Day At The Track

The People's Champion has retired

08:42 PM 31 Dec 2016 NZDT
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The People's Champion, Come on Frank
The People's Champion, Come on Frank

Come on Frank, the ‘People’s Champion’, has been retired. Part-owner Julie Billinger made the decision to end the harness racing career of South Australia’s favourite harness horse on Saturday morning, the final day of 2016.

“It has been something we have been considering over the past month but the final decision was made today,” Julie said.

“We have been having issues with his blood and his white cell count was off so the call was made to end his racing career.”

Come On Frank’s last race will show he failed to beat a runner home in the Whyalla Cup at Port Pirie on Friday, December 30, but in the eyes of his owners and fans he will bow out a winner.

The nine-year-old heads in retirement with a fantastic record of 61 wins, 26 seconds and 12 thirds from just 130 starts earning $404,650 in stakes.

Come On Frank’s contribution to harness racing was recognised at the 2015-2016 Harness Racing South Australia’s awards when he was presented with the inaugural Chairman’s Award for an organisation, event, individual or horse which has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of harness racing in South Australia.

The Blissful Hall gelding was owned by Julie Billinger in partnership with her daughter Jodie and Ian Goddard and was trained and driven by Julie’s husband Darren.

His story is worthy of a feature film.

Starting out as a two-year-old, Come On Frank, as was his way, didn’t see the point in over extending himself in trackwork – it was a trait he continued for the rest of his career.

Darren Billinger was despairing about his racing future but Frank was already a big favourite of Billinger’s daughters Kelly and Jodie. So Julie took him for a few weeks and through away the hopples and started to gallop him. This seemed to be the turning point and he started to show on the racetrack that he had a future.

Despite being born into a harness racing family, Kelly was never a real lover of horses but Frank was the exception.

She got to enjoy seeing the horse win as a two-year-old and early three-year-old but tragedy struck on April 30, 2011 when Kelly lost her life in a car accident.

It was then that Come On Frank began to really show the trait that made him so popular. A quality that almost made him human.

“There was a look in his eye that showed to us he seemed to understand,” Julie said.

Three months to the day after Kelly’s passing, Come On Frank took out the Southern Cross final for three-year-old colts and geldings as if to pay his tribute.

The Billingers say the spirit of Kelly has always been with Come On Frank.

And so it went on as Come On Frank stepped up.

Wins came often including the Dudley Justice Plate and Vicbred final for four-year-old entires and geldings among a host of races.

The Come On Frank Facebook page evolved and his legend continued to grow with fans from around Australia and the world jumping onto his bandwagon.

Frank travelled Australia with wins in South Australia at Globe Derby, Port Pirie, Mount Gambier and Victor Harbor, Mildura and Melton in Victoria and Menangle and Goulburn in New South Wales to build his cult hero status.

Julie Billinger said she had been amazed at how the gelding had won his way into the hearts of the general public.

“One day Darren and I were going through security at Sydney airport on the way home to Adelaide and we got talking to a security guard who revealed he wasn’t a real harness fan but always had a small bet whenever he saw Frank was running,” Julie said.

“That is just one of the stories of so many people who found a hero in Come On Frank.”

Julie wouldn’t be drawn into picking Come On Frank’s best win.

“They all have some sort of memory for me.

“Every win has its own story and was special.”

Come On Frank may not have won an Inter Dominion but he retires into history as a unique standardbred – a horse that captured the hearts of a nation. 

by Graham Fischer

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