Ernie Bung Arrow became a local hero in South Australia and simultaneously captured the hearts of racing fans nationwide when he won the 2013 Adelaide Cup, giving his veteran trainer Ken Gill his first win at Group One level after four decades in the sport.
Just over a year later Gill is nursing Ernie back to health after he sustained a career ending injury when winning at Gawler on October 9.
“That night when he walked back to me he was a bit lame and then he started to get swelling down the leg. I thought he had done a monkey muscle and would be out for six weeks”, Gill explained.
“The next morning it was different. It’s the bicep in the front of the chest and shoulder that runs down to his elbow.”
Ernie is now on the long road to recovery after requiring surgery to help repair the muscle, but Gill is expecting his former kennel star to make a full return to health.
“He is feeling a bit sorry for himself. He has got a bucket on his head and he has got a brace down his leg and his elbow.”
“It’ll be a couple of months before he is back to where he should be. It’s five weeks before we take the brace off and then he’ll take a few weeks to be able to put that leg back down on the ground and use it properly again.”
“Eventually he’ll be able to go out on my track and have a free gallop and do all of those things.”
It has been a tough year for Gill and Ernie Bung Arrow.
Just as the pair appeared to have the racing world at their feet, Ernie was put on the sidelines in February after chipping a bone in his wrist during a trial. That ruled out all plans of a Victorian campaign where he was a serious contender for the upcoming Group One Temlee at The Meadows.
That was just the start of the setbacks that Gill and Ernie had to endure.
During his comeback preparations Ernie injured his monkey muscle and contracted the kennel cough, all of which saw his return to the track pushed back until September.
Ernie bounced back after eight months off the scene with a win over 388 metres at Angle Park, before slipping on the mat and finishing back in the field when trying to defend his Cup crown in October.
His fans would only see him race on one more occasion when he won his last race at Gawler. That victory saw the son of Lochinvar Marlow and Slipper’s Tonic retire with the remarkable record of 24 starts for 21 wins and one minor placing.
The injury was a heartbreaking blow for Gill who believed that Ernie was almost back to his best.
“He was trialling good and I thought he was back. I hadn’t got him back to a full 500 but his early splits were fantastic.”
Aside from his Adelaide Cup success, Ernie Bung Arrow also claimed the Group Three SA Derby and the Group Three Brian Johnstone Memorial. He also made the final of the Group 1 Topgun and earned in excess of $168,000- not bad for a pup that only cost $900!
Gill is now hoping that he will make it as a sire and has plans to stand him at stud once he is fully recovered. There is no doubt that his phenomenal early speed is sure to be highly sought after by potential breeders.
“He had tremendous early speed. I don’t think there has been a more consistent dog out of the boxes that I have seen in my 40 odd years. He was consistent every time, it wasn’t just once in a while.”
“When I first got him going out of the 500 boxes I thought he probably wouldn’t run 500 because he was so good early, but his last section was as good as any dog, probably better. He had all three sections; first, middle and last, all in one”.
It is bittersweet looking back on Ernie’s Bung Arrow’s career. Although most people can only dream of having a dog that can win them a Group One, it would have been incredibly frustrating to see him not reach his full potential due to injury. But Gill can’t speak highly enough of his mate Ernie, who took him on the ride of a lifetime.
“It was fantastic. In the kennel at home kids could get him out and play with him but when he was at the races he knew what he was there for and he was on the job. He was just a lovely dog.”