Author: John Berry
If you’re looking for ‘feel good’ stories in the racing world, don’t look to Great Britain at the moment. As predicted in this column last week, the dissatisfaction and consequent disruption unleashed by the ARC (Arena Racing Company) racecourse group’s decision to cut its prize money is rumbling on. (This has, of course, been prompted by the change in the law which sees the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in betting shops slashed from £100 to £2, which means that betting shops are set to become much less profitable, which in turn will see a significant reduction in the nation’s total of betting shops and thus a significant reduction in payments to the racecourses).
This week sees a three day partial boycott of ARC’s race meetings (at Lingfield on Wednesday, Southwell on Thursday, and Lingfield and Newcastle on Friday, as well as Wednesday’s jumps meeting at Fontwell) and this is good news for nobody. We won’t dwell on all this, though. If you live in Great Britain, it is a subject of which you will already have heard too much; and even elsewhere the topic has taken up all too many column inches. So we ought to look for a happier subject, and what happier a subject could there be than the victory of Mystic Journey in the Group 1 VRC Australian Guineas at Flemington on Saturday? There is no better person to explain why this triumph was so special than Mystic Journey herself. (Strange but seemingly true).
On Saturday evening she tweeted: ‘Today is for the believers. Doesn’t matter where you are from. Believe you can buy a horse for $11k and mix with the best in Australia. You may not have a big name trainer or jockey but with the right support behind you, anything is possible. #believe #bettythejet #tasmanian’. As that tweet suggests, Mystic Journey is a Tasmanian filly, which means that her two and a quarter length triumph in one of Melbourne’s most prestigious races is a notable landmark. And she is not merely Tasmanian-bred. She changed hands for merely $11,000 at the Tasmanian yearling sale two years ago, is still trained in Tasmania and was ridden on Saturday by a Tasmanian-based jockey (Anthony Darmanin).
Tasmania is very much a backwater as regards the major leagues of Australian racing, and this story is nearly as unlikely and romantic as were the high class European victories a few years ago of ‘The Budapest Bullet’, Overdose. (Or, rather, nearly as unlikely and romantic as those victories would have been had Overdose been Hungarian-bred, rather than British-bred).
There have not been many Tasmanian connections to big race results in recent decades. The Cleaner, who ran his last race in October 2016, ranked as the highest achiever from ‘The Apple Isle’ of the current century until Mystic Journey came along. Bought by Tasmanian trainer Mick Burles at the Tasmanian yearling sale in 2009 for $10,000, The Cleaner won 19 of his 58 races, 12 in his home state and seven in Victoria. His wins in Melbourne included consecutive runnings of the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at Moonee Valley (2014 and ’15) and the Group 3 JRA Cup at Moonee Valley (2014) but, unlike Mystic Journey, he couldn’t quite crack it in Group One company, his best efforts at the highest level being his third places in the Cantala Stakes at Flemington in 2014 and in the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield in 2015, and fourth in the same year’s Australian Cup.
Going a bit farther back, Silent Witness, the best sprinter in Hong Kong of the first decade of the current century, had a Tasmanian connection but it was a distant one: his sire El Moxie stood for a time in Tasmania, but Silent Witness was actually conceived and born in New South Wales. Sydeston, who completed the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes and Caulfield Cup double in 1990, was a Tasmanian-bred son of the former Gavin Pritchard-Gordon-trained 1979 Old Newton Cup winner St Briavels. Sydeston started his racing career in his home state but he was transferred to Victoria once his merit had started to become clear, and was trained by Bob Hoysted at the now defunct training centre at Epsom by the time that he had taken rank among the very best horses in the land. It was a similar story with 1972 Melbourne Cup winner Piping Lane, who was trained at Epsom by George Hanlon when he recorded his finest hour.
He was still, though, Tasmanian-owned, his owner Ray Trinder, a Tasmanian owner, trainer and amateur rider, having bought him earlier in the year with the seemingly ambitious aim of winning the Melbourne Cup. Trinder (grandfather of Mystic Journey’s trainer Adam) pre-trained the horse in Tasmania before sending him over to the mainland to join George Hanlon’s team at Epsom early in the spring. Piping Lane had originally changed hands as a 2yo for merely $100. His breeder Mr Prevost (who had bought his dam Londonderry Air for $40 before sending her to the local imported Irish stallion Lanesborough to breed Piping Lane) had been dismayed by how small the horse was as a foal so he left him alone for two years, hoping that he would grow.
When he remained unsatisfactorily small, Mr Prevost sold him to Ned Peterson who went on to do really well with him, winning Tasmania’s biggest race, the Hobart Cup, in January 1972 before selling him to Ray Trinder for $6,000. The saga of Piping Lane is the stuff of fairytales. Mystic Journey’s story comes from the same book, which is lovely not just for Tasmanians but also for all who savour the romance of racing. And that’s a very happy antidote to the depressing wrangles currently ongoing in Great Britain.