The Spring is officially in the air with the group one Makybe Stakes meeting at Flemington on Saturday.
The greatest moments in sport are those which are improbable and unexpected, where an athlete or team defies all manners of logic and analysis to emerge victorious.
The Canberra Raiders had to win eight games in a row to make the NSWRL grand final in 1989. They did, and took on the Balmain Tigers in the decider.
They had to come from 12-2 down at half time, managing to win the game in extra time in what is now considered one of rugby league’s greatest ever matches.
Think of Kieren Perkins, struggling for form in 1996 and only making it into the final of the 1500m at the Atlanta Olympics by a mere two tenths of a second. Coming from lane eight and taking on the likes of compatriot Daniel Kowalski, he destroyed his rivals in a ruthless performance.
And what about Australia II’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup? Given the United States was carefully guarding their prized sailing treasure, it would have been a special victory regardless. But given Dennis O’Connor’s Liberty had taken a 3-1 advantage in the best of seven series, to fight back and win made the achievement of John Bertrand and his crew even more special.
Clearly, the examples are there across a number of sports. And racing is no different.
Last Saturday at Rosehill saw one of these inexplicable moments.
Bel Sprinter, a talented galloper who won five of his first six starts, was aiming to record his maiden win at the highest level against a cracking field in the Group 1 The Galaxy (1100m) at Rosehill.
He’d been injury prone, never anything too serious but always enough to restrict his racing career.
A few seconds into the race, it looked like trainer Jason Warren would have to search elsewhere for Group 1 glory after he came out of the barriers a clear last, two lengths behind the rest of the field.
However, the race panned out perfectly for him, with a hot tempo ensuring he would have his chance to overcome a slow start.
He showed a tremendous turn of foot to take the lead with 300m to go, surging away to record a dominant triumph.
A clash with the incomparable Black Caviar now awaits.
Bel Sprinter provoked memories of another victory by a horse with a similar name. It was a victory even more spectacular, even more surprising and even more momentous. And as far as memories go, the timing is impeccable.
The Golden Slipper provokes varying recollections for many punters. Some remember the “colt from the coalmines” Luskin Star and his extraordinary eight length victory in 1977, while others look at Shane Dye’s remarkable record in the race in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The dramatic late scratching of hot favourite and future champion sire Redoute’s Choice in 1999 remains a sore point for some punters, as does the removal at the gates of Smart Missile, the only horse considered a chance of beating Sepoy in 2011.
For me, the story of the Golden Slipper is incomplete without a chapter dedicated to Belle du Jour.
What a filly!
They say pictures tell a thousand words. When it comes to Belle du Jour’s Golden Slipper victory, not even a million words could accurately describe her performance that day.
It needs to be seen to be believed. On that end, thank God for Youtube!
Belle du Jour was owned by a marketing genius (John Singleton), a former prime minister (Bob Hawke), a vet (Gerry Rose) and their partners (Blanche d’Alpuget and Helen Rose). She was trained by the “king of the kids” Clarry Conners, regarded as the leading trainer of juveniles in Sydney.
Named after a French novel and film (I wonder if the desire ever struck them to name the filly d’Alpuget, after Hawke’s second wife?), the filly by Dehere out of the Balmerino mare Delightful Belle sold at the 1999 Magic Millions Sale on the Gold Coast for $200000.
John Singleton (an owner of the Magic Millions sales company) was the buyer.
A routine veterinary check soon after almost turned into disaster as the filly went crazy and injured a leg quite badly. At one stage, it looked like the only option would be to put her down, but she recovered well enough for a Golden Slipper preparation to be planned.
As she prepared for her first start, Singleton gave Hawke a 25% share as a 70th birthday present – he turned 70 in December 1999. A few days before, the filly now named Belle du Jour began her career in winning fashion at Rosehill.
Later that month, she travelled to the Gold Coast where she finished second to Assertive Lad in the Magic Millions Classic (1200m). Singleton would win the race in 2006 with another Dehere filly, Mirror Mirror.
After winning the Group 3 Kindergarten Stakes (1100m) and the Group 2 Reisling Stakes (1200m) in good fashion, Belle du Jour went into the Golden Slipper on the fourth line of betting at 9-1 – $10 in today’s parlance.
She remained solid throughout, not budging from that quote.
As the gates filled quickly, the crowd had no idea they were about to witness one of the greatest Golden Slipper victories of all time.
The starter pressed the button to release the field. 15 of the 16 runners jumped away cleanly.
Not Belle du Jour.
