It’s ironic that a horse called Nonconformist can bring so many people together behind the same cause.
But that’s exactly the effect the Grahame Begg-trained gelding has on the Henwood family as they look forward to its potential runs in the Cranbourne and Caulfield cups.
Wayne and Nick ‘Chook’ Henwood would need no introduction to those throughout Pakenham and into west Gippsland footy circles, and they’re just two of the owners with a stake in Nonconformist – along with Nick’s two sisters Anthea Walsh and Mel Elston (the wife of current Pakenham Cricket Club player-coach Rob), and Denise and Danielle Henwood – Wayne’s cousins. In fact, it was Danielle and Denise who raced Nonconformist’s mum, Good Thinking.
Wayne and Nick jumped on board after he was broken in, but they weren’t exactly convinced from the start that they’d made the right call.
“About five years ago they sent us a picture of him and we thought ‘s***, what have we got ourselves in for here?’,” Nick said with a laugh.
“He just looked as small as anything, but we’ve had a hell of a lot of fun with him so far.”
Nonconformist’s biggest win so far was in the Group 2 Alister Clark Stakes at Moonee Valley in mid-March – on a fateful day for the broader Melbourne community.
“It was on Friday the 13th when the coronavirus restrictions were brought in,” Nick explained.
“We were getting ready to go to the Valley as a family that night, and at 4pm it was called off.”
Though that brought with it some obvious disappointment, what followed next was a memorable social media video that encapsulated the Henwoods erupting in their living room as Nonconformist crossed the line for a famous win.
“That was brilliant, just being at home with the kids,” Nick said.
“We obviously would have loved to be there, but we made it special in our own way.”
And clearly the story of its first Group level win is one that won’t be forgotten any time soon – given the unique circumstances.
But its breakthrough win, on home soil for the Henwoods at Sportsbet Pakenham back in January, was special in its own right.
“That was right in our own backyard,” said Nick, a favourite son of the Nar Nar Goon footy club who lives in Maryknoll.
“So that was pretty special – having everyone in the winners’ room. The kids were just stoked to get some free Fanta!”
Nonconformist has nominated for the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate later this month, and is also potentially set to have a crack at this Sunday’s $400,000 Cranbourne Cup, or the Coongy Cup over 2000 metres on Blue Sapphire Stakes Day next Wednesday – depending on the weather.
In fact, as things currently stand – less than 48 hours before the Cranbourne Cup – Nonconformist has been installed as the $4.80 favourite with the TAB.
But the Gazette understands the horse isn’t guaranteed to take its place in the field, given the wet weather of recent days.
After his breakthrough triumph in Tynong in January, Nonconformist won its next start at Caulfield, and was just over a length behind the winner in second – again at Caulfield – after a three-week freshen up.
“In these tough times for everybody, we just live for updates on him,” Nick explained.
“When we catch up on a Friday night on a Zoom call with our family, that’s what we talk about the most – what’s happening and where we’re going with him.
“When he’s running, I’ve always got my mates messaging me wishing me good luck – like I’m the one running!
“It’s just great that he brings so many people together.”