Paul Tapper’s past year reads like a Hollywood movie.
It has all the ingredients of a compelling story: adversity, misfortune, hardship and triumph.
But for Tapper, 2015, was a stark reality.
The 49-year-old is hoping the start of a New Year can help wipe memories of a challenging 12-months.
“Honestly it’s just been a bad year,” Tapper said.
“It definitely has been tough with illness.
“I had a car crash in August and don’t know how I survived.
“I broke my sternum, five ribs, a collarbone and punctured a lung.
“The broken sternum was unbelievable pain.
“Every time I coughed I would cry in agony.
“I don’t remember the accident happening.
“I woke up with wrecked cars all around me.
“I really don’t know how I came out alive.”
Tapper is slowly returning to full health but his prolonged stay in hospital and recuperation at home had a detrimental impact on his stable and personal finances. He credits partner, Nicky Jordan, in helping him survive a stressful period.
“It was getting difficult and I went to the unemployment office for help, but they didn’t want to know me,” Tapper said.
“I had to cut the number of horses in my team by half.
“Nicky had to find another job, but it was wearing her out.
“She found work with Lindsey Smith, but it was placing a lot of pressure on her.
“She is an incredible and dedicated horsewoman and I wouldn’t have got through without her help.”
If Tapper had the notion that his streak of misfortune had ended and there were sunny days ahead he was sadly mistaken. Two members of his family suffered cruel blows.
“My niece fell three stories from a balcony in Bali and broke both her legs,” Tapper said.
“She is only a kid who is doing it pretty tough.
“Then mum was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She is due for surgery but they wanted to wait until after Christmas.
“All the women on her mother’s side have had cancer including a cousin.
“She was hoping to miss it being 76.”
The only ray of sunshine in a storm of dark clouds for Tapper has been Trade Fair gelding, Dust Me Off, who gave him a much needed confidence boost and his greatest thrill in racing when he won the Listed Towton Cup (2200m) at Ascot on December 5.
On Western Australia’s premier day of racing with the $1million Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) and Winterbottom Stakes (1200m) on offer , it was unheralded Dust Me Off who grabbed the attention and gained an exemption from the Perth Cup ballot.
The four-year-old, with only a Dongara maiden win in April to boast of, was virtually ignored by punters, but defied his rating and more favoured rivals when he dashed clear to post an impressive two length victory over, Fulgur.
“This horse is no dill and I have a lot of faith in him,” Tapper said.
“I’ve kept telling people how good he is and that win proved it.”
Tapper is hoping Dust Me Off can give him a better showing in the Perth Cup than what his mother performed in 2006.
Lust For Dust, who amassed $208,185 in prizemoney and held two notable wins over star sprinter, Miss Andretti, ran 11th to Black Tom.
Tapper said the build up and momentum to the 2016 Perth Cup is far different to what he experienced a decade ago.
“I was virtually blind and couldn’t see any of the race,” Tapper said.
“My father had to lead me around to and from the mounting enclose.
“He was dragging me around by my belt.
“It was quite a frightening experience trying to get through a big crowd.
“My eyes were shot and I thought I was actually going blind.
“That’s why I didn’t want to see anyone or get it treated because I thought they were going to tell me bad news.
“When I finally did get attention I was told I had the eyes of a 95-year-old.
“Luckily for me I was able to get a lens transplant.”
Dust Me Off completed his final hit out before the Perth Cup when he ran sixth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths, behind Bedamijo in the A.T.A Stakes (2200m) on December 23.
“I thought it was a very good effort,” Tapper said.
“He got a bit close to an outside runner and Chris (Parnham) couldn’t use his whip.
“I think he is screaming for 2400m.
“I give him a big show.
“I’m really looking forward to it.
“This horse has kept me alive.”
Brad Parnham will handle Dust Me Off for the first time, replacing his brother who takes the mount on Respondent.
Dust Me Off, drawn in barrier 12, will have to defy the sceptics again. On the TAB he is rated a $51 chance.
RWWA: Julio Santarelli