No, she had jumped in the air as the gates sprang back. She almost dislogded jockey Lenny Beasley, before balancing herself and setting out after the field. After a few moments, she was already six to seven lengths from the leader, two lengths behind the second last runner.
Two lengths may not sound much, but there is more to it than simply being a couple of lengths behind the second last runner. It is that the horse has used up the same amount of energy as a front runner to tack onto the main body of the field, only they are now 10 lengths from the lead.
One of racing’s biggest myths is that the Golden Slipper is a hell for leather race. Most years, it is not run as quick as would be expected and it tends to be dominated from the front. It does not possess the helter skelter attributes of, say, an Oakleigh Plate.
It is a race in which luck is imperative, especially around the hairpin Parramatta circuit, and every advantage is crucial.
Belle du Jour had now lost any advantage. Victory, it seemed, was minuscule.
She travelled well once she tacked onto the field, but it looked as though a miracle would be required to win.
Around the turn, Belle du Jour had only passed two runners. It looked like she’d record a brilliant midfield finish and would go down in the record books as the horse that should have won the 2000 Golden Slipper.
At about the 200m mark, Beasley made the decisive move that gave him his opportunity for victory. Instead of sticking to the fence, he pulled the filly about five horses off the inside.
A gap opened between Assertive Lad, who hit the lead momentarily, and the fast finishing Crowned Glory.
She now had horses to chase. Chase she did.
In the dying strides, she managed to make enough ground to burst through the middle and nose out Crowned Glory in one of the most remarkable wins seen on a racetrack. Assertive Lad was third.
Racecaller Ian Craig thought his eyes were deceiving him, calling it a “freakish win” and stating numerous times he couldn’t believe it.
Patrons on course expressed similar thoughts to Craig. The majority were in awe.
The mood at Rosehill was buoyant enough in the aftermath of such a brilliant victory.
Into the fray walks John Singleton.
Between Singleton and Hawke, you had two of Australia’s most revered larrikins. It was an image both had worked hard to cultivate.
For Singleton, however, he further endeared himself to the crowd when he shouted the public bar for an hour at Rosehill.
To this day, Rosehill has not seen a party like it. Even the celebrations of Perc Galea after Eskimo Prince won the Slipper, when he began to throw 10 pound notes into the crowd, could not compare.
The public bar at Rosehill is named after Belle du Jour, in honour of Singleton’s gesture that day.
After the Golden Slipper, much was expected of this bonny filly. Injury ruled her out of the 2000 spring, though, and she looked like becoming a victim of the Golden Slipper curse – where a winner of the world’s richest juvenile race never wins again.
However, she returned a winner at her first start back in December 2000, winning again at Toowoomba (of all places) two starts later. She mixed her form, but she was always honest, giving her all.
As a four-year-old, she won the Group 3 Gilgai Stakes (1200m) and the Group 2 Emirates Classic (1200m), now the Patinack Farm Classic. She showed an affinity for the straight course at Flemington.
This proved vital when, 18 months later, she managed to record her final win in our greatest sprint, the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m).
That March day in 2003, she defeated the likes of Bel Esprit (sire of Black Caviar), Royal Ascot trendsetter Choisir, previous Newmarket Handicap winner Rubitano and Singapore Krisflyer Sprint winner North Boy.
It was her final appearance in Australia. Weeks later, she would run fourth in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m) at Nad al Sheba at her final run for Clarry Conners, before joining the stables of Dermot Weld in Ireland.
She had three runs for Weld, culminating in a 15th in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes behind Choisir in which she was galloped on from behind, before she was retired to the breeding barn.
That proved a difficult task, however, and she failed to get in foal to Sadler’s Wells, Zabeel and Encosta de Lago in consecutive seasons.
Finally, she was tested in foal to Redoute’s Choice with the first of her progeny due during the 2006 breeding season.
Tragically, however, she died of a haemorrhage during the foaling process and neither she nor her Redoute’s Choice colt foal could be saved.
It was a terribly sad end for a mare that had shown so much on the track, not only on the day of her Golden Slipper win, but in Group races over a number of seasons.
Nevertheless, she will always be remembered for that one awesome performance in April 2000.
There is a small link to Belle du Jour this weekend on the 13th anniversary of her brilliant win.
Dear Demi, trained by Clarry Conners and owned by John Singleton, goes around in the Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m). They also share the same sire, Dehere.
It would be fitting if Dear Demi could salute on a day which, for me, is indelibly linked with Belle du Jour.