When it comes to horses, Ron Finemore might sheepishly admit he’s better at breeding them than spelling them.
Not spelling as in agisting. Spelling as in letters.
Cafe Millenium – from the last crop of the Finemore-part owned Not A Single Doubt (Redoute’s Choice) – won on debut in Saturday’s Pierro Plate (1100m) at Randwick, eventually marshalling his lanky legs and oversized frame into enough cohesion to swoop from last and overhaul the leaders in the last 50 metres, in quite breathtaking style.
In one sense, it’s a good thing Finemore’s homebred colt went round in the first, and not five races later. For if organisers of the Inglis Millennium had to present the trophy to connections of Cafe Millenium, there may have been a few blushes, and the engraver might’ve been in all sorts.
“It looks like somebody made a mistake,” Finemore said with a laugh about the registration process. “I guess it would’ve been me! I think it proves I can’t spell, doesn’t it?”
At least Finemore isn’t alone. A quick search turns up 45 horses with the misspelled Millenium in their name worldwide, in perhaps racing’s biggest slip of the pen since 1970s Australian stallion Definate (Convamore), and his many offspring, ruined a generation of turf writers on the definitive spelling of definite (or perhaps since one journalist, armed with little more than a list, wrote that every Geelong Cup from 1939-44 had been won by an outstanding horse named War Abandoned).
What’s more, a missing N won’t make Finemore’s two-year-old go any slower. And he has the right names in his family to portend much more success ahead, including one great mare who, for six dramatic months in the late 1970s, was in fact a missing horse.
Trained by long-time associate John O’Shea, and carrying the owner’s familiar white with red quarters and black striped sleeves, Cafe Millenium was promoted after his win to second favourite for the ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m), and fourth-favourite for the Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m), behind Inglis Millennium (RL, 1100m) winner Learning To Fly (Justify) in both.
Cafe Millenium surprised a few with Saturday’s success, including owner and trainer. Gangly and raw – which showed in him missing the kick and, in fact, the early stages of the race – it was thought he mightn’t be forward enough to be winning at this stage. O’Shea said afterwards he’d expected “to run a nice third or fourth and then we’d see where we go next”.
All that has changed. And should he succeed in one of the aforementioned juvenile features this autumn, Cafe Millenium would effect another surprise, in that he’d be the 79-year-old Finemore’s first Group 1 winner. After many years in the game, the Wagga trucking magnate has only come as close as his three seconds.
Most recently it happened as a co-owner of the O’Shea-trained Benaud (Reliable Man) in last year’s ATC Derby (Gr 1, 2400m). It also occurred in the agonising long head second in the 2014 Queen Of The Turf Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) of Gypsy Diamond.
She, like Cafe Millenium, is by Not A Single Doubt, the stallion who achieved so much despite also not winning Finemore a Group 1, his CV highlighted by just two Listed victories.
And Gypsy Diamond comes heavily into the story of the creation of Cafe Millenium, the pair descending from one of the most esteemed female families there is, and one that’s famous for another – very major – slip-up.
In 2006, Finemore went to the Inglis Easter sale and through Badgers Bloodstock bought a Zabeel (Sir Tristram) filly, later named Gypsy Tucker, for $550,000. She won only a Wyong maiden from three starts before going amiss, but had some regal bloodlines.
“She was a beautiful mare, a nice, big Zabeel,” says Finemore, who bought two Danehill-free Zabeel mares that year with a view to breeding with Not A Single Doubt (by Redoute’s Choice by Danehill), who’d retired to stud a year earlier.
As a first throw, Gypsy Tucker had Gypsy Diamond, who, apart from that Group 1 second, won the Moonee Valley Classic (Gr 2, 1600m) and two Sydney Group 3s. Then, in 2011, Finemore put Gypsy Tucker to High Chaparral (Sadler’s Wells) and bred Veloce Forte. She won on debut at Kembla Grange, but couldn’t place again in three more starts, before bowing out with throat issues.
Her breeding record has been a touch patchy. She slipped, then missed, to Snitzel (Redoute’s Choice), before a first cover from Not A Single Doubt produced a three-quarter brother to Gypsy Diamond, Judgement Day. Finemore sold him for $260,000 as a yearling, and last Saturday he ran tenth at Newcastle, to remain unplaced from seven runs. That came 90 minutes after his younger full brother Cafe Millenium had shown him up at Randwick, heavily suggesting Finemore had pulled the right rein in keeping the younger sibling.
