Recalling the early history of the Magic Millions 2YO Classic
The very first, much-hyped edition of the Magic Millions race in 1987 was fittingly won by Snippets - a horse who was to become hallowed - not that anyone knew that at the time.
His subsequent deeds on the track and at stud earned him recognition which has, of course, this year been acknowledged with the running of the inaugural Snippets on the Magic Millions program.
Similarly, the very first Golden Slipper Stakes exactly 30 years earlier produced an equally iconic winner in Todman, who would later sire Slipper winners Eskimo Prince and Sweet Embrace, Blue Diamond winners Blazing Saddles and New Gleam plus high class performers Ricochet, Imposing and Crewman.
Snippets’ progeny included Group One winners Spartacus, Casual Pass, Hasna, Pins, Snowland and Sky Cuddle and his influence well and truly continues, 16 years after his death, as his daughters have produced none other than Snitzel and recent Group One winners Merchant Navy and Boom Time among many other top liners.
Snippets won $500,000 for his owners (the Augustine family) when he won the new two-year-old race. That was then huge money – just less than half this year’s first prize – and it would have bought you three or four houses on the Gold Coast at the time.
He was trained on the Gold Coast by Sally Rogers (now Keays) after being bought for $22,000. Snippets went on to win nine races, including three at Group One level, before later siring more than 600 winners.
Snippets started favourite at 2-1 and won by four lengths from Prince Anton, with Mother Duck a half-length further back in third. Mother Duck had been sensationally backed but lost her winning chance when she missed the start badly.
It was well documented then, and since, that Rogers underwent surgery for a collapsed lung on the Friday night and was discharged from hospital only four hours before the start of the race.
“It’s the ultimate,” Rogers told the press on the day. “I didn’t think I would get here after having the operation but nothing was going to stop me.” Rogers had her left arm in a sling supporting a drip.
The Magic Millions sales that year (1987) set a Queensland record, grossing $17,400,000 for the 400 lots sold at an average of $43,702, which bettered the previous year’s average of $32,000 for 200 lots.
Sydney trainer Dr Geoff Chapman topped the sales on the Monday with a $400,000 buy for a brother to smart Sydney two-year-old Marauding, who would go on to win the Golden Slipper that year.
The second, third and fourth years of the Magic Millions 2YO – from 1988 to 1990 – were divided into races for males and females only, while Bold Promise, later to produce Slipper winner Merlene, won the fillies division in 1991 and then the edition open to all comers a week later.
Those early divided editions provided a plethora of memorable and significant moments featuring prominent personalities on both sides of the fence.
Prince Regent stormed home to pip Molokai Prince in the 1988 colts and geldings edition by a head but chief steward Ray Murrihy upheld a protest by Molokai Prince’s rider Ron Quinton, who alleged interference in the final 150 metres. The winner was trained by Neville Begg.
The fillies division went to Sea Cabin, who provided the late Ken Russell with the first of his two Millions wins. Respected Queensland trainer Des Burns, who died in 2006, quinellaed the race with Sea Cabin and Regal Devotion.
In 1989, another renowned Queensland trainer and then already veteran Eric Kirwan gave himself a 20-month time table before retiring after Sunblazer scored an upset win, at 33-1, in the males Magic Million.
Kirwan, then 70, planned his retirement to coincide with his then apprentice Chris Munce completing his indentures. Munce rode Sunblazer brilliantly according to race reports of the day. “I’ll be retiring when Chris finishes up in about 20 months,” Kirwan said. It didn’t quite pan out that way with Kirwan returning to win the Magic Million again with Brave Warrior in 1994. Munce, now training, won another two Millions in the saddle.
Ken Russell’s second win was aboard Malibu Magic in the fillies division that year. Malibu Magic was raced by the Arrowfield Group Syndicate, headed by breeder John Messara and former Sydney Turf Club chairman Sir Clyde Kennedy. The filly cost $95,000 at the previous year’s Magic Millions sale while the race runner-up Tristanagh (also trained by Cummings) had set a Queensland yearling filly price record of $375,000.
The papers reported that, in the following days, Bart Cummings “opened his cheque book and splurged a mammoth $3,550,000” to become the top buyer at the Magic Millions sales. Before the year was out, Cummings had had to disperse all his yearling acquisitions at the infamous ‘Night of Stars’ liquidation sale.
In 1990, Champion Victorian trainer Geoff Murphy, won the fillies event with a maiden Dancer’s Joy. Murphy, then 62, had been in ill health for the previous six months after undergoing a heart bypass operation.
That year, the larger than life Bruce McLachlan combined with jockey Brian York to win the colts division with St Jude. They repeated the dose in 1993 with Our Fiction. Then, seven months before he died in 2009, McLachlan won the Magic Millions (and The Golden Slipper) with Phelan Ready, whom he co-trained with son Jason.
While those legendary Queensland training names have gone, part of their legacy lives on with with fellow Queenslanders Sean Dwyer, Gillian Heinrich, Kelso Wood, Darryl Hansen and Toby Edmonds having prepared recent winners of the race.
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