The Spring is officially in the air with the group one Makybe Stakes meeting at Flemington on Saturday.
The penultimate installment of The Roar’s top 50 Australian racehorses sees some popular horses of the modern era get their first mention of the series.
Aside from Black Caviar, who’s the best sprinter since Vain and Todman? And will dual Cox Plate winner Flight finally win some plaudits?
Read on to see who Sheek, Andrew Hawkins and Justin Cinque have gone with in Part 9 on the top 50.
45. Sheek – Wenona Girl (b.1957) 68/27/19/12 (40%)
Wenona Girl was Sky High’s great opponent. She was a gutsy horse who almost always raced near her best. Also, as horses go, she was apparently a ‘good looker.’
She also only marginally lost out to Sky High by the odd race in head to head clashes. She possessed tremendous versatility, winning races from 1000m up to 2400m.
Some of her major achievements include both the AJC and VRC Sires produce; the Caulfield 1000 Guineas, two Lightning Stakes, Futurity Stakes (carrying 63 kgs), Flight Stakes and George Main Stakes.
45. Andrew Hawkins – Let’s Elope (b. 1987) – 26/11/0/5 (42%)
Bart Cummings has trained some brilliant mares – his first Melbourne Cup winner Light Fingers comes to mind, as does Andrew Peacock’s Caulfield Cup winner Leilani and top sprinter Maybe Mahal.
But for mine, Let’s Elope ranks as the best mare Cummings has trained and is a worthy addition to this list.
She came to Cummings the winner of two races in New Zealand. She’d been Group 1 placed, but there was little to suggest the force she’d become in 1991 and 1992.
During a dry spring in 1991, this firm track specialist excelled, winning the Turnbull Stakes, Caulfield Cup, Mackinnon Stakes and Melbourne Cup – and Cummings even revealed in his autobiography that she wasn’t going to be paid up for the Cups until the final five minutes before the deadline.
And the race was almost taken off her after Shane Dye, on the runner up Shiva’s Revenge, lodged an objection – despite being her stablemate!
In the autumn, she came back to win the Orr Stakes, St George Stakes and Australian Cup. But her spring campaign in 1992 was dogged by wet tracks.
She was relegated for causing interference in the Cox Plate and heavy rain on Melbourne Cup day saw her scratched merely an hour before the race.
She bled in the Japan Cup, with the mare sent to America where she could race on Lasix. But she was never the same and she retired to stud, where the best of her progeny has been the Group 1 placed Ustinov.
45. Justin Cinque – Lonhro (b. 2001) 35/26/3/2 (74%)
Lonhro, my all-time favourite horse, wasn’t going to make this list. He tore my heart out when, watching on from the track, I saw him lose a Cox Plate and Doncaster at odds of $1.8 and $2.2 respectively.
A victory in either of those two races would have seen him declared a champion by any racing person worth their salt.
But because he lost – sixth and third in two Cox Plates and fourth in the Doncaster – I genuinely believe that the best he deserves is the title of ‘great horse’.
The reason then that Lonhro makes this list is because bar the Cox Plate and Doncaster defeats ‘The Black Flash’ won almost every race he was asked to – including 11 times at Group 1 level. But he never won a major or a feature handicap.
His spine-tingling victory in the 2004 George Ryder is the second-best equine performance (Black Caviar’s track record in the Lightning gets top billing) I’ve ever witnessed live – trainer John Hawkes still believes no horse in the world would have have beaten Lonhro that day.
Lonhro famously wore down Sunline to win the 2002 Caulfield Stakes. The next season in the same race he gave the following week’s Caulfield Cup winner Mummify, a great horse in his own right, a galloping lesson.
His 2001 Caulfield Guineas victory was electrifying and his off-the-canvass win in the 2004 Australian Cup, Lonnie’s Victorian swansong, ranks as one of the great moments in Australian racing history.
44. Sheek – Beau Vite (b.1936) 60/31/9/5 (52%)
As far as I’m aware, only two champion horses have been shot at by gangster elements in Australia. Phar Lap in 1930 and Beau Vite exactly a decade later.
Two of Beau Vite’s finest achievements were in defeat. He carried 60.5 kgs into fourth place in the 1940 Melbourne Cup and 61.5 kgs into third place in the 1941 Melbourne Cup.
He won two Cox Plates, two AJC Plates (wfa), two Mackinnon Stakes, two Colin Stephen Stakes (then wfa) and two AJC Autumn Stakes (now Queen Elizabeth Stakes).
44. Andrew Hawkins – Manfred (b. 1922) – 28/11/5/2 (39%)
If Let’s Elope was wayward, then Manfred makes her look like the most tractable racehorse around.
There’s no doubting his ability, which was incredible. But his attitude, particularly at the start of a race, ensured we never saw the best of him.
