, his parents got him involved in the AJAX footy club so he would remain connected to the Jewish community.

“I had Jewish grandparents who were kosher and so we went to synagogue and that bond was important to me.”

Rodder now surrounds himself with several Jewish people in the horse racing business, and has recently bought into a horse with Roth, who he met several years ago.

“It’s fantastic to be back in the bagel belt and have these guys on board.

“There have been some amazing Jewish guys involved in the industry, going back to when the Southwick family owned Sobar, which won the Caulfield Cup in 1972.”

Rodder mused that it’s not just about the horses and the animals, it’s an exciting journey from naming a horse, to attending race days and meeting the families of other people who own the horses.

“It’s about get-togethers, celebrations and a whole lot of fun.”

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