The Roar’s top 50 Australian racehorses of all-time (part 3)

Justin Cinque Columnist

By Justin Cinque, Justin Cinque is a Roar Expert

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    After the top ten racehorses in Australian history were revealed last week by Sheek, Andrew Hawkins and Justin Cinque, the top 50 series continues today with a countdown from 15-11.

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • Columnist

      May 16th 2013 @ 7:32am
      Justin Cinque said | May 16th 2013 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      So this is how our lists are shaping up:

      Top 50 (1-15)
      Justin Andrew Sheek

      Carbine Carbine Carbine
      Tulloch Tulloch Phar Lap
      Phar Lap Phar Lap Tulloch
      Kingston Town Kingston Town Kingston Town
      Ajax Bernborough Bernborough
      Wakeful Malua Wakeful
      Black Caviar Wakeful Peter Pan
      Manikato Manikato Makybe Diva
      Grand Flaneur Black Caviar Ajax
      Vain Makybe Diva Black Caviar
      Bernborough Rising Fast Vain
      Todman Vain Eurythmic
      Makybe Diva Ajax Sunline
      Rising Fast Peter Pan Manikato
      Sunline So You Think Rising Fast

      • Roar Guru

        May 16th 2013 @ 7:40am
        sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 7:40am | ! Report

        Hi Justin,

        When we’re done with the 50, we could allocate points, 50 points or first down to one point for 50th, then rank them according to their accumulated sores.

        • Columnist

          May 16th 2013 @ 7:45am
          Justin Cinque said | May 16th 2013 @ 7:45am | ! Report

          And that would truly create ‘The Roar’s top 50’.

          • Roar Guru

            May 16th 2013 @ 10:13am
            sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 10:13am | ! Report

            Of the selections to date, The Roar’s greatest 50 Australian racehorses is shaping up as follows (assuming my maths is correct):

            1. Carbine (150)

            2. Tulloch (146)

            3. Phar Lap (145)

            4. Kingston Town (141)

            5. Wakeful (134)

            6. Bernborough (132)

            7. Black Caviar (126)

            8. Ajax (125)

            9. Manikato (122)

            10. Makybe Diva (121)

            11. Vain (120)

            12. Rising Fast (110)


            1. So far, 12 horses have received all three votes in the top 15, so we can lock them in.

            2. Carbine received the perfect score (50 + 50 + 50 = 150) as the all-time best. Surprisingly (for me), Tulloch edged out Phar Lap for second.

            3. The next two high flyers waiting for a third score are Peter Pan (c’mon Justin) & Sunline (c’mon Andrew). They will almost certainly be ranked nos 13 & 14. Currently, Peter Pan has 80 points (114 max) & could squeak past Rising Fast. Sunline has 72 points (106 max).

            • Roar Guru

              May 16th 2013 @ 11:52am
              sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 11:52am | ! Report

              I’ve mucked up slightly with the overall points. Ajax actually has 126 points, drawing equal 7th with Black Caviar; Manikato has 123 points; Makybe Diva has 122 points, while Rising Fast comes up to 113.

              Overall no change in top 12. Peter Pan would need to secure 16th or 17th place by Justin in order to pass Rising Fast overall.

    • May 16th 2013 @ 8:17am
      Drew H said | May 16th 2013 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      So where would a gelding like Grand Armee sit on the list?

      Stakes racing vs handicap ??

      Must win a Cox Plate ???

      Proven breeding results (in hindsight)????

      Is a gelding the best horse you can own?????

      Thanks for the answers. I only raise questions.

      • Roar Guru

        May 16th 2013 @ 10:30am
        sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report


        Whether they’re entires, geldings or mares is irrelevant. Post racing as sires or dams is only relevant when trying to separate two horses of almost identical achievement on the track. Carbine vs Phar Lap being an example.

        Grand Armee’s not good enough to make the top 50 (we’re talking nearly 150 years of racing here).

        Weight-for-age & set-weight races are obviously the consistent high-raters. But also the ability to carry huge weights to victory counts highly.

        Winning the Cox Plate by itself isn’t enough. But it rates very highly all the same.

        As Justin points out, the ‘grand slam’ of Australian racing is Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate & Golden Slipper Although the Slipper’s ‘top four’ ranking is also highly dubious.

        Bear in mind that before the Cox Plate was created in 1922, there was the Champion Stakes of Australasia.

        Rounding out a ‘top 10’, you could add the Doncaster Mile, Australian Cup, Tancred (MBW) Stakes, Newmarket Hcp, Stradbroke Hcp & one other, either of the Australian or Victorian Derbies, Doomben 10,000 or Doomben Cup, Epsom Hcp or Sydney Cup.

        Bear in mind also, before the Tancred (BMW) Stakes, the VRC had the CB Fisher Plate over a similar distance. A 2400m weight-for-age race is a gut-busting exercise requiring horses to possess finishing speed, weight carrying strength & staying power in equal measure.

    • May 16th 2013 @ 9:07am
      Greg Prichard said | May 16th 2013 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      I don’t think Andrew Hawkins has rated So You Think too highly. He’s our best horse since Kingston Town.

      • Editor

        May 16th 2013 @ 9:12am
        Tristan Rayner said | May 16th 2013 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        If only Australia had been able to see more of him… and if only Aidan O’Brien hadn’t worked him “too often, too long and too hard”.

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2013 @ 9:54am
          sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          When I eventually present So You Think, I’ll make mention of the fact that he was “butchered” by Aiden O’Brien, who admitted as much, that he took too long to figure out SYT.

          Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but SYT should have remained under Bart’s control. Could he have won three consecutive Cox Plates? Could he have won the Melbourne Cup at a second attempt? Or a Caulfield cup?

          And in flying visits to Europe, might he have done better than he did under O’Brien?

          All mere possibilities. But sadly, what we a re left with is the tantalising realisation that SYT probably didn’t do his abundant talent full justice.

      • Columnist

        May 16th 2013 @ 9:18am
        Justin Cinque said | May 16th 2013 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        I say could of been. If he wasn’t sold to Coolmore I think he would’ve won four Cox Plates. As it is, 5 Group 1s in each hemisphere has him in contention for title of best horse since the King. He just falls short for me.

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2013 @ 9:56am
          sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          Agreed Justin.

          One of the problems we face is assessing the horses on what we know, not what we think might have happened. This occurs across all sports.

          But we’re all born of human weakness & bias! 😉

          • May 16th 2013 @ 10:52am
            paulywalnuts said | May 16th 2013 @ 10:52am | ! Report

            I have no problem with SYT’s selection, or Andrew’s rationale, but I’m not sure I agree with the O’Brien thing. The remarkable thing about SYT was his consistency and his ratings stayed similarly high in England. He was just meeting a much better class of animal at that distance. Let’s face it, in recent years the class of 2000m+ horse in this country has been dreadful, and has slipped further and further behind Europe’s.

            SYT was, on balance, probably the best 2000m horse in the world at the time. But occasionally he found one better on the day. And he wasn’t quite as good as us Aussies had hoped for when he left theses shores, and most found it convenient to blame O’Brien. Yes, he admitted getting it wrong, but think this was part diplomacy and part Coolmore salesmanship. O’Brien talks up their stallions in a way that would make Gai blush.

            Still, no doubt he’s one of the best from here in the last couple of decades.

            • Roar Guru

              May 16th 2013 @ 11:35am
              sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

              Hi PW,

              We’ll have to agree to disagree. O’Brien is undoubtedly a fine horse trainer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the right fit for So You Think.

              However, I do agree the quality of horses in Europe was up a notch from Australia. Still, you wonder if SYT remained under Bart’s care, some of those European 5ths/6ths might have otherwise have been 3rds/4ths & some of those 3rds/4ths might have been 1sts/2nds.

              Marginal calls I know, but O’Brien simply took too long to figure out this particular horse.

            • Editor

              May 16th 2013 @ 12:34pm
              Tristan Rayner said | May 16th 2013 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

              O’Brien said it himself mate. We might have believed it before, but he confirmed it with that quote.

              • May 16th 2013 @ 12:57pm
                paulywalnuts said | May 16th 2013 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                Yeah, but he said it himself just as the horse was going off to stud. I take all comments from trainers in such circumstances with a large grain of salt. And from memory he said it after his win at Ascot. That it had taken him until then to figure the horse out how to train the horse. The year before, he ran a terrific second at Ascot.

                Personally I can’t see any great improvement from one year to the next (certainly no evidence he had “figured him out”), simply that a horse of the calibre of Rewilding wasn’t there the second time around.

              • May 16th 2013 @ 4:50pm
                johnny nevin is a legend said | May 16th 2013 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

                I think too much is read into O’Briens comments, certainly he made mistakes with the horse but the comments were probably partly motivated by future stud earnings. SYT best performances with O’Brien had come the previous year against Snow Fairy and Nathaniel in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Eclipse. The idea that SYT had some sort of redemption at Royal Ascot against an average Group 1 performer in Carlton House is a bit peculiar and unfair on SYT. I still don’t believe that SYT is a good a horse as Cirrus Des Aigles(a horse not rated in the European top 50 since 1948), regardless of who trained it.

      • Columnist

        May 16th 2013 @ 12:10pm
        Geoff Parkes said | May 16th 2013 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

        What I find interesting about SYT is that he’s the polar opposite of Black Caviar to the extent that there has been frustration expressed at her being too carefully placed, not tried at different distances and so on, compared to SYT who Aiden O’Brien seemed to throw in every race going, and where the horse would surely have benefitted from being more selectively placed.

        We’ll never know of course, but perhaps if both the BC and SYT camps had found more of a middle ground and been raced slightly differently, the ultimate ranking of both horses might have been higher?

        • Columnist

          May 16th 2013 @ 12:31pm
          Justin Cinque said | May 16th 2013 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

          Very fair and good comment Allanthus.

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2013 @ 12:47pm
      Cam Larkin said | May 16th 2013 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

      Sunline over Black Cav for me.

    • May 16th 2013 @ 1:29pm
      Greg prichard said | May 16th 2013 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

      They don’t get much more special than So You Think. O’Brien ended up running him in everything to try to get that massive win up for the stud value and he bravely kept going. He was great overseas but a truly mighty horse under bart who said he was the best he trained. You get one like So You Think once a generation.

    • May 16th 2013 @ 1:32pm
      Greg prichard said | May 16th 2013 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

      Incidentally glad you guys haven’t fawned all over black caviar in your ratings. The truly great horses are the middle distance to staying types who put it on the line every time they race.

      • Roar Guru

        May 16th 2013 @ 1:49pm
        sheek said | May 16th 2013 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

        Thanks Greg,

        It’s those young pups Justin & Andrew who rated BC too highly. 🙂 🙂

        I only slipped her into the top 10 as a ‘safety.’

        • May 16th 2013 @ 2:23pm
          Drew H said | May 16th 2013 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

          As far as sprinters go, Zeditave gets a mention IF Black Caviar is high up the list.

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