He was a plain two-year-old, taking six starts to break his maiden. He did win the AJC Champagne Stakes, though.
Like many others in these lists, his most prominent effort came when he defied the odds to somehow salute.
In the 1925 AJC Derby, Manfred refused to start, only deciding to trail the field once his rivals were more than a half-furlong (100m) ahead. But, in his style, he managed to reel in his rivals one by one to win by a length and a half going away. Truly freakish.
He refused to race again in the Caulfield Guineas, but won the Cox Plate and Victoria Derby at his next two starts. The following spring, he added the Caulfield Stakes, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne (now Mackinnon) Stakes to his resume.
But he was still plagued by poor starts, and he was retired to stud where he proved very popular. The best of his progeny was The Trump, who won the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in 1937.
44. Justin Cinque – Bonecrusher (b. 1982) 44/18/5/12 (41%)
Few horses could match Bonecrusher’s feats as a three and four-year-old. His most famous victory came at four in the 1986 Cox Plate when he out-toughed Our Waverly Star in ‘the race of the century’.
So good was Bonecrusher as a young horse – a winner of the New Zealand and Australian Derbies, Tancred (BMW), Levin Classic (in NZ) and New Zealand Stakes at three – that a song (http://www.bonecrusher.co.nz/audio/bonecrusher.mp3) written about ‘the Crusher’ was released in the week before his Cox Plate victory.
After ‘the race of the century’ Bonecrusher was sent to Tokyo where he was expected to figure prominently in the Japan Cup but an illness contracted in the lead-up to the race almost ended his life.
Bonecrusher bounced back to win a memorable 1987 Australian Cup when running down the reigning Melbourne Cup winner At Talaq but he was never the same horse again.
43. Sheek – Lonhro (b. 2001) 35/26/3/2 (74%)
Lonhro gets a guernsey here principally on the strength of his winning percentage, plus his tremendous courage.
His winning percentage is superior to all the initial inductees into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame – Carbine, Phar Lap, Bernborough, Tulloch and Kingston Town – bar one, Carbine.
His major wins include the Australian Cup, Caulfield Guineas and Stakes, George Ryder Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
43. Andrew Hawkins – Flight (b. 1940) – 65/24/19/9 (37%)
Courage. If there is one thing that stood Flight out from her rivals, it was her courage, which she had in bucketloads.
A two time winner of the Cox Plate, she was proven over all distances and in handicaps and at weight for age.
She was an impressive juvenile, winning five of her eight starts including the Champagne Stakes.
At three, she won numerous good races, but became known for her placings in major events, like the AJC Derby, Doncaster Handicap, All Aged Stakes, Rosehill Guineas and Rawson Stakes.
As an older mare, she lost her way slightly before finding form again as a five and six-year-old.
However, one of her most impressive wins of her career – the 1946 Mackinnon Stakes – was overshadowed by a serious and rather graphic injury suffered by champion galloper Bernborough.
Today, the Flight Stakes in Sydney is named in her honour.
43. Justin Cinque – Saintly (b. 1992) 23/10/8/3 (43%)
Saintly, ‘the horse from heaven’, makes the top 50 despite having his career ended before trainer Bart Cummings believed he had reached his peak.
The chestnut gelding burst onto the scene as a three-year old with an emphatic victory on 1995 VRC Derby Day in the Carbine Club.
The following autumn he gave Octagonal great races in the Rosehill Guineas, BMW and Derby without managing to actually beat ‘the Big O’.
The duels between Octagonal and Saintly sit only behind the great stoushes of Northerly and Sunline as the best rivalry in Australian racing in my time.
As a spring four-year-old, Saintly hit his straps in the Cox Plate when nosing out Filante in a titanic struggle.
He then gave Cummings his tenth Melbourne Cup when cantering to victory on the first Tuesday of November.
A brilliant return victory in the autumn’s Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield put Saintly on the path to greatness.
In more recent times we’ve seen the likes of Makybe Diva and So You Think use exciting first-up victories at the Caulfield 1400 as a springboard to historically-significant campaigns.
It wasn’t to be for Saintly however. He broke down after the Orr and was never able to make it back to the track. He had the potential to retire as Cummings’ greatest ever champion.
42. Sheek – Super Impose (b.1984) 74/20/24/8 (28%)
Have I under-estimated Super Impose? Probably, but he finally gets his reward here. It has been suggested Super Impose’s ‘back of the field’ preferred running cost him many races because as he moved forward, he was often blocked for runs.
The fact he had more seconds than firsts may give the truth to this. He is the only horse to win both the Doncaster and Epsom twice.
In addition, he also won the Cox Plate, two Chipping Nortons, Rawson and Turnbull Stakes.
42. Andrew Hawkins – Takeover Target (b. 1999) – 41/21/6/4 (51%)
The next two additions are two of the most unlikely Group 1 winners over the last quarter of a century.
