The Roar’s top 50 Australian racehorses of all-time (part 3)
Sprints have their place, but the truly great races are stayers. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)
Of all the champions of the last 20 years, only Black Caviar and Makybe Diva made their way into the top ten. So have our three selectors found a spot for the likes of Sunline, So You Think and Might and Power in the top 15?
15. Sheek – Rising Fast (born 1949) 68 starts/24 wins/17 seconds/2 thirds (35% winning strike rate)
‘Jack,’ as he was known to the stable, can lay claim to being the greatest handicap stayer to race in Australia. He missed by the narrowest margins in achieving the double-double of Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup victories.
Rising Fast won the Cups double in 1954 and the Caulfield Cup again in 1955, before a narrow second in the Melbourne Cup.
Racing critics believed jockey Bill Williamson had a winnable case for protest, but he didn’t exercise it.
Rising Fast also remains the only horse to win the Caulfield Cup-Cox Plate-Melbourne Cup in the one year. Other major wins include two CB Fisher Plate, and Mackinnon Stakes.
15. Andrew Hawkins – So You Think (b. 2006) 23/14/4/1 (61%)
He’s higher than he probably should be in my list because I’m biased. So You Think is my favourite horse in my time of following racing – admittedly, not too long.
I was there the day he made his debut at Rosehill, I backed him at 150-1 for the 2009 Cox Plate, I was broken when he finished third in the Melbourne Cup, I saw him labour in the Dubai World Cup, and the circle completed as I saw him win at his final start in the Prince of Wales Stakes.
However great So You Think is, I’m not a good judge. He’s this high because I love him.
15. Justin Cinque – Sunline (b. 1995) 48/32/9/3 (67%)
As a champion miler, Sunline, nicknamed ‘the mare of the world’, was the Ajax of the modern era. She won two Cox Plates, two Doncasters, two Coolmore Classics, two All Ageds, two Waikato Sprints in New Zealand and a Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin – 16 modern-day Group 1s in total.
Sunline has the distinction of being the owner of possibly the greatest Cox Plate victory in history – a seven-length, all-the-way demolition in 2000.
Sunline was tough – it was evident in her narrow victory in the 2000 Hong Kong Mile – but she was brilliant as well – her dominant victory in the 1999 Doncaster was one of the most explosive in the history of the great race.
14. Sheek – Manikato (b.1975) 47/29/8/5 (62%)
Manikato was a brilliant sprinter-miler who won a legion of fans during his career. Despite being highly strung and temperamental, he broke numerous race and track records during his career.
Major wins include Blue Diamond, Golden Slipper, Doomben 10,000, George Ryder, three CF Orr Stakes, four Futurity Stakes and five William Reid Stakes.
14. Andrew Hawkins – Peter Pan (b. 1929) 38/23/6/1
A flashy chestnut and a dual Melbourne Cup winner who was incredibly versatile, he’s often forgotten given his career came in the immediate aftermath of the death of the legendary Phar Lap.
He’s the subject of a brilliant book by Jessica Owers, well worth a read if you get the opportunity.
14. Justin Cinque – Rising Fast (b. 1949) 68/24/17/2 (35%)
In Australian racing, a champion stayer is judged by their performances in the Spring Carnival. The Kiwi gelding Rising Fast is unlucky not to have been named in the top ten of all-time, because his spring of 1954 will go down in history as the greatest ever.
As a five-year old, entering the spring without much fanfare, he came away with victories in the Feehan (now Chin Nam, 1600m), Turnbull (then 2400m), Caulfield Stakes (then 1800m), Caulfield Cup (2400m, 51kgs), Cox Plate (then 2000m), Mackinnon (2000m), Melbourne Cup (3200m, 59.5kgs) and CB Fisher (2400m).
In a seven-week period he won six modern-day Group 1s and remains the only horse to have won any three majors (Golden Slipper, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup) in the same year.
At six, Rising Fast returned to taste Caulfield Cup success (with 57.5kgs) for a second time before finishing second in his Melbourne Cup defence with 63.5kgs.
As far as I can tell, only Makybe Diva (four) has won as many Australian majors as Rising Fast.
13. Sheek – Sunline (b.1995) 48/32/9/3 (68%)
Before Sunline came along, Desert Gold was anointed ‘NZ’s first lady of the turf’. It is now a title usurped by Sunline.
Her record in NZ, Australia and overseas was exemplary. She was a model of high consistency.
Sunline could handle wet or dry, handicap or weight-for-age conditions. She liked to race near the lead, finishing with a wicked, devastating burst.
Major wins include two Cox Plates, two Doncasters, two All Aged Stakes, two Coolmore Classics, the Flight and Manikato Stakes, as well as the prestigious Hong Kong Mile.
13. Andrew Hawkins – Ajax (b. 1934) 46/36/7/2 (78%)
A remarkably consistent, versatile horse, Ajax won 18 races in a row from the spring of 1937 to the autumn of 1939.
