Group 1 racing returns to the calendar this Saturday with the running of the Winx Stakes (1400 metres) at Randwick.
The Doncaster Mile, to be run this Saturday at Randwick, is Australia’s greatest test of a thoroughbred over 1600m.
It is arguably Sydney’s finest race, an event which sees 20 thoroughbreds thundering up the Randwick rise in an attempt to claim Doncaster glory.
The race attracts sprinters trying to stretch to a mile, stayers looking for an autumn hit out with the spring in mind, and everything in between.
It attracts weight for age types chancing their hand in a handicap, while it can also provide the platform for a handicapper with scope to take the next step in their career.
Run as the Doncaster Handicap until five years ago, when the moniker was changed to the Doncaster Mile, the race has such a history that I’ve decided to restrict this list to the last 25 years – all winners since Lygon Arms in 1988 come into consideration.
There are two victors in the last 25 years that stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the winners during that period. Naturally, they occupy the top two positions.
However, the three other positions are a matter of debate.
I’ve left out some of the wonderful Doncaster moments. The training triumph of Guy Walter in training the trifecta in 2005 – Patezza, Court’s In Session, Johan’s Toy – is missing.
The win of Vision and Power, a restricted galloper who seemed to grow wings during the 2009 autumn, is overlooked.
And top winners like Catalan Opening, Assertive Lad, Private Steer, Racing To Win, Rangirangdoo and More Joyous don’t get a go.
It was a tough list to compile, but for mine, here are the top five winners of the Doncaster Mile in the last quarter of a century:
A dual Doncaster winner, Pharaoh provided Sydney’s leading lady Gai Waterhouse with her first two Doncaster Handicaps. She’s won seven to date, a record she shares with her father T J Smith.
However, if events had panned out differently, perhaps the ledger would have been 8-6 or even 9-5 in favour of the legendary Smith.
Pharaoh marked the changing of the guard from Smith to Waterhouse, when he was transferred between stables as Smith prepared for a knee operation in March 1994.
In Pharaoh, Waterhouse had a mammoth task. A gutsy, genuine horse, he had arthritic joints and he seemed to be constantly lame.
A Group 1 placegetter the previous year, the son of Sackford had run fourth in the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at his final run for Tommy Smith. His next start would be in the Doncaster for his new trainer.
Starting at $13, he came from midfield to prevail by a nose from Kingston Bay with Telesto third.
A week later, he was destined for life in a paddock after he fractured a sesamoid. The odds against him racing again were remote and would require every bit of horsemanship from Waterhouse and her team.
Against the odds, he made it back the following year, winning the Group 2 Apollo Stakes (1400m) and the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) as well as finishing third in the George Ryder Stakes. He was sent out an $8 chance of winning back to back Doncasters.
In a tribute to Waterhouse’s training skills, he managed to win again, defeating Aunty Mary and Telesto.
He may not have been the greatest winner of the race, but it is a wonderful tribute to horse and trainer that he managed to win two Doncasters.
A list like this will always judge the three year old winners favourably.
Those who win this race at three are at the beginning of their careers. They generally get in on a light weight, they have a lot more scope and they can go on to achieve great things.
They are almost the antithesis of Pharaoh, who was a very good horse but hardly a champion.
Haradasun was such a three year old.
A blueblood, by Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus out of Queensland Oaks winner Circles of Gold, he was a half brother to Caulfield Cup and Dubai Duty Free winner Elvstroem.
He’d won the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes (1500m), his first win at Group 1 level, prior to the Doncaster Handicap and he was sent out a $4.20 favourite.
Carrying 53kg, he raced handy and managed to win in a tight photo from Mentality – who in later years would become known for his aptitude over the Randwick 1600m – and Divine Madonna.
It was to be his last win in Australia, with his four year old spring campaign in 2007 notching up placings in the Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes (1200m), Group 2 Memsie Stakes (1400m), Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600m), Group 1 Turnbul Stakes (2000m) and Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m).
He would go on to win the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, although it required a rather tactical piece of team riding to ensure he won the race.
Grand Armee is a horse that seems to be forgotten as time moves on. At his peak, he was a wonderful galloper that excited punters with his bold front-running style.
It was his dominant Doncaster Handicap win in 2003 where the racing public first got a glimpse at how good he could be on his day.
Camped behind the leaders in a well judged ride from Danny Beasley, he was explosive once he got a split at the top of the straight. He raced away to score by three and a half lengths.
He beat a crack field, which included the likes of Dash For Cash, Lonhro, Thorn Park and Crawl.
He attempted to win back to back Doncasters in 2004, but he proved no match late for the flying Private Steer.
He would go on to win a further six Group 1 races, although perhaps one of his best performances was in defeat. In the 2005 The BMW, he kicked clear upon straightening, only to be run down by Makybe Diva in what was probably her most visually impressive performance.
The mighty Kiwi mare is better known for her Cox Plate feats, including that breathtaking victory in 2000 which saw her win by a widening seven lengths.
