Dominic Thiem battled back from the verge of defeat to down world No.1 Novak Djokovic in a three-hour, three-set semi-final classic at the ATP Finals.
For many of us more seasoned race-goers, one of the joys of racing is remembering the champions of the past, whose memories are now enshrined in race names.
Tomorrow at Caulfield and Randwick, alongside the swarm of Group 1s, we have races named after a number of past greats such as Weekend Hussler, Roman Consul, Angst, Antler Luggage, Stan Fox and Schillaci.
Like the rings around a tree, you can measure how old a punter is by how well they remember each of these past champions.
Weekend Hussler is by far the youngest of these and if you remember nothing of him, you should perhaps be getting your parents to place your bets for you tomorrow.
Foaled in 2004, Weekend Hussler was from the first Australian crop of Chilean super sire Hussonet. Trained by Ross McDonald at Caulfield and piloted to all his major successes by Brad Rawiller, he was at out-and-out star, winning 12 of his first 15 starts. In an incredible 12 months this amazingly versatile gelding took the Caulfield Guineas, the Coolmore, Oakleigh Plate, Newmarket, Randwick Guineas, George Ryder, Memsie, Makybe Diva and Underwood Stakes. Even I had forgotten how good he was! A Group 3 race in his honour is surely the least he can expect.
Grey mare Angst was foaled in 1990, and like the recently departed Subzero, was sired by Kala Dancer. Angst remains the only filly to take all four legs of the Sydney spring Princess fillies series – the Silver Shadow, Furious, Tea Rose and Flight Stakes, where in each win she was partnered by Craig Carmody. Tragically she was never to race again after the Flight Stakes, failing to survive surgery to remove bone chips from a knee.
The flying grey Schillaci (1988) was one of Australia’s greatest and most popular sprinters. Trained by Lee Freedman and generally ridden by Damien Oliver, he extraordinarily won the Melbourne autumn sprint treble, the Lightning, Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket, at just his fourth, fifth and sixth starts. He won 13 more races, including five more Group 1s – The Galaxy, another Lightning, a George Ryder, two Futurity Stakes – in an illustrious career. Interestingly all eight of his Group 1s came in the autumn, but his race (formerly the Chirnside Stakes) is in the spring.
If you remember the work of Roman Consul (1964), then you are probably reading this from a retirement village. By champion NZ-based staying sire Agricola and trained by the great TJ Smith, Roman Consul was placed in both the AJC Derby (run in the spring in those days and now replaced in that slot by the Spring Champion Stakes) and VRC Derby, before maturing into a reliable and enduring 2000-metre weight-for-age horse. His wins included a McKinnon and a wide range of races that are now classified around the Group 2 or Group 3 level. He would have been unlikely to show up in a 1200-metre sprint for three-year-olds, such as the race now named after him.
Stan Fox, born in 1903, was a trucking and coal-mining magnate that came to racing late in life, but when he came to it he came in a big way.
With his wife Millie (who also has a race named after her) he bought into his first horse at the age of 61. Within five years he was Sydney’s biggest owner, employed his own private trainer in the famously taciturn Jack Denham and developed a state-of-the-art agistment property and equine hospital (Coolamon Park) and stud operation (Kurrajong Park).
Within ten years of purchasing his first horse Fox had passed away after a heart attack, although Millie was to continue on the operation for many years after Fox’s passing. His influence was such that it is easy to forget how short a time his involvement lasted.
Unfortunately, while Stan Fox owned enough winners for Jack Denham to be runner-up to Tommy Smith in the trainers premiership four years in a row, the big races generally eluded him. It was only after his passing that a young sprinter miler with a barnstorming finish called Purple Patch was to emerge as the true star he hadn’t had in his lifetime.
Here’s a few that should all be in the finish at decent odds. I am presuming that Caulfield is no worse than soft five.
Caulfield: Race 5 Splintex ($9), Race 7 Hungry Heart ($3.50 – should be too good), Race 8 Kings Legacy ($7), Race 9 Reykjavik ($27), Race 10 The Chosen One ($12).
Randwick: Race 6 Dawn Passage ($4.80 – high expectations), Race 9 Rocha Clock ($21), Emeralds ($10).