The first is the cripple bought by the Queanbeyan cabbie Joe Janiak for $1375, probably the best investment made in racing. He was accepted for a two year old race in 2002 but broke down and it looked unlikely he’d ever see a racetrack, hence why he was sold.
It was not until April 2004 that he first raced, winning a Queanbeyan maiden by seven lengths.
He raced his way through the grades quickly, winning the Ramornie Handicap at Grafton in July before the Salinger at Group 1 level in November.
Two years later, as a six year old, he travelled the world. A victory at Royal Ascot in the 2006 King’s Stand Stakes, his only victory in England from eight runs, saw the cabbie greeted by the Queen.
He was to win the Sprinters Stakes in Japan later that year, but his career was tainted slightly by a positive drug test which saw his scratching on the morning of the Hong Kong Sprint.
He was the headline horse as Sydney racing returned from the dark period of equine influenza in December 2007, only to lose the Villiers Stakes in a controversial protest.
But he was back to his best a few months later, winning the Krisflyer Sprint.
My favourite victory of his, though, was the 2009 T J Smith Stakes, made even better by the magnificent call of Mark Shean.
Sadly, it was to be his final campaign, although no one could deny him a nice paddock. What a great horse.
42. Justin Cinque – Flight (b. 1940) 65/24/19/9 (37%)
Flight’s legacy is secured by the Flight Stakes which is the first Group 1 race for fillies each season. An incredibly consistent mare, Flight raced at the top level for five seasons and like so many champions peaked towards end of her career.
As a two-year old Flight won at modern-day Group 1 level in the Champagne and was second in the Sires Produce at Randwick.
As a three-year-old she was second in the AJC Derby and Doncaster but victorious in lesser grade five times.
Her standout season came at five – she won the Cox Plate, Orr, St George, Essendon and Lloyd Stakes.
In the Craven Plate she beat Shannon narrowly before losing the Chipping Norton to the legendary Bernborough on protest, beating third, eventual Melbourne Cup winner Russia, by ten lengths.
At six, Flight successfully defended her Cox Plate title, won the Mackinnon and also placed second in modern-day Group 1s – the Orr, Linlithgow (Patinack) and George Main Stakes.
Flight ranks as one of the great campaigners in Australian racing – a perennial placegetter at the top level over numerous seasons and a winner of four modern-day Group 1s.
41. Sheek – Flight (b.1940) 65/24/19/9 (37%)
Flight is yet another who should probably be ranked higher. The only problem being that the competition is already fierce.
She was one of the most versatile and courageous mares to race in Australia, and also one of our greatest milers.
Among her major wins were two Cox plates, two AJC Craven Plates, Mackinnon, CF ORR, Adrian Knox and Colin Stephen Stakes.
41. Andrew Hawkins – Vo Rogue (b. 1983) – 83/26/14/9 (31%)
Nobody begrudges an underdog and everyone loves a bold frontrunner. These two factors saw Vo Rogue become one of the most popular gallopers of his generation.
Trained by Brisbane’s Vic Rail, the average laconic trainer, and ridden by small-time jockey Cyril Small, Vo Rogue took the southern states by storm.
Laughed at when he arrived in Melbourne, he quickly made a statement, finishing second in the Australian Guineas before winning the Alister Clark Stakes.
Later that year, he would win the Turnbull Stakes before finishing fourth in the Cox Plate, but he had stamped himself as a genuine weight for age horse.
He beat many of the best gallopers of his generation, with Super Impose, Better Loosen Up, Bonecrusher, Our Waverley Star, Stylish Century, The Phantom, Kingston Rule and Sydeston all among horses to be beaten by this brash Queenslander.
The 1988 Australian Cup was seen as a match race between Vo Rogue and the impressive Bonecrusher, only for Dandy Andy to cause one of the biggest upsets seen in a Group 1 in Australia’s racing history.
He would atone, though, winning the next two Australian Cups.
Sadly, Vo Rogue would outlive his trainer, with Rail becoming the first human victim of Hendra virus in 1994.
41. Justin Cinque – Surround (b. 1973) 28/17/2/2 (61%)
I have no hesitation in naming Surround the best three-year old filly in Australian history – and that means she’s unlucky to be not be ranked higher.
In the spring of 1976 she won four modern-day Group 1s in five starts including the Ascot Vale (Coolmore Stud), Caulfield Guineas (no filly has won it since), Cox Plate (only filly in history to win the championship) and VRC Oaks.
First-up in the autumn, Surround won the Orr against the older horses before claiming the AJC Oaks, Queensland Oaks and Grand Prix (against the boys) in succession.
A recurring fetlock injury in the 1977 spring ended her career in September of that season.
Surround’s legacy is upheld by her outstanding and unmatched feats of the 1976 spring.