Conolan Engineers De Little dream

Six years earlier and Rodney Conolan could never have imagined that he’d be heading to Flemington as a part-owner in a horse aiming for a third-straight success at metropolitan level.

In fact the 46-year-old couldn’t have imagined he’d have been involved in thoroughbred racing at all.

Originally working in the quarter horse industry, it was there that Conolan met Jeff and Alison Dimery and formed a relationship that has now led to his current role as manager of the Dimery’s boutique Uluru Stud based at the foothills of Mount Macedon.

A couple of years into his role at Uluru Stud – which has owned and raced Group 1 winners Shamrocker and Shamexpress – Conolan was sent to the 2011 Sydney Inglis Weanling Sale.

Hoping to buy a horse they could later sell as a yearling, Conolan purchased a son of Encosta de Lago out of the Crown Oaks (2500m) winner Arapaho Miss for $47,500.

When the Dimery’s decided to race the horse now known as De Little Engine and not sell him, Conolan said he decided to buy his first share in a racehorse.

“I never planned to buy a share in him but when we sent him down to (trainer) Danny O’Brien’s I thought I’d better get in early here and grab a little piece of him and thankfully he turned out to be the horse he did,” Conolan said.

“If you had said to me five years ago that I’m going to own a share in a racehorse and run a thoroughbred farm I would have said you were crazy.”

ast-forward three years and De Little Engine has now won four races from 17 starts and just shy of $135,000 in prizemoney.

After coming from last to win his last start at Sportingbet Park Sandown, the gelding provided Uluru Stud with a two-state double with his victory following 20 minutes after the win of stable mate Beauty’s Beast at Rosehill in Sydney.

“We were in the winner’s bar watching the win of De Little Engine and the screen directly below was showing the races from Rosehill live and Beauty’s Beast hung on to win in a photo which was great,” Conolan said.

“In the beginning I had no expectations of De Little Engine being a good horse but in saying that I’m not surprised that he’s turned out to be a good horse to be honest.”

Set to be partnered by James Winks with Chad Schofield out injured, De Little Engine is currently rated the $2.50 favourite with TAB for the $80,000 Bitalli Handicap (2540m).

Thrilled to be heading to Flemington with the favourite, Conolan said he was confident the horse would perform well.

“I’m going into it confident based on what he’s done in the last couple of runs,” he said.

“It’s very exciting but I try not to get too far ahead of myself.”

Story by Ben Asgari, to view full story at click here

Photo by Bruno Cannatelli, to view his website click here