A passion that began over 45 years ago for Tony Ottobre has developed into his life’s purpose amidst one of the most tragic events that a family ever has to endure.
By his own admission, Tony Ottobre “wasn’t a very good jockey”. The former apprentice estimates that his best finish in a race would have been a third placing before he eventually hung up the saddle in the mid 1970’s when his weight struggle became too much.
Tony shifted his focus to working as a strapper and a horse breaker for the great Colin Hayes at Angaston in South Australia, intent to still maintain his connection with horses.
“I certainly enjoyed my time with Colin Hayes,” Tony said.
“It was a bit of fun and I really, really enjoyed the atmosphere and especially working with the horses.”
The job came with its fair share of danger, most that involve working with horses do. Tony recalls an incident in which one of Colin’s yearlings put him through a running rail and left him in hospital for three months.
Yet for Tony and the Ottobres, no amount of physical pain could compare to the pain of losing their beloved daughter Jennifer to cancer in 2015.
“Our family was devastated, my wife Lynn and my son Michael,” Tony said.
“As a parent that has lost a child, I truly feel for other parents who have lost theirs.”
Jennifer was a fighter, when first diagnosed the doctors gave her between nine and twelve months to live, she defied that estimate to live another four years and four months. She married her husband Luke seven months before passing away, a special day for the entire family.
“The one thing that I found comforting amidst the tragedy was heading to the stables and touching and interacting with the horses,” Tony said.
Tony had first caught the ownership bug thanks to a horse called Dantone’s Princess, a galloper of modest ability but one which paved the way for two further purchases; Black Bart and Where’s The Bar. Their success saw Tony head over to New Zealand to purchase Jennio, a horse of enormous ability whose career was hampered by throat issues.
The following year, another filly by Jennio’s dam Espurante piqued Tony’s interest up at the Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale.
“That horse was Jennifer Lynn, she was our first stakes winner,” Tony said.
The Ottobres had travelled all over the world and left no stone unturned before losing Jennifer in 2015. That win of Jennifer Lynn on Melbourne Cup Day in 2016 was an emotional one for the family.
“It was an absolutely incredible feeling. There was a big rainbow that day and Lynn believes that Jennifer was riding her,” Tony said.
Jennifer Lynn would swap Tony’s Richmond-inspired silks for Jennifer’s sky blue and purple diamonds. All the family’s good horses now carry those colours, as well as Jennifer’s name, a tribute which Tony says provides “hope and comfort”.
Princess Jenni has carried Jennifer’s name wonderfully. The Group 1 Australasian Oaks (2000m) winner is described by Tony as “one of those really special horses” and it appears that there’s plenty more to come this spring.
Jenni’s Rainbow burst onto the scene with a breathtaking debut win at Pakenham, immediately launching her into Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m) calculations. Her chances were dashed at her next start at Moonee Valley by an unsuitably heavy track, but her owner’s confidence wasn’t shaken.
“She seems to have a lot of talent,” Tony said.
“Ethan did get off her [after the Valley run] and said that she did want to take off, but her wheels were spinning."
Jenni’s Rainbow was unfortunately below her best in the Group 2 Schweppes Thousand Guineas Prelude (1400m) and will head off for a spell.
By More Than Ready, her dam Three Rainbows points to the naming of Jenni’s Rainbow, yet perhaps more influential is the memory of Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington in the aftermath of Jennifer Lynn’s victory that the Ottobres hold so dearly.
The quality doesn’t end there either, Peskijen was most impressive on debut when posted wide before rounding up her opposition at Sale, while Pride Of Jenni was narrowly beaten at her first start, yet is rated “right up there with Jenni’s Rainbow and Peskijen” by Tony, an ominous warning.
“It’s what dreams are made of,” Tony said. “Just to be involved is what we are grateful for.
Their two properties at Cape Shank are littered with homebreds. Among them is Tony’s favourite, a filly by Starspangledbanner out of none other than Jennifer Lynn who cuddles up to him in the paddock.
“Those horses and the feelings that we’ve got toward them have given us a lot of the joy and comfort that we need,” Tony said.
It’s clear that the memory of Jennifer Ottobre is in safe hands.