A Waitarere Beach horse trainer was rewarded for his patience when Rio Star finally got a thick slice of the chocolate at the Ōtaki-Maori Racing Club meeting earlier this week.
Brendon McDermott had taken Rio Star to the races 38 times prior to the Ōtaki win. Despite some agonisingly close finishes - at times waiting for the raceday judge to view the photo finish - victory remained elusive.
Nine times they had returned home with a second placing. Nine times he had finished third, and the five-year-old gelding had finished either fourth or fifth a further 10 times.
But their luck changed at 2.18pm on Monday afternoon, when veteran jockey Chris Johnson guided Rio Star home in an expertly-timed run.
Raceday commentator Tony Lee made special mention of the victory in his race call as the horses neared the winning post.
"Rio Star starting to charge after them...start number 39...he's trying to get on terms...is this the break through for Rio Star...down to the line...yep...he's got it," he said.
"It's richly deserved as this horse has gone so close so many times...they'll love this...there'll be unrivalled scenes of jubilation at Waitarere Beach."
The winning margin was slim, but enough to give McDermott and his owners W.G. McIntyre and B.J. Robinson a major slice of the stakemoney, bringing his career earnings to $36,500.
McDermott had endured tough times. Tragedy struck 12 years ago when his wife Angela died at just 37-years-old after a sudden illness, the step-mother of children Danny, Rebecca, Natasha and Alec.
"I was down and out for a long time. I would finish riding and just sit on the horse and stare at the sky," he said.
Two weeks after Angela died their horse Reforzar won at Awapuni at odds of almost 40-to-one.
He had also considered giving away horses when his mother Pauline died 18 years ago, as she had inherited a love of racing through her father Francis Hoskyn, and part-owned the first horses he trained.
McDermott trained his horses at the beach, a short float trip from his front door, and he preferred to go early in the morning so as not to encounter too many beachgoers or people walking dogs.
He kept an eye on the tides and normally headed out at first light with his small team.
McDermott said horses love the beach environment. The wet sand surface was perfect as it provided just enough cushion so a horses didn't jar up, but was firm enough that the horse left a true hoof print.
"It's good environment for them. Most horses that are spirited benefit from the beach. It calms them down, and it's a more consistent surface and you can work them along in a straight line," he said.
"You always try and keep them happy and jump a few logs."
Most mornings he parks up near the surf club and walks down to the beach and trots for a short while before changing gait and cantering, past the wreck of the Hydrabad, a ship that was beached more than 100 years ago.
He works alongside a Toyota Parda 4WD driven by his partner Kim Robinson. The horses love working alongside the vehicle and Kim is there just in case there is a mishap and he falls off.
"Kim is a huge help. She's up at 5am every morning," he said.
On the odd morning McDermott opens the boot door to the Toyota for variety. He hangs on the horses by lead, and they happily work along at good speed, sometimes two at a time.
"They don't pull back. They love it," he said.
McDermott had never touched a horse until 20 years ago when he was given an unwanted racehorse and decided he would have a go at training it himself.
"I threw myself in the deep end," he said.
It was former Wellington Racing Club manager Lyn Biddle who initially encouraged McDermott into horses. He was introduced to former trainer Charlie Walding and came across his first horse, Zlukie.
Zlukie was leased from Ōtaki horse breeder Sir Arthur Williams and McDermott rode the horse around the family farm, perhaps fortunate he had a quiet temperament and allowed his rider to find his rhythm without incident.
"I fluked it with such a quiet horse," he said.
McDermott admitted he was always learning and would have enjoyed the chance to have Zlukie again.
"If I had known then what I know now he would have won races," he said.
Early in the piece, with little money in the kitty, he rang his father Tom and asked for a loan of $1000 as there was a untried two-year-old gelding in Otago he was keen to buy.
"He said yes, but only if he could have a half-share himself," he said.
After winning a trial the horse was sold to Singapore trainer Bruce Marsh for $70,000. It gave McDermott the means to continue his passion.
He had seldom been without a handy horse since. Kairanga won a Waipukurau Cup among his four wins and earned $45,000 in stakemoney, while Kairanga Lad was another handy horse and won more than $100,000.
McDermott was keen to stress it was a true team effort as help was always at hand through Kim's children too. Brayden, Shaylah and Hayley had all helped with stable duties since they were young and could all ride.
Brayden in particular rode the horses too before recently taking on a job as truck driver, and he and Alec were always side by side with the horses growing up.
"They are all a huge help," he said.
Meanwhile, McDermott was confident that Rio Star could handle the rise in class now he had quit maiden ranks.
"He's a lot stronger this time in after the break we gave him. I think he'll keep improving and he's still carrying a lot of condition. He's a good doer," he said.
"He's improved from the run at Ōtaki."
"There's no reason why he can't win more races."