LIKE SO MANY thousands of other race followers BRIAN MELDRUM watched in wonder as Winx won from nowhere. He recalls other great champs who somehow managed to defy the odds:
LESS THAN an hour after watching Winx come back from the dead to win Saturday’s Warwick Stakes at Randwick I happened to run into Wayne Hawkes at Caulfield.
“Mare was pretty good, eh?” I said. “Super effort,” Hawkes said, “but that’s what great horses do, mate. Chautauqua, look at him. Great horses know where the post is.”
I cast my mind back to April, to Randwick, and the Hawkes-trained Chautauqua’s bid to win the Group One Tommy Smith Stakes for the third year running.
At his previous start the six-year-old had finished a long way behind Winx in third place over 1500 metres at Rosehill, not a bad effort at, for him, an awkward distance, but one which for some reason provoked a lot of criticism, with some claiming his glory days were behind him.
Well, Chautauqua not only put paid to his critics, he produced a performance which ranks as one of the greatest ever in Australian turf history, being 10 lengths last turning into the straight, and still standing the leaders a good six or seven lengths going into the last 200 metres.
But in the manner of Winx running down her stablemate Foxplay on Saturday, Chautauqau kept coming, and coming, and coming, and just when Gai Waterhouse opened her mouth to claim her horse, English, as the winner the grey ghost pounced to win by a head.
Arriving home from The Heath I couldn’t resist clicking on to YouTube to watch that race again, and it still leaves me shaking my head.
It got me thinking about other, similar efforts, and I recalled the win of Lonhro, trained by Wayne Hawkes’ dad John, in the 2004 Australian Cup.
Going into the big, autumn showpiece the stallion had established himself as a true champion, with nine Group One wins, and Darren Beadman was sitting quietly on him, perfectly positioned in fourth place, as the field straightened up for the last 400 metres.
In the blink of an eye things changed. Beadman was pushed into a pocket approaching the 300 mark, and had to grab Lonhro up as he ran into the back of the leader, Mummify. He tried to angle out again, but was again held up as the three-year-old Delzao stormed past him.
With 150 metres to go Delzao had gained a two-length break on the crowd and race favourite, but just like the two aforementioned champions, the son of Octagonal knuckled down to the chase with a relentless determination, and ridden hands and heels by Beadman powered past his younger rival in the shadows of the post to win clearly.
Who else, I thought. Of course, the 1982 Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, the day the mighty Kingston Town set the record that Winx is trying to chase down – three straight wins in Australia’s weight-for-age championship.
This race entered into Australian racing folklore, not just for the feat achieved by Kingston Town, but also for the call of legendary racing commentator Bill Collins, who at the 300 metre mark uttered the famous words, “Kingston Town can’t win.”
At that stage the big black, carrying the familiar red and gold colours of noted owner David Hains, was being hard ridden by jockey Peter Cook, and seemingly going nowhere.
At the top of the short Moonee Valley straight Kingston Town was in sixth place but had got to the outside, and was starting to motor. At the 100 metre mark he was still three lengths off the lead but even then Collins was changing his mind. “He still might win,” he cried, and win he did, stretching for the finish line as though he could see it.
Then again he probably could, and I reckon Lonhro could too, for as Wayne Hawkes says, “Great horses know where the post is.”