Many champions have graced the turf since Australian racing’s first organised meeting in 1810 at Hyde Park in Sydney. But just who has been the best?
After the top five were revealed yesterday, the series continues today with the countdown from 10-6. And there a few surprises today.
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, Kiwis do count!)
10. Sheek – Black Caviar (b.2006) 25 starts/25 wins/0 seconds/0 thirds (100% winning strike rate)
Black Caviar is Australia’s undisputed greatest ever sprinter, running both consistently fast times and sectionals. But two things prevent her from being ranked higher – a lack of versatility in running distances (only one attempt at her maximum distance 1400m) and only one major handicap win carrying a marginally larger weight than weight-for-age.
Major wins include Newmarket Hcp, CF Orr Stakes, two TJ Smith Stakes, three Lightning Stakes plus the Royal Ascot Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
10. Justin Cinque – Vain (b. 1966) 14/12/2/0 (86%)
If Vain didn’t break down halfway through his three-year old season, there’s every chance I’d have him above Black Caviar as Australia’s best ever sprinter. His legion of fans – still large in number 44 years after his 1970 retirement – would disapprove of a ranking of 10.
Vain only lost twice in 14 starts and he had valid excuses on both occasions – illness and a bog track. He won the Golden Slipper by four and the Champagne by ten at two.
At three, he won the Caulfield Guineas over a mile against his own age.
Then he won three times during 1969 Melbourne Cup week – taking the Craven A (now Salinger, 1200m, handicap) by a dozen lengths on Derby Day; the Linlinthgow (now Patinack, 1400m, weight-for-age) on Oaks Day by six; and the George Adams (now Emirates, 1600m, handicap) on Final Day.
It was his last race.
10. Andrew Hawkins – Makybe Diva (b.1999) 36/15/4/3 (42%)
“A champion becomes a legend…” – no one will ever forget where they were when racecaller Greg Miles uttered that statement as Makybe Diva crossed the line to win her third consecutive Melbourne Cup.
A foal no one wanted when she went through the famed Tattersalls ring at Newmarket, she was imported to Australia as a yearling.
She was beaten on debut at Benalla in July 2002, but quickly rose through the ranks winning six races in a row, including the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2500m) in November 2002.
Her first Melbourne Cup came 12 months later under jockey Glen Boss, while she added the Sydney Cup to her cabinet the following autumn.
At this time, her trainer David Hall left Melbourne for Hong Kong, meaning she ended up with hall of fame trainer Lee Freedman.
Under Freedman, she would go incredibly close to winning the famed Cups double, beaten a nose by Elvstroem in the 2004 Caulfield Cup before sneaking through along the inside to win her second Melbourne Cup.
If she’d retired then, she may have snuck into this list towards the bottom. But it was the 2005 calendar year where she made her mark.
An Australian Cup victory in course record time was followed by her most visually impressive win in The BMW. She failed in two races in Japan, attributed to the firm tracks, before she returned for one final spring.
Success in the Cox Plate was followed by an incredible third Melbourne Cup, under what seemed a generous weight of 58kg.
No doubt she had established herself as one of the greatest to race in Australia.
9. Sheek – Ajax (b.1934) 46/36/7/2 (80%).
Arguably Australia’s greatest ever ‘miler’, Ajax often suffered from the same criticism as Black Caviar, a lack of really big prizes.
But his record is undisputedly outstanding. In 1937/38 he enjoyed 18 successive victories.
Major wins include WS Cox Plate, Newmarket Hcp (57 kgs as 3yo), Caulfield Gns, two Mackinnon Stakes, three Futurity Stakes, three All Aged Stakes and CB Fisher Plate.
9. Justin Cinque – Grand Flaneur (b. 1877) 9/9 (100%)
In the history of Australian racing, Grand Flaneur’s unbeaten winning streak on metropolitan tracks of nine is only second to Black Caviar at 25. Grand Flaneur was an incredible entire – he debuted with victory at Flemington in January, 1880 over 1000m as a two-year old.
He was then unsighted until September, when he won the AJC Derby first-up from a spell over 2400m. Then he became the first of only four horses to claim the AJC Derby-VRC Derby (2400m)-Melbourne Cup (3200m) treble.
His victory in the 1881 Champion Stakes (4800m) means Grand Flaneur is one of the few horses in Australian history to have won at distances ranging 1000-4800m.
