When I watch a great thoroughbred stretch for victory, a second lasts an hour and those moments become memories I never forget.
The 2015 Golden Rose (1400m, set weights) was an average Group 1 three-year-old race that brought together a field worthy of a fraction of the $1m prizemoney they raced for. I could think of countless races with more depth and quality. Yet, there is a story in the 2015 Golden Rose that will live longer than the legacy or importance of the actual race.
And that story is the Godolphin colt Exosphere, who has the looks of the quintessential thoroughbred. Enormous yet perfectly balanced. He is power, strength and elegance. The breed could do a lot worse than have Exosphere modelling for it.
At the races, you don’t need to look for Exosphere to spot him. He will catch your eye and fill it. Then, at once, you are compelled to give him a chance to show his mettle. Yet, once his race is run, his racetrack ability is so obvious that it overshadows all the things that impressed you about his physical appearance to begin with. And that’s the thing, the world doesn’t need to know anything about Exosphere to see that he can gallop like a champion.
When I saw Exosphere parade earlier in the season, one word came to my head – Lonhro. My all-time favourite galloper, Exosphere’s sire and a ten-time Group 1 winner. He looks like Lonhro and he races like him too.
That’s a big call. I don’t compare horses to Lonhro lightly. As far as I’m concerned there hasn’t been a horse like Lonhro grace the Australian turf since his retirement. There have been a few better than him in the 11 years since he left the racetrack but none have dominated weight-for-age racing in the same manner as Lonnie.
Exosphere weighs more than 600kgs. For an early three-year-old it’s remarkable. Black Caviar, at the peak of her powers in the middle of her career, weighed in at 570kgs and she was a large mare. As Bart Cummings famously said of Black Caviar, “She has the neck of a duchess and the arse of a cook”.
Exosphere, like Lonhro, is a large, dark entire. But more than his size and colour, Exosphere has Lonhro’s greatest asset – an amazing turn of foot, which is the most breathtaking trait to find in a thoroughbred. Any horse that can put two lengths on their opponents in the twinkling of an eye is going to be hard to beat in any race.
I’ve been at the races each time Exosphere has won in town. At Warwick Farm on the last Saturday of summer (1200m, Group 2, two-year-olds, set weights), he put away the eventual ATC Sires Produce (1400m, Group 1, two-year-olds, set weights) runner-up Odyssey Moon in two bounds before racing away to win by four lengths. It was a freakish performance in a race that wasn’t meant to have many Golden Slipper (1200m, Group 1, two-year-olds, set weights) ramifications. Yet, here was Exosphere, charging into second favouritism for the Grand Slam race.
In the Golden Slipper, Exopshere ran last. Trainer John O’Shea believes the horse may not have handled the occasion. He pulled up with Cardiac Arrhythmia so there was a genuine excuse for the failure that meant, like Lonhro, Exosphere would not win a Group 1 at two.
Returning in the Run to the Rose (1200m, Group 3, three-year-olds, set weights and penalties) a much larger horse, Exosphere turned on the speed in the straight to bury his opponents. His only wins had come on soft ground – something Lonhro didn’t particularly enjoy – but the Golden Rose was at his mercy if he could sprint on firmer footing.
On Saturday, Exosphere again produced a Lonhro-esque performance. He was able to use barrier two to take up a closer position in running right behind the leader. The slow speed that ensued was only going to suit Exosphere. Barring the gun sprinters Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua and Terravista, I doubt there is a horse in Australia that can go with Exosphere when he lets down. Those great sprinters have runs on the board but I think Exosphere could match their speed. He will only get faster as he grows into his large frame.
In the straight, a run opened for Exosphere and he didn’t take much invitation. He moved through the gap quickly and raced away to win convincingly. This wasn’t a vintage Golden Rose and it wasn’t a great race. But the win was special. It was soft and arrogant. It had the stamp of Lonhro all over it and guaranteed Exosphere’s future as a stallion.
John O’Shea and Godolphin must plot Exosphere’s future. The Caulfield Guineas (1600m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights), is expected to test the colt’s stamina but, for that reason alone, it should be the race he is aimed at. Not only is the Guineas a great race, and a great stallion-making race, but Godolphin should take the opportunity to measure the colt’s staying prowess.
Because, already knowing that Exosphere can sprint like Lonhro, if it is determined that he can stay like Lonhro, he is a serious weight-for-age commodity in the future.
Exosphere may instead be targeted at the Group 1 Flemington sprints at the end of the Carnival and if that is the chosen path, the horse will sprint well.
All I can ask, as a lover of great thoroughbreds like Exosphere, is that he is given the chance to race on beyond this season. Lonhro only won one Group 1 as a three-year-old before claiming nine more in two seasons.
Given the chance, why can’t Exosphere do the same? Exosphere is carved out of Lonhro, after all.