Please forgive the first person indulgence but – for context – as a youngster, I had two unusual fascinations for a child growing up in the heartland of VFL/AFL and in the home of the Melbourne Cup. While I loved both, I was fascinated by the Golden Slipper in rival Sydney and by what we now know as the English Premier League.
Southampton’s my English football team. Mick Channon, later to become a great racehorse trainer, was beginning his 510 games career with the club. Channon was named at number three in a