Grand Flaneur was injured at the end of his three-year old campaign and was retired to stud. He was the nation’s leading sire in 1895.
9. Andrew Hawkins – Black Caviar (b. 2006) 25/25 (100%)
Put simply, it is still far too soon after she has retired to accurately ascertain her true position on this list.
Many of the other horses in this list have had time for their reputations to grow or to shrink, and it is under that knowledge we can place them in an order with which we feel comfortable.
There is nothing more that can be said about Black Caviar that we here at The Roar haven’t said already.
We have been lucky to cover her career, from her spectacular successes to her… well, there were no failures. Only near-failures. She still won, every time.
I wish I’d seen her in a mile race, or even a stronger 1400m contest. Her lack of versatility over different distances will probably see her reputation fade slightly over the coming years.
Dare I say, her place in this list may have been even higher had she been beaten at one of her early starts and connections decided to take her up in journey.
Who knows? Just like this list, it’s a hypothetical.
8. Sheek – Makybe Diva (b.1999) 36/15/4/3 (42%).
Of all the horses in my top 10, Makybe Diva is the only one with a win ratio below 50%. But the quality of her wins is indisputable – three Melbourne Cups, WS Cox Plate, Australian Cup, HE Tancred Stakes (BMW), Sydney Cup, VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes, plus a second and fourth in the Caulfield Cup.
My major quibble is that she was ‘gifted’ her third Melbourne Cup (2005) with a ridiculously comfortable weight of 58 kgs.
She had clearly demonstrated her ability to carry weight in winning key weight-for-age races and should have been weighted more.
8. Justin Cinque – Manikato (b. 1975) 47/29/8/5 (62%)
As far as I can tell, Manikato’s 25 Group 1s is three more than any other horse (Ajax has 22) in the history of Australian racing.
Manikato won five William Reids; four Futurities; two Freeways (now Manikato Stakes) – eight Group 1s at Moonee Valley in total, where he is buried.
As the nation’s best juvenile, he is one of five horses to have won the Blue Diamond-Golden Slipper double at two; eight races that are now Group 1s as a three-year old including six against the older horses.
His last Group 1 came in his second-last race, as a seven-year old in the Futurity.
He was a sprinter but he won at a longer trip (1800m) than any other notable spinter in Australian history. The exception is Todman, who won over 1900m.
8. Andrew Hawkins – Manikato (b. 1975) – 47/29/8/5 (62%)
As will become apparent as this list progresses, there are two qualities I admire in horses above everything else. They are versatility – the range of distances over which a horse excels – and the longevity of one’s career.
In the last 40 years, with the possible exception of Mahogany, I doubt there has been so versatile a horse as Manikato.
He was primarily a sprinter, winning both the Blue Diamond Stakes and the Golden Slipper as a two year old and excelling around the Moonee Valley 1200m. He won a record five William Reid Stakes – no horse has a record like it in a major race in Australia.
He also won four Futurity Stakes and two Freeway Stakes. At the time, the majority of races he won weren’t recognised as Group 1s as they are today, so he is perhaps the biggest victim of race upgrades and downgrades in recent years.
He was able to stretch out to a mile too, winning the Caulfield Guineas and the George Ryder Stakes over the extended trip, while he almost led all the way in an Australian Cup over 2000m. It took a top horse in Dulcify to run him down.
He’s a worthy competitor to Black Caviar as the greatest sprinter we have seen.
7. Sheek – Peter Pan (b.1929) 39/23/6/1 (59%).
According to track experts of the day, Peter Pan gave little away to Phar Lap in distances up to 2400m, with Phar Lap being considered stronger over longer distances.
Which is saying something, because Peter Pan won two Melbourne Cups (the second carrying 62.5 kgs)!
Nicknamed the ‘Blond Bombshell’ for his flaxen mane and lightly coloured coat, Peter Pan shared a similarity with all the great horses of being comfortable with big weights, running in the dry or wet and irrespective of a fast or slow pace.
He was adaptable, another trait he shared with each of my top eight, who could win races from 1200m up to and beyond 3200m.
Other notable wins include AJC Derby and St Leger, All Aged Stakes, two Mackinnon Stakes and two AJC Autumn Stakes.
7. Justin Cinque – Black Caviar (b. 2006) 25/25 (100%)
On one hand, I can count the times Black Caviar wasn’t dominant in victory. Our greatest sprinter; undefeated over five seasons in 25 races.
