Robert Price could see the writing on the wall.
After more than 20 years as a country trainer, the future was bleak.
He had to make a change or accept his days were numbered.
So, with the backing of long-time owners Bruce and Ken Noble, Price made the move to the provincial racing circuit.
A partnership with son Luke was formalised, while the Nobles purchased their new stables at Kembla Grange.
That was 2016 and while the past five years haven't been easy, the returns have started to flow.
The trainers have enjoyed Group 2 success with emerging filly Jamaea while Count De Rupee came within a head of claiming the $7.5 million Golden Eagle in October.
The gelding will start as favourite in Saturday's The Gong at Kembla Grange.
"We were dying in the country," Robert Price said. "I thought if we were going to make anything of ourselves, we had to progress.
"Country training is like playing third grade football, it's good, but you don't make anything out of it. We had to go to the provincials and Kembla Grange was the right way to go."
Robert's relationship with Bruce and Ken Noble goes back more than 30 years, the three working on construction sites during his past life as a bricklayer.
The Gerringong twins were among Robert's first supporters when he started training horses and they've been by his side ever since.
"My brother and I could see that Kembla Grange was the future," Bruce said. "We said to Robert 'if we buy a property, would you like to come up?'
"He said he'll have a go, we bought the property and the rest is history."
As part of the shift to Kembla Grange, Luke moved into a house next to the stables and largely took control of the Illawarra operation.
Most of their horses are based there, while a smaller group remain at Turpentine Park in Cambewarra.
Robert has observed his son closely throughout his life and had no concerns handing him the reins of the Kembla operation.
"I was taking him to work with me when he was in second form at high school," Robert said. "He'd ride the horses and then I'd drop him off at Bomaderry High School.
"He's one of those guys that didn't want to do anything else but be involved in horses. If you've got passion, you'll excel. He's got that passion and I knew he'd do a good job."
While Robert is more reserved, Luke is ambitious.
It was Luke who decided two years ago that Count De Rupee would be a perfect horse for the Golden Eagle.
The dream could have been easily dismissed, particularly given the gelding placed eighth in the only black-type race of his career.
But Luke was always confident Count De Rupee had what it takes to get there.
"They have a bit more trust in me now, they can trust my judgement," Luke said. "I knew what I was doing for a long time with this horse.
"It's great he's lived up to my expectations, he's shown how good he is."
In making the decision to purchase the Kembla property, the Nobles also made a conscious decision to invest more in young horses.
If they were going to compete in the city, they would need to purchase higher quality yearlings.
Both Jamaea and Count De Rupee are the end product of this mindset, however it hasn't always been this successful.
Identifying promising horses is more art than science and the Prices have had their missteps.
There was Noble House, a $120,000 yearling purchased in 2016. It made $18,000 in prize money and never won a race.
More recently was Sir Eagle, a $130,000 purchase at the 2018 Magic Millions. It won one race before it was sold for $12,000 in March.
It's results like these that keep the Prices grounded despite the success they've had with Jamaea and Count De Rupee.
"We've had dozens of horses like Sir Eagle that promised us ability," Robert said. "Horses will promise you the world and let you down. The good horses have that desire, you can't see that when you're buying them."
While the Prices are optimistic their results this year will attract more owners with deep pockets, purchasing yearlings remains the bedrock of their strategy.
The ultimate goal is to win a Group 1, however they're not stopping there.
Always ambitious, Luke is eyeing a slot in the Everest with Count De Rupee.
The trainer is also starting to scour the European sales in search of a potential Melbourne Cup runner.
The Nobles remain committed and will be along for the ride.
Already they have turned their focus to January's Magic Millions sales.
After their recent success, their budget has grown but the strategy remains the same.
"If we see a yearling that takes our eye, we'll go a bit higher, but we won't pay big money for them," Bruce said.
"We'll try pick out a couple of nice horses and hopefully we get one as good as these two."
Sports reporter at the Illawarra Mercury
Sports reporter at the Illawarra Mercury
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