Almost 150 years of racing are covered in this week’s look at Australia’s best thoroughbreds, with horses on the list racing between 1866 and 2004.
Who is included? Read on to find out who Justin Cinque, Andrew Hawkins and sheek have rated from 31 to 35.
35. Justin Cinque – The Barb (b. 1863) 22/16/2/1 (73%)
The Barb is one of the first champions in Australian racing history. He won the AJC Derby at his first run as a three-year old and claimed the Melbourne Cup a few weeks later. He would then go on and take consecutive Sydney Cups, the latter with 67kgs.
A feature race winner at two, The Barb was the dominant horse in the country throughout his career – in his last season at five he was undefeated. The Barb has the distinction of being the first champion horse to win the Melbourne Cup, Sydney Cup and AJC Derby.
35. Sheek – Comic Court (b. 1945) 54/28/11/4 (53%)
This is the horse that first fired the Bart Cummings legend. Trained by his father Jim, it was Comic Court’s win in the 1950 Melbourne Cup which inspired Bart to one day win the great race himself. He did okay, racking up 12 wins to date!
A popular and much loved racehorse, Comic Court’s Melbourne Cup triumph was well received despite his odds blowing out and he disappointing his legion of fans in critical races in the past. Although not a true stayer, Comic Court was ridden perfectly by his last minute engaged jockey, Pat Glennon.
Other major wins include the VRC Derby and St. Leger, William Reid Stakes, Caulfield and Mackinnon Stakes. Like many true champions, Comic Court won races from 1200m right up to 3200m.
35. Andrew Hawkins – Strawberry Road (b. 1973) 45/17/7/7 (38%)
I think Strawberry Road tends to be forgotten when discussing great Australian horses. His record, however, suggests he is worthy of a place in this list.
A mudlark, he was the first Australian horse to win Group 1 races in three countries (Australia, France and West Germany). Just like So You Think, I believe he could have cemented a higher place on this list if he’d stayed in Australia, as it is likely he would have dominated weight for age racing here.
He won the AJC Derby in a canter, before coming back as a four year old and winning the Manikato Stakes, Feehan Stakes and Cox Plate. The following year, he took on the world, winning races like the Grosser Preis von Baden.
However, it is his fifth in the 1984 Arc for which is most remembered, namely the disgraceful ride of Greville Starkey in taking him to the lead at the top of the unbearably extensive Longchamp straight. The spray John Singleton gave Starkey makes his recent argument with Gai Waterhouse look minor.
34. Justin Cinque – Super Impose (b. 1984) 74/20/24/8 (27%)
The horse known as ‘Super’ is the best handicap miler we’ve ever produced – better than Tobin Bronze who won a Doncaster with 59.5 and a Toorak with 62.5kgs respectively.
Coming from last, ‘Super’ won consecutive Doncasters (with 57 and 59.5kgs) and Epsoms (with 58.5 and 61kgs) in 1990-1991. No other horse has repeated ‘Super’s’ feat in any distance range, that is, winning consecutive feature sprint doubles (Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket), consecutive Cup doubles (Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup) or consecutive runnings of the Doncaster and Epsom.
Super Impose sealed his place in history with a memorable victory in the 1992 Cox Plate – which is still regarded as the greatest line-up assembled in Australia since the advent of television.
34. Sheek – Delta (b. 1946) 41/22/6/2 (54%)
Delta won the 1951 Melbourne Cup sandwiched in between Comic Court and Dalray. Thus it is easy to make a reasonable comparison between the three of them, which suggests not much separates them at all.
Delta missed most of his four year old season, in which case he might have been even better still. But nevertheless he also managed to win the Cox Plate, VRC Derby and VRC St. Leger at three and also the Metropolitan Handicap and Mackinnon Stakes at five.
34. Andrew Hawkins – Saintly (b. 1992) 23/10/8/3 (43%)
If only injury didn’t curtail this chestnut’s career, he may have been up with So You Think and Galilee as the best Bart Cummings ever trained.