However, her feats over the Randwick mile were pretty good, too.
From 10 starts over the Randwick 1600m course, all at Group 1 level, she managed five wins and four placings. The only time she missed a place was in the 1999 Epsom Handicap, when she finished fourth to Allez Suez. At her next start, she would win her first Cox Plate.
She brought the Doncaster Handicap into a new age with her wins in 1999 and 2002.
In 1999, she was still relatively untapped and was the subject of much hype. The world was her oyster.
A three year old filly burdened with only 52kg, she had raced 11 times for 10 victories. Her unorthodox preparation, which saw her win the Group 3 Moonee Valley Oaks (2040m) the start before her Doncaster run, didn’t deter punters who sent her out a hot $2.10 favourite.
She didn’t disappoint. Given a relatively easy time in front, she kicked for home up the rise and she quickly put three lengths on her rivals. Driven to the line, she won by two lengths from Lease and Juggler – pretty good horses in their own right!
A year later, she was back again. She had 5.5kg more to carry in 2000, and while punters weren’t as keen to jump on her as the year before, she still started favourite at $3.80.
Made to work harder than 12 months earlier, she still looked home and hosed when she led up the rise. But the three year old Over followed her into the race, and with a 6kg pull in the weights, he managed to overhaul her to win by a neck. The rest were four lengths away, toiling.
Two years later, she was back once again in another attempt to win a second Doncaster. She was lumped with 58kg, but for the third time in a Doncaster Handicap, she started favourite at $2.90.
It seemed to be deja vu when she led up the rise, but with a two length break at the 150m mark, it looked like the second Doncaster was hers for the keeping.
But out of the pack, Shogun Lodge flew home and at the line, it was too close to call. And while it seemed racecaller Terry Bailey was going to go for Sunline in the photo, he ended up staying out of it.
Glen Boss on Shogun Lodge began celebrating wildly – he thought he’d nabbed the mare. But the photo showed that Sunline had held on by the barest of margins.
It was a fitting result for one of this country’s most popular mares.
There is simply no horse synonymous with the Randwick mile like Lee Freedman’s Super Impose.
He achieved many feats throughout his career – a win against arguably the finest field assembled for the Cox Plate in 1992 as well as a gutsy second in the Melbourne Cup in 1989 rank up there with the greatest of them.
However, his enduring legacy is linked with his phenomenal success over the tough Randwick mile.
Not only did he win two Doncaster Handicaps in 1990 and 1991, but he also completed the Epsom Handicap double both years. He is the only horse to win both the Doncaster and Epsom in consecutive years.
With those four victories under his belt, he is quite rightly considered the supreme Randwick miler.
When he contested his first Doncaster Handicap, he was considered a bit of a non-winner at the top level. He had recorded wins in the Group 3 Summer Cup (2400m) in 1988 and the Group 2 Carlyon Cup (1600m) and the Group 2 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) in 1989.
But he was a habitual placegetter at Group 1 level. He was second in the 1989 Australian Cup, second in the 1989 Melbourne Cup, third in the 1990 Australian Cup and third in what is now the Ranvet Stakes in 1990 at his final run before the Doncaster.
He’d also finished fourth in the 1989 Underwood Stakes and 1989 Mackinnon Stakes, while he finished midfield in the 1989 Caulfield Cup.
The 1990 Doncaster marked his emergence as a Group 1 winner. He would retire the winner of eight Group 1 races, five over the Randwick 1600m – two Doncasters, two Epsoms and a Chipping Norton Stakes.
Every time, he came from a mile back up the infamous rise, flashing home to win. On both occasions in the Doncaster, he was back last at one point.
In 1990, he carried 57kg and started a massive $21 – quite amazing in hindsight. At the 200m, he was still six lengths off gun three year old Shaftesbury Avenue (who would eventually win six Group 1 races so was well weighted on 49.5kg).
In the last two strides, he managed to nab Shaftesbury Avenue to win by a long neck. Our Grey Invader was third.
In 1991, the scenario was different. In the preceding 12 months, he had won the Group 2 Warwick Stakes (1400m), the Group 1 Epsom Handicap (1600m), the Listed Manifold Stakes (1400m), the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) and the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m).
He had to carry more weight this time around, the hefty impost of 59.5kg. And significantly, he was backing up after a poor performance the week before in The BMW. Sent out $1.50 favourite against five rivals at Rosehill, he’d finished a long last, 15 lengths behind Dr Grace.
But in very similar fashion to his win a year before, he flew down the outside and managed to get up in the final stride, nosing out Royal Creation.
In 1992, he lined up in an attempt to win his third Doncaster. However, he found the task of carrying a crushing 62.5kg too much, finishing sixth to Soho Square after being last on the home turn. He gave the three year old a whopping 15kg.
Retired later that year, he is fondly remembered for his Randwick deeds. Old Super – what a horse.