Her victories in the 2010 Patinack and 2011 Lightning were, at the time, the purest victories I’ve ever seen by a sprinter, but they wouldn’t rank in Black Caviar’s top ten victories.
She shares the weight-carrying record for a mare in the Newmarket Handicap (58kgs), holds the 1000m Flemington track record, and brought racing back to the front page.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t got her higher than a ranking of seven, I’d say because she didn’t prove herself at a mile and also because she wasn’t the dominant horse in the world during her career – Frankel shaded her.
7. Andrew Hawkins – Wakeful (b.1896) 45/25/12/4 (57%)
The original “first lady of the turf” – the remarkable Wakeful. You want longevity? You want versatility? She had it in spades.
She was probably at her best around the 2000m mark, but her winning distances ranged from the 1100m of the Oakleigh Plate to the 4800m of the AJC Plate and Champion Stakes. She also won the Newmarket Handicap, the Doncaster Handicap and the Sydney Cup during her career.
Her finest hour, though, came in defeat in the 1903 Melbourne Cup. Carrying the equivalent of 22kg more than three year old Lord Cardigan, she still managed to get within a length of victory.
In an era where the spread in weights in the Melbourne Cup is likely to be no more than six kilograms, a 22kg difference is difficult to comprehend.
She also had success as a broodmare, producing the 1918 Melbourne Cup winner Night Watch. He was able to avenge her unlucky defeat 15 years earlier.
6. Sheek – Wakeful (b.1896) 45/25/12/4 (57%)
Wakeful’s greatest moment occurred in defeat at the 1903 Melbourne Cup. Asked to carry the grandstand crushing weight of 63.5 kgs, the gallant mare was run down less than a length by the 3 year old colt Lord Cardigan carrying a piddling 42 kgs.
And how good was Lord Cardigan? In the following year’s Cup he carried 60 kgs into second place. If only the VRC handicapper of 2003-05 had been around 100 years earlier!
Hailed as the ‘First Lady of the Turf’, Wakeful’s other notable wins include Sydney Cup (60.5 kgs), Doncaster Handicap, Newmarket Handicap, Oakleigh Plate, CB Fisher Plate, two Caulfield Stakes, three Mackinnon Stakes.
6. Justin Cinque – Wakeful (b.1896) 45/25/12/4 (57%)
Wakeful is undoubtedly the greatest mare to have ever raced in Australia. About 30% of her wins are in races that are now defunct, yet she still managed to claim a mammoth 12 modern-day Group 1s, including three Mackinnons.
She started racing in 1901 as a four-year old and claimed the Oakleigh Plate (1100m) – Newmarket (1200m) – Doncaster (1600m) handicap treble at her third, fourth and fifth starts. Wakeful is the only horse to have won those three races in the same season.
She would later win the AJC Plate and Champion Stakes over 4800m, break the race record over two miles in the 1902 Sydney Cup (with 60.5kgs on her back) and finish second with 63.5kgs in her last race, the 1903 Melbourne Cup.
In the 1903 Melbourne Cup, Wakeful conceded a ridiculous 22 kgs to the winner Lord Cardigan. We will never read of another Wakeful.
6. Andrew Hawkins – Malua (b.1879) 47/12/10/3 (26%)
I’m sure some will be aghast to see Malua rated so highly, but in Australian racing, Malua is the king of both versatility and longevity.
I have him rated equally with Wakeful, but his feats in the 1884 calendar year pushed him one spot higher.
As a two and three year old he had moderate success, first in Tasmania, then in Victoria.
He thrived as a four year old, though, and in the autumn of 1884 he came out and won both the Oakleigh Plate and the Newmarket Handicap. Both races are amongst the quickest on the racing calendar and require a horse with plenty of speed.
That spring, he came back and proved himself as a stayer of note by winning the Melbourne Cup. Fancy that – a horse winning the Oakleigh Plate and the Melbourne Cup in the same calendar year!
During the autumn of 1886, Malua added the Australian Cup – then run over two and a quarter miles, or 3600m – to his record, but his form tapered off and he looked finished.
But he had one shock left – in 1888, as a nine year old, he came out and won the Grand National Hurdle over three and a quarter miles, or 5200m.
He ticks the boxes for what I consider to be a champion.