In fact, the penny only seemed to drop in the final few runs of his career and it is scary to think how good he would have been in 1997. The 1997 Cox Plate was weak and I believe he would have beaten his stablemate Dane Ripper, while a clash between Saintly, Might and Power and Doriemus would have been the best Melbourne Cup in a generation.
But we’re talking hypotheticals. The facts are, he only missed a place twice – once on debut when 60-1, and another at his final run as a two year old.
As a three year old, he won the Australian Cup but was shaded by Octagonal in the Sydney features. In the spring of 1996, though, he had a disappointing campaign, beaten at odds on in the Craven Plate and The Metropolitan.
Nevertheless, he came out and won the Cox Plate at his next start before showing just how good he was with a crushing victory in the Melbourne Cup. He was to take on the best in the world in the Japan Cup but got sick and returned to Australia.
He had one final start, a most authoritative victory in the Orr Stakes when looking no hope 100m from home. But injury intervened and we never saw “The Horse From Heaven” on a racetrack again.
33. Justin Cinque – Better Loosen Up (b. 1985) 45/17/9/3 (38%)
Better Loosen Up is the only Australian galloper to have won the Japan Cup which, at the present time, is arguably the world’s premier race.
In Australia he won eight Group 1s at the middle distances – an Emirates, a Railway, a Kingston Town, Cox Plate in course record time, a Ranvet, Mackinnon, Australian Cup by six against the great Vo Rogue who was going for his third consecutive win in the race and a Turnbull.
Better Loosen Up made a name for himself in one of the great eras of Australian racing. His great rivals – Super Impose, Let’s Elope and Vo Rogue – were so good they will all be mentioned at least once in the top 50 if they haven’t already.
33. Sheek – Dalray (b. 1948) 27/14/2/3 (52%)
Of the four great horses in five years that won the Melbourne Cup carrying 59.5 kgs or more (Comic Court, Delta, Dalray and Rising Fast), Dalray was the only four year old and also carried the highest winning weight among them of 61 kgs.
That alone places him among the very elite of Melbourne Cup winners. Not just Cup winners, but true champions. This first half of the 1950s also saw the likes of Redcraze and Hydrogen, while Sailor’s Guide, Monte Carlo, Lord and the mighty Tulloch emerged during the second half of the 1950s. It was a great time for staying handicappers and weight carrying champions.
Other major wins include the Metropolitan Handicap, Mackinnon Stakes, Colin Stephen Stakes and VRC Queen’s Plate. Injury forced his early retirement at the end of his four year old career.
33. Andrew Hawkins – Chatham (b. 1928) 45/24/7/1 (53%)
Chatham can probably be considered unlucky to have raced in the era he did, at a time when Phar Lap and Peter Pan dominated their rivals. If he were to race just a decade later, I am convinced he would be remembered as one of the greats, as this list has a bit of a lull during the period of World War II.
Not only did he run second to Phar Lap in the 1931 Cox Plate, but he was the second horse (after Phar Lap) to win two Cox Plates.
He was at his best from a mile to 2000m, winning three Linlithgows (now the Patinack Farm Classic, it was run over a mile in Chatham’s day) and three Craven Plates. He also won a Doncaster and an Epsom, carrying big weights on both occasions.
32. Justin Cinque – Heroic (b. 1921) 51/21/11/4 (41%)
Heroic is one of the great sprinter-milers in history and he even won a Derby.
As a spring two-year old he won the Maribyrnong and Breeder’s Plates. In the 1924 calendar year he won the Champagne, Ascot Vale, Caulfield Guineas, AJC Derby and Chelmsford – four of which are now Group 1s.
He guaranteed a spot in the top 50 of all-time when as an older horse he won at (modern-day) Group 1 level in the Newmarket, Memsie twice, Caulfield Stakes, Cox Plate, Underwood, William Reid and Orr Stakes.
For a short period in the new millennium Heroic’s legacy was secured by the now defunct Heroic Championship, which was run at Group level for two-year olds during Randwick’s Autumn Carnival.