“I don’t know – you get that sometimes, where one’s got more ability than the other. You find it in human siblings too, don’t you?” the former Australian Jockey Club chairman said.
Finemore ended up turning a sharp profit in 2018, selling Gypsy Tucker for $800,000 and Gypsy Diamond for $1.3 million, both to Yu Long Investments.
He still owns Veloce Forte, who has a Pride Of Dubai (Street Cry) colt going to the Adelaide Magic Millions sale, and is in-foal to Needs Further (Encosta De Lago).
Her son Cafe Millenium might need a bit more performance, but certainly has the pedigree for a bright future as a stallion. After all, he’s from the same female family as two of the best – Flying Spur (Danehill), who won the Australian champion sire title in 2006-07, and Encosta De Lago (Fairy King), who won the next two.
All three are direct bottom-line descendants of influential 1961 Canadian mare Ciboulette (Chop Chop). She’s Cafe Millenium’s fifth dam, coming through Silk Lilly (1976, Never Bend), the Australian tap root Silk Ending (1997, End Sweep), then Gypsy Tucker (2004) and Veloce Forte (2011). Silk Ending’s presence had influenced Finemore in buying Gypsy Tucker, he says.
The Ciboulette daughter, along the female lines of Flying Spur and Encosta De Lago, is one of racing and breeding’s legends, Fanfreluche (Northern Dancer). Flying Spur was out of her granddaughter Rolls (Mr Prospector), who was the second dam of Encosta De Lago.
Foaled in 1967, and named after the titular “living doll” character in a 1960s French-Canadian children’s show, Fanfreluche was a phenomenon, hence her place in the Canadian Hall Of Fame along with her phenomenal dad. She scored ten stakes wins, including the Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Listed, 8.5f) and Natalma Stakes (Listed, 8.5f), and in 1970 was the USA’s Champion three-year-old filly and Canada’s Horse of the Year.
Having packed all that into just two years, she went to stud at the end of her three-year-old season – sold for a world-record $US1.3 million – and carried on in the same irrepressible fashion.
For her first trick, she produced dual Canadian Horse of the Year L’Enjoleur (1972 Buckpasser). Later, came two other champions in La Voyageuse (1975, Tentam) and Medaille D’Or (1976, Secretariat). She even excelled in sheer fertility, producing no fewer than 18 named foals, from her first when aged five, to her last when 24, in 1991.
Apart from passing on some prodigious talent, she also left an astonishing tale for the ages: in June, 1977, Fanfreluche, the most valuable broodmare on the planet, went missing. For six months!
The breeding world reeled in shock as news broke that the mare, like Shergar a few years later, had been kidnapped, and from the famous Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, no less. What’s more, it happened in broad daylight, late in the afternoon, with reports from the time saying the area of cut fencing was discovered the next morning.
Claiborne, and the FBI, awaited a ransom demand, but as weeks ticked by into months, none was forthcoming. Still, the mare’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Grave fears deepened over whether she was still alive, until finally – that December – to everyone’s enormous relief, she was found on a farm 240 kilometres south of Claiborne.
And she was in robust health. The farm’s owners had taken her in and cared for her, believing her to be a stray, and treated her much like a family pet. They even took her for the occasional pleasure ride – blissfully unaware they were aboard the famous Fanfreluche, and that she was in-foal to the amazing Secretariat (Bold Ruler) as well.
After she was returned, and a man named William Michael McCandless arrested and sentenced for four years in prison for her kidnapping, Fanfreluche gave birth to her Secretariat foal.
He was named Sain Et Sauf, which means Safe And Sound. Sadly, for great tale telling, he wasn’t much good. Plus the daughter who became the ancestor of Flying Spur and Encosta De Lago – Grand Luxe – had already been born, so there are no “What ifs” to be pondered about those two Australian champions.
Fanfreluche showed her powers in yet another way, living until the age of 32, before her incredible saga ended in 1999.
With a fourth dam who was her half-sister, Cafe Millenium will make his veteran owner-breeder extremely happy if he can produce a story just a tiny fraction as engrossing, regardless of the spelling.