When there was no cure, there was always a cause. Tracey Bartley didn't know at the time how things would end, or when they would end. But every man finds his medicine in different places.
"At that time we were very shaky for a long time," Bartley says of the pre-Sniper's Bullet days having battled to shake off cancer. "We got through it and then he came on to the scene. It was the best remedy anyone could ever hope for. We looked after him and he looked after us."
Bartley's story is indelibly linked to Sniper's Bullet, Sniper's Bullet's indelibly linked to Bartley. The man from Mudgee who hopped across the continent winning group 1 races on the back of a major health scare with a horse of his lifetime.
He's healthy now. Check-ups are only every five years. His team is a fraction of what it used to be, just 14 in work. He'd longed for a move down the road to get off it, Wyong home now where the miles are more manageable and the lifestyle laid-back.
And if Bartley never had another group 1 horse, who in the Australian punting public would really be surprised?
"[But] we will get a good horse one day and we will be back there one day," Bartley stresses.
"We don't strive to be a big stable, we don't want to be a big stable, but as long as we do the right thing by the clients we've got and be successful then our job will be done.
You get a horse like [Sniper's Bullet] and I was honoured we could even put our name to him
"You get a horse like [Sniper's Bullet] and I was honoured we could even put our name to him. He was so good to us."
In a shopfront frequented by all the major horse players around the country, an ex-jockey with a small string shone brightest last week.
Bartley took three runners to the two-day Scone carnival, all of them won. He counts in thousands when buying horseflesh, not hundreds of thousands. And still none came close to what Bartley achieved in the Upper Hunter.
"It was one of those weeks, it was just incredible," Bartley says. "It doesn't happen very often, but it did and it was a terrific day. It's great satisfaction. You're not dodging anyone going to those races. The best in the land are racing there. They're the best trainers, the best horses they can produce for that time."
Ortensia Stakes winner To Excess might be Bartley's best since Sniper's Bullet. He will return to the races on Saturday week, delaying and possibly dodging a Queensland trip altogether this season.
He's fine with it. Taking his nine-year-old son Oliver, born during the dizzying Sniper's Bullet days, to Saturday morning soccer when time allows is just as much a thrill as winning any feature race now.
Next morning? Bartley will be back riding trackwork. He reckons he can adapt on the run better when he's sitting in the saddle, rather than shoving it to someone else.
"I got away from it for a while and I think they're all going well – and they've been going well for six months – I'm not saying I do anything different from the other guys, but I take pride in the horse," Bartley says. "I might change [the work] completely from what I had down.
"Trackwork riders don't go changing work, they do what you tell them. But sometimes you have go back to basics."
He's had to with just one runner at Rosehill on Saturday, a horse sent to him by an old trainer he used to ride for. While Cliff Bashford serves time, Bartley is in charge of six-race winner Ever So Natural who will start at double-figure odds in the sixth.
Ever So Natural won't get anywhere near the heights of the Sniper's Bullet rollercoaster, but he's symbolic of the ultimate compliment when a peer passes on one of their own to you.
"He's a lovely horse, a thorough gentleman," Bartley says. "We had a couple of unlucky runs and then he produced at Warwick Farm. I can't fault him.
"He gets the run of the race and I would imagine him being fourth or fifth and just smoking his pipe. Hopefully they go hard enough up front … they should all get their chance."
And if he gets a chance with another good horse? Expect the man who found his medicine in an unlikely place to more than make the most of it.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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