Heroic deserves another good race to be named in his honour.
32. Sheek – Tranquil Star (b. 1937) 111/23/20/12 (21%)
Forget the fact that Tranquil Star only won roughly one in five starts. Among her wins were two Cox Plates and a Caulfield Cup, among the very elite races of the Australian turf. She also won two Mackinnon Stakes and demonstrated great versatility in her career.
We can say without fear of contradiction that unlike Black Caviar’s connections, Tranquil Star’s connections were unafraid to test her everywhere and anywhere!
32. Andrew Hawkins – The Barb (b. 1863) 22/16/2/1 (73%)
Long before motor racing found a home at Bathurst’s Mount Panorama, The Barb was the pride of the Bathurst region.
The Barb was a good two year old, but it was at three that he really shone. He won the AJC Derby before heading south to plunder the Melbourne Cup and the Australasian Champion Stakes, almost a precursor for the Cox Plate.
He travelled the country, even winning at Launceston in Tasmania. But his most notable victory was his win in the 1869 Sydney Cup under the crushing weight of 67kg.
The Barb – the first true champion of the Australian turf.
31. Justin Cinque – Northerly (b. 1996) 37/19/7/2 (51%)
It was only after Northerly’s death 12 months ago (when his great wins were replayed on TV) that I fully appreciated how good ‘the fighting tiger’ was.
I suspect I’m not the only racing fan to have under-estimated the great West Australian during his career. Maybe, it’s because Northerly never won running right-handed in Sydney which is my home town. But to be fair, that’s Northerly’s only blemish.
He won two Cox Plates beating Sunline on both occasions. Showcasing his famous toughness, he also clung-on to win a Caulfield Cup when conceding weight to eventual dual Cox Plate winner Fields of Omagh. Northerly won two Australian Cups with ease and arrogance.
Northerly’s victory in the 2000 Railway in Perth is best I’ve seen in that race’s history. Anyone who saw him win that day knew they were watching a rising champion.
Trainer Fred Kersley still regrets not running Northerly in the 2002 Melbourne Cup when the horse was given 60kgs. I’m not going to say Northerly couldn’t have won.
Northerly is one of the toughest weight-for-age champions we’ve produced. When he found the front, in any part of a race, ‘the fighting tiger’ was almost unbeatable.
31. Sheek – Shannon (b. 1941) 25/14/7/0 (56%) (plus 19/6/1/7 in US)
As I’ve expressed several times before, sometimes a horse’s greatest feat comes in defeat. At the 1946 Epsom Handicap Shannon conceded about 15 lengths to the leaders (also mentioned by Justin and Andrew) due to a strand of the starter’s rope being caught in his mouth (this being pre-barrier days,) yet produced an unbelievable comeback to only lose by less than a head. In a mile race (approx. 1600m) that’s a truly phenomenal turnaround.
Apart from the Epsom, Shannon, who was lightly raced during his Australian career, didn’t win too many of the ‘big ones’ of the Australian turf, his other wins including two George Main Stakes. However, his frenetic US activity towards the twilight of his career shows he remains the best performed Aussie horse to race in North America, winning the coveted Hollywood Gold Cup as his main triumph over there.
31. Andrew Hawkins – Grand Flaneur (b. 1877) 9/9/0/0 (100%)
I doubt any horse will ever have such a brief and brilliant career as Grand Flaneur.
In fact, only 1883 Melbourne Cup winner Martini-Henry can be considered in a similar vein, given he won the Victoria Derby at his first start before taking the Melbourne Cup the following Tuesday. However, his form tapered off at subsequent starts, whereas Grand Flaneur maintained his unbeaten record throughout his incredibly short career.
He won his first start over five furlongs (1000m), before winning the AJC Derby at his second start. That same spring, he won the Victoria Derby and the Melbourne Cup. In the autumn, he added to his record before retirement beckoned after injury.
He would go on to sire two Melbourne Cup winners, Bravo (1889) and Patron (1894), as well as an Ascot Gold Cup winner in Merman (1900).