His whole career, however, was overshadowed by his next start, an infamous defeat in the 1939 Rawson Stakes, where he was beaten at 40-1 on, or in today’s parlance, about $1.025.
It was a bigger shock than had, say, Black Caviar been beaten. Still, one loss shouldn’t undermine a brilliant career.
13. Justin Cinque – Makybe Diva (b. 1999) 36/15/4/3 (42%)
As a three-time Melbourne Cup winner, Makybe Diva is a legend of Australian racing but her great feats came in only a 12 month period that was book-ended by the 2004 Melbourne Cup (which she won with a record winning weight for a mare of 55.5kgs) and her third victory in the Cup a year later, with 58kgs.
In between she won an Australian Cup in world-record time (for a race on turf), a BMW in incredible fashion, showcased her versatility in the Memsie over 1400 and sealed her greatness by winning the Cox Plate.
Perhaps owner Tony Santic should’ve pressed on for another year because few horses have achieved as much in a year as Makybe Diva did in her last, which was 2005.
‘The mighty mare’ finished with nine modern-day Group 1s; six of which came in ’05.
12. Sheek – Eurythmic (b.1916) 47/31/6/4 (66%)
Eurythmic is a Greek word meaning ‘harmonious rhythm’. Old timers who saw both Eurythmic and Phar Lap race wondered why Eurythmic wasn’t spoken about with similar awe.
While Phar Lap won 37 of 51 races (73%), Eurthymic won 31 of 47 starts (66%).
Phar Lap did win the Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate, but Eurthymic won the Caulfield Cup, Sydney Cup (61 kgs), Perth Cup, WA Derby, three Caulfield Stakes and two Mackinnon Stakes.
So highly regarded was Eurthymic that the handicapper gave him the same weight as Carbine (66 kgs) for the 1921 Melbourne Cup.
According to his jockey, he was “cantering” before breaking down past the half-way during the race.
12. Andrew Hawkins – Vain (b.1966) 14/12/2/0 (86%)
He may have been the best sprinter we’ve seen – that’s right, better than Black Caviar or Manikato.
He won 12 of his 14 starts, but his premature retirement as an autumn three year old means we are unable to judge how good he really was.
We can guess though, and his victory in the Craven ‘A’ Stakes (which became the Salinger Stakes) was one of the most dominant performances seen in a feature race in Australia.
12. Justin Cinque – Todman (b. 1954) 12/10/1/0 (83%)
Sydney racegoers are reminded of the brilliance of Todman each time they go to the races at Randwick and Warwick Farm – streets to the west of the two racecourses, Todman Avenue and Todman Road respectively, are named after the champion sprinter.
Todman is the best two-year old to have ever raced in Australia. On debut he broke the Australian record for 1000m in the Juvenile Stakes at Randwick. He won the first Golden Slipper by eight.
The highlight of his career was a six-length victory over Tulloch (ranked as high as two by Andrew Hawkins and myself) in the Champagne (then 1200m).
Todman extended his brilliance to 1900m when winning the Canterbury Guineas. Injury at his next start kept him off the track as a four-year old but he returned at five to win the Lightning and Futurity.
Todman won five Group 1s from 1000-1900m.
11. Sheek – Vain (b.1966) 14/12/2/0 (86%)
Vain was possibly the best sprinter seen in Australia, possibly better than Black Caviar. But injury cut short Vain’s career, while we can assess Black Caviar’s career on a ‘full book’.
If Black Caviar put ‘daylight’ of three to four lengths on his opponents, Vain usually put ‘weeks’ of six to 12 lengths on his hapless rivals. Vain was an out and out speedster.
Major wins include Golden Slipper, VRC Sires Produce, Champagne Stakes, Caulfield Gns, Caulfield Stakes, George Adams Hcp, Linlithgow Stakes and Craven A Plate.
11. Andrew Hawkins – Rising Fast (b. 1949) 68/24/17/2 (35%)
What a horse. The only horse to win the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in the same year, he should have been the only horse to win the Cups double twice if not for jockey Bill Williamson’s gentlemanly manner.
Williamson decided not to protest against Neville Sellwood in Toporoa in the 1955 Melbourne Cup, although many observers believed such a protest would have been upheld.
11. Justin Cinque – Bernborough (b. 1939) 38/26/2/1 (68%)
Bernborough needed to have a second year competing in the major racing capitals to be ranked higher with me. But, in the stallion’s defence, once he was allowed to compete outside of Toowoomba following the resolution of an ownership dispute, Bernborough couldn’t have done much more.
Bernborough won a Newmarket with 63kgs and a Doomben Cup with 68.5kgs. He also won the Futurity, Ranvet, Chipping Norton, All Aged and Caulfield Stakes.
So great was Bernborough’s finishing burst that today, nearly 70 years after his retirement, you’ll still hear race-callers declare at the 600m mark that a horse “needs to finish like Bernborough” to have any chance of winning.