Horse racing has tugged at many people’s heartstrings over the years – but when three-year old gelding Run Rory Run steps out for the first time tomorrow over 1100m at Grafton, in northern NSW, there will be more emotion than usual on display.
Aimee and Arnold Turnbull, who live on the mid-north coast, were gifted a 5 per cent share in the horse, known as Frankie, by Angela Graham and Nathan Kerr. Any income from his winnings will go towards medical care for their four-year-old son, Rory, who has battled a series of serious illnesses in his short life.
Born eight weeks premature, he has overcome cancer and endured multiple operations and hospital stays, as well as requiring specialist treatment and medication.
Graham and Kerr are family friends of the Turnbulls, and they wanted to help. Fittingly, Frankie was sired by Worthy Cause, and hopes are high that he will live up to both his name and his heritage.
“Racing has created some of the greatest moments in Australian sport, so having a horse by new sire Worthy Cause, we wanted to provide a worthy recipient the chance to enjoy one of those moments,” says Kerr. “Which is where Rory comes in.”
Rory weighed less than 3kg at birth, and spent the first six weeks of his life in John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. His parents had to learn how to feed him through a tube, to help him gain weight.
Breathing problems followed, and then a diagnosis of pneumonia in 2019. During surgery on his airways, he lost his power of speech, which was extremely distressing for his parents.
““Nothing in life will ever prepare a parent for what was to happen that day,” says Aimee. “In the sense, we were lucky we weren’t going to lose Rory and there was a way they [doctors] could help him, but what was worse was him losing his little voice.
“That first silent cry knocked the wind straight out of Arnold and I.”
Aimee and Arnold had to learn how to communicate with a baby who had no voice. Then, in May last year, came a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. The subsequent surgery, performed at Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick, proved highly complex.
Initially, “they [doctors] didn’t have the greatest news”, says Aimee. “Actually, I don’t remember them having any good news.”
Eventually, though, Rory’s outlook improved. His scans showed positive changes, and the cancers became less active. By October 2020, the little boy was able to breathe through a tube inserted into his windpipe, and then to speak.
He still needs ongoing treatment, however – and if Run Rory Run performs well, that will help the family immensely. The Turnbulls’ stake in the horse will also “provide Aimee, Arnold and Rory the chance to enjoy the odd day out at the races to relax or take their mind off things”, says Kerr.
For the Turnbulls, having the horse named in honour of their son means the world to them.
“It is truly amazing to have him named in honour of Rory,” says Aimee. “When Nathan and Ange first approached us, we were genuinely shocked but so appreciative of them for supporting our family.”
Graham and Kerr are also meeting the Turnbulls’ share of Frankie’s training fees.
Aimee says the horse’s name reflects “some days how we feel … Rory is living his life running from one day to the next, to get by in this life.”
She adds: “We took Rory to the track early one Saturday morning recently, and to him it’s just a big horse running around a track.
“But at that moment, seeing Frankie work, and seeing the effort Ange and her team have put in to getting Frankie race-ready made us really emotional.”
So, much will be riding on Run Rory Run when he steps out tomorrow in Rory’s name. Supported by a large group of owners, he will be ridden by Mikayla Weir and is currently rated a $19 chance with TAB.
DISCLOSURE: Adrian Sciglitano owns a small stake in Run Rory Run.