Mission accomplished

Ashley Cole crosses the line in first place on nine-year-old Arab stallion Tonki Dee Boo Novak in the 2023 Tom Quilty Gold Cup held at Imbil, Queensland. Photo: Sarah Sullivan Photography. 343406_01

Erle Levey

New Zealand endurance rider and horse breeder Ashley Cole came to Imbil on a mission – to take home the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.

Riding nine-year-old Arab stallion Tonki Dee Boo Novak, it was a matter of mission accomplished as Ashley crossed the 160km finish line in a time of eight hours, 44 minutes, 54 seconds.

From the Coromandel region of the North Island, Ashley was among almost 200 riders who competed in Australia’s premier endurance horse event.

The 2023 Tom Quilty was held at Stirling’s Crossing Equestrian Centre at Imbil, in the Mary Valley.

Catherine Bailey of Bullio Razorback Arabians at Orange, NSW, was second, riding Razorback Targayen, and Nikki Sample of Stirlings Crossing Endurance at Imbil, was third, riding Brookleigh Danu.

Ashley and her husband, also named Ashley, run Murumuru Endurance and came across from New Zealand three months ago on a mission to specifically bring the horse to compete in the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.

“I wanted to promote him,” an elated but exhausted Ashley said after the event.

“I know how amazing he is but it’s a matter of proving it to the world.

“Saying that, you need the right people so that his babies will end up champions.

“To win today was particularly important, especially with the team of people we work with here in Australia.

“They have a long history with the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.

“They share our surname, Cole.

“Jolene Cole and her father, Peter, who has passed away, were both successful at the Quilty.

“Peter won the Tom Quilty Gold Cup on Tonki Dee’s grandad, Chip Chase Sadaqa – known as Wings.

“Jolene won the heavyweight division at the 2019 Tom Quilty, here at Stirling’s Crossing.

“I was told years ago by Jolene that Tonki Dee was the most reminiscent of the original Chip Chase Sadaqa.

“Driving in here I looked up and told Jolene: ‘I wonder if Wings is watching us.

“It was quite an emotional win and to take the cup back to New Zealand is fantastic.”

Ashley has been riding horses since the age of 13.

Being born in Taumarunui, it was a real horse environment near Mount Ruapehu.

“Back in the day, everybody rode horses. You piggy-backed when you were four years old.

“I tried pony club, but it just wasn’t for me. It was too structured… or I started too late.

“Since then, I’ve read all the pony club manuals. It’s very important in endurance to ride correctly, even though we’re sometimes called ‘homeless on horseback.’

“To do things like changing trot diagonals you need to have a very balanced horse … without having those skills you just can’t do what I did today.”

Emma Ireland, who won the junior title at Imbil in 2019, was quick to congratulate “grandma” on the win, so while they are not directly related it was a matter of keeping it in the family.

Emma finished second in the junior division this year, behind Mary Duncan on Bonnybrooke Samurai, with Dylan Stevens on Aloha Desert Thor in third place.

The Bailey family of Bullio Razorback Arabians also has a strong Tom Quilty history.

Chris’ father Andrew won the Quilty in ’91 and ’92, Catherine said.

“Ever since Chris left university he and his family have been working on the stud, and have more than 300 horses.”

They now export horses across the world, including the world champion Bullio Blue Sue (Haleh) who also is linked to Chip Chase Sadaqa.

Catherine completed her first Tom Quilty last year at Tooraweenah, NSW, where she finished 11th.

This year she was very excited to finish second – on a hard track instead of the wet at Tooraweenah.

Razorback Targayen is a 10-year-old Arabian Stock Horse mare that Catherine wants to take to the world championships.

“She went so fast on the early two legs.

“I was struggling to hold her back. She was very keen to go.

“Ashley‘s been training at our place for three months, so we knew what we were up against.”

What a year it’s been for third-placed Nikki Sample.

From the birth of her and husband Matt’s baby daughter nine months ago to this result in the 160km event.

To top it off she watched as Matt’s horse stumbled during the race and fall on him.

“We were riding beside each other on loop two and every time the horse tried to get up it rolled on him.

“He was still underneath it and he was kicked in the head, so luckily he had the helmet on.

“Ashley stopped to help and so did Catherine. That really says something about the sport … it’s one big family.”

Nikki has been back riding since January and this would have to be one of her greatest results.

At the 2019 Tom Quilty at Stirling’s Crossing she was equal second in the lightweight division.

“The pace on the course was exceptional.

“This was my most competitive finish.”


Middleweight: Ashley Cole won the middleweight division and Tom Quilty Gold Cup riding Tonki Dee Boo Novak. Second was Catherine Bailey, riding Razorback Targayen, while Nikki Sample was third, riding Brookeleigh Danu.

Heavyweight: Luke Annetts on Churinga Taboo, first, Duncan Woodhead on San Ella Navit, second, and Allyson Taylor, riding Norfolk Park Apocalypse, third.

Junior: Mary Duncan on Bonnybrooke Samarai, first, Emma Ireland on Bullio Maiko, second, and Dylan Stevens, riding Aloha Desert Thor, third.

Mary and Bonnybrooke Samarai also won best conditioned horse and the Pat Slater Cup.