It’s A Jungle Out There…But Mick & Co. Have The Edge

Kevin Forrester returns to the mounting yard aboard Jungle Edge after winning the Kevin Heffernan Stakes (Racing Photos)

If ever a horse reflected triumph over adversity, it’s Jungle Edge.

The 2017 Group Three Kevin Heffernan Stakes winner might have started his racing life – albeit late in his 4YO season – on NSW’s south coast, but he’s carted his wares far and wide ever since.

Sydney, Warrnambool, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Sydney, Sale and, as of last Saturday, Sandown’s Hillside Park. And that’s all in just the one campaign!

He’s as hardy as they come and so too is his trainer, Mick Bell and jockey, Kevin Forrester.

It was only a little over two years ago that Bell decided to renew his trainers’ licence after a 14 year absence from the ranks, filling his time by raising a family, moonlighting as a blues musician and shoeing horses for a crust.

Raised at Koo Wee Rup, south east of Melbourne, Bell became an apprentice farrier at 16, before initially taking up training as a 22 year old.

“My grandfather was a trainer and I remember my dad taking me to the races when I was a kid,” Bell recalls.

“I kept a small stable in work, but with a wife and three boys, it was the farrier side of things that paid the bills, so I set the training aside for a while.”

However, the training caper kept nagging at Bell and it was around three years ago he decided to have another crack. Lady luck would soon fall his way with an old mate, Ian Dunkley, dropping by Bell’s farm out of the blue and offering him a mare called, Youiz Jane, which the prodigal trainer duly saddled up for a couple of wins.

However, it was Youiz Jane’s half brother, Jungle Edge, who had been playing his trade on the Sapphire Coast, which caught Bell’s eye.

“I approached Chris and Michelle Strickland, who bred, trained and raced Jungle Edge to five wins from his first 12 starts, and offered them $20,000, from which they’d keep a 10% share and on the basis I’d never send them a bill… fortunately they said yes,” Bell explains.

Little did Bell know that when he made the successful ‘bid’, the horse would provide so much joy to the family in the final month’s of his wife’s life.

“My wife, Bev, died earlier this year after an 18 month battle with breast cancer but the horse was a real tonic for us,” Bell adds. “Bev wasn’t that much into racing, nor did she appreciate the fact that a lot of our spare money got poured back into the horses!, but Jungle Edge’s continuing success was a tremendous boost after she got sick.”

Resuming with a fifth in the Group Two Challenge Stakes over 1000m at Randwick on 4 March, Jungle Edge then finished third – beaten a long neck by Russian Revolution and Redzel – in the Group One The Galaxy and followed up a week later with an all-the-way romp in the Group Three Star Kingdom Stakes over 1200m at Rosehill. His first stakes win.

“You’re always learning in this game and while a couple of people said I was mad for taking the horse up to Sydney, Bev was always really supportive and said ‘if you reckon it’s the way to go, then just do it’,” Bell points out.

The Bell stable colours are black, with white braces, and feature, somewhat fittingly, a big red bell. On the black cap, however, there is a barely discernible pink horse which holds special significance for the trainer.

“Bev and I had a great life together. We grew up in the same area and just when you think you’re getting to that stage in your life when you can start to coast a bit … do some of that travelling we talked about, she got sick,” Bell points out. “Near the end, she used to say to us that ‘you’ll forget me when I’m gone’.

“Anyway, after she died I organised to have this little pink horse put on the jockey’s cap. As it turned out, the cap only arrived on course a short time before Jungle Edge was due to go around in the Galaxy. Against all the odds, he ran third … beyond our wildest dreams. Bev wasn’t there to see it, but it was my way of saying that for the rest of my life you’ll be there with me.”

Jungle Edge ended that Sydney sojourn with a third in the Group One All Aged Stakes, returned to Victoria for a fifth in the Listed Wangoom, went to Brisbane where he won the Group Three BRC Sprint, finished second to Clearly Innocent in the Group One Kingsford Smith, campaigned briefly again in Sydney and then returned to Melbourne for the spring racing.

Since March, the horse’s longest break from racing is around six weeks, but, according to Bell, he relishes the work.

“Put him in a paddock and he’s likely to start running the fence after an hour,” Bell adds. “He is not likely to race again until the autumn, but we’ll mix it up a bit for him – water walker, beach work.

“I’m even toying with the idea of taking him across to New Zealand for some Group One sprints. If he gets a heavy track over there, who knows?

Saturday’s victory in the Kevin Heffernan was Jungle Edge’s 12th career win from 45 starts, which includes 11 placings and $770,260 in prizemoney.

Jungle Edge is by the international sire sensation, Dubawi, who stood two seasons at Darley in Australia, while his dam Jungle Girl is by the Sadler’s Wells stallion, Carnegie.

Dam of four winners from four to race, Jungle Girl is a winning half sister to the dam of multiple Sydney stakes winner, Brief Kiss, and closely related to Group One Victoria Derby winner and sire, Rebel Raider (by Reset).

“There seems to be this line of thought that it’s a real ‘bush’ pedigree, but Jungle Edge’s sire, Dubawi is standing at Darley in England for £250,000 (approx. A$437,000) and is rated something like the third best sire in the world,” Bell muses.

While the rise and rise of Jungle Edge has gone a long way to defining Bell’s training career, the Kevin Heffernan victory also underscored the evergreen talent of veteran jockey, Kevin Forrester.

At 56 – the same age as Bell – Forrester rode his first winner at Donald, way back in 1977, but his love for the game hasn’t waned one iota.

“I don’t have a racing manager and don’t get many rides these days, but I ride work every morning,” Forrester reveals. “Not many blokes get to do what I do every day … people pay big money to go out and have pony rides on the weekend and I get to do it for free.

“Jungle Edge does a lot to help the enthusiasm … he’s a special horse this bloke and great for Mick and connections. A lot of people rush home to see their dog or cat … I just go down to the tie up stalls at Cranbourne.”

Forrester has ridden the winners of countless Cups throughout his career, including the Australian Cup with Admiral Lincoln in 1984, while his ‘have saddle will travel’ mantra has seen him based in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Malaysia.

He’s hopped on some good ones too, riding Might And Power at his first start and was on board Miss Andretti for the champion mare’s early wins.

“Jungle Edge reminds me a lot of Miss Andretti,” Forrester recalls.

The globetrotting star mare was originally trained by David Mueller, whose daughter was quite sick and Miss Andretti’s early wins (nine from first 12 outings) went a long way to paying medical bills and, perhaps just as importantly, became a tremendous source of morale for the family.

“Jungle Edge is just like that,” Forrester believes. “Real grass roots stuff.

“There’s too many times that bad stories about the industry make the front page, while the feel good yarns get buried. No-one wants to talk about the bloke that picks up horse shit for 30 years but, truth be told, they’re the lifeblood of this game.

“Mick Bell is a classic and deserves every success.”

The Power of Passion