From humble beginnings on country racetracks, to representing Australia on a global stage – Three Thoroughbreds continue to prove their worth in more ways than one.

Eventing is considered the triathlon of equestrian, consisting of dressage, cross-country and Showjumping. At the recent World Equestrian Games in Normandy France, there were three Australian thoroughbreds with racing backgrounds in contention to represent Australia, proving their relevance and versatility at the highest level in eventing worldwide.

Race Name: BULLIONARIE           

Known on track as ‘Bullionaire’(Made of Gold (USA) by Gourmet Star) but now affectionately known as ‘Ben’, this 14YO gelding only had one race start in Western Australia as a 2YO. The leggy chestnut was, allegedly, a naughty racehorse that was always in trouble. His behavioural issues at the track caused the need for him to be re-homed for another career.

2008 Beijing silver medallist Sonja Johnson didn’t let a badly sprained ankle and crutches get in the way of trialling a potential new horse. After watching from the sideline Sonja threw away her crutches and hopped on Ben.

“I got on, using my one good leg and put the jump up to about 1.25m. The first time Ben hit the front rail. The second time he hit the back rail. The 3rd time he gave it so much room I very nearly fell off,” remembered Johnson. Naturally she openly welcomed Ben to her team.

Sonja is a strong advocate for Australian thoroughbreds in eventing. “There is a huge place for Thoroughbred’s in our sport as it continues to evolve, because the courses are getting shorter but the number of jumping efforts are staying up, the overall intensity is increasing and this is leading us even more into really good quality thoroughbreds.”

In 2008 Ben had qualified for the Beijing Olympics, but due to Sonja’s commitments to ride another horse (who went on to win silver for Australian), Ben sat Beijing out staying home to develop and strengthen his dressage. 

2014 looked to be Ben’s time to shine and a 2nd place in the CCI3* at the Melbourne International Horse Trials and other strong performances in the lead-up helped to secure their position on the team. The colourful duo were set for their debut at the World Equestrian Games, but sadly days before they were set to enter quarantine they were forced to withdraw following a niggling injury to Ben.

Now Sonja and Ben have their sites firmly set on Rio 2016. “There is no reason why he won’t be on track and ready for Rio, Ben has a desire to achieve, he has plenty of cheek in him and without that cheek, they are never any good,” laughed Johnson.

Sonja Johnson & Parkiarrup Illicit Liasion at Dressage - Adelaide 3DE 2013
Image: Courtesy of Nicole Bartleet


Race Name: HURRIED PLEA           
Eventing Name: TS JAMAIMO

A 15 year old bay gelding now known as ‘James’ was originally bred to race under the name of ‘Hurried Plea’ (Urgent Request (IRE) by Mazyooneh(GB)). Although he never had an official start, this ‘Ordinary’ bay gelding has proven his success as an eventer at the elite level.

The Australian International Three Day event is Australia’s pinnacle eventing competition, one of only six events held at this level worldwide, and London Olympian Chris Burton accepted the catch ride on James just days before the event, after James’s usual rider broke his leg.

In unheard of circumstances at an event of this level, Burton and James were named the eventual winners of the three day event after they accumulated no jumping penalties throughout the cross country and show jumping phase to finish on their dressage score.

“It was an interesting experience. I was a little nervous the morning of cross country, but less nervous than I would be if on a horse that I prepared” recalled a gracious Burton upon reflection of his success.
“I was just the jockey - all I had to do was steer him between the flags."

James was for sale at the time and was quickly snapped up by a syndicate of owners. Within weeks James was aboard a Europe bound flight to begin his campaign for the World Equestrian Games with his new rider Chris Burton. James and Chris were named on the team to represent Australia in France and the combination had a good start but sadly their journey ended prematurely after James developed signs of colic.

Chris Burton & TS Jamaimo at Cross-country - Adelaide 3DE 2013
Image: Courtesy of Nicole Bartleet


Race Name: KAMBAH GREY           
Eventing Name: ALGEBRA

Kambah Grey (Azzaam (USA) by Sand Dollar (NZ)) who is now known as ‘Sam’ never found his feet as a racehorse. The gelding showed little promise since his debut in January 2002, having 13 starts in Southern NSW for only a 2nd placing.

Fortunately Sam was spotted at the track by his now current owner Julia Mclean who saw potential in the grey and was hardly fazed that Sam was too slow, as she pictured Sam as a Show Hunter hack in the show ring. 

Initially Sam was sent to a junior rider to train, where it was discovered Sam could seriously jump. This important trait combined with his above average ability to gallop along with his soundness, good breeding, and eye catching looks made for a talented Eventer. 

Julia contacted local event rider Natalie Blundell seeking help to campaign Sam for the purpose of marketing him as an eventer then selling him. Natalie and Sam seemed a fitting match as Blundell is retired from the track herself, following a short stint as an amateur jockey in NSW. 

In no time Sam was reborn as an eventer.

“He had a lot of talent and it was decided that we would try to produce him and see how far he could take us,” explained Blundell.

Soon enough Blundell and Sam were long-listed for the London Olympics but narrowly missed out. Two years later the combination was again named reserve team members for Australia’s World Equestrian Games team. Blundell and Sam found their success representing Australia in Trans-Tasman events, (the eventing equivalent of the Bledisloe Cup). In back to back years Blundell and Sam were part of the winning team putting our Kiwi counterparts to shame, (placing 3rd individually in 2012 and 4th individually in 2013).

Sam is now the UK with seven-time Olympian Andrew Hoy to be sold. “We are trying to find a nice young rider to take him on with less pressure and a lovely deserving end to a long career,” said Blundell.

Natalie Blundell & Algebra at Showjumping - Adelaide 3DE 2013
Image: Courtesy of Nicole Bartleet

Success stories like these prove that there are rewarding careers to be had for racehorses who retire from the track. To read more success stories from horses graduating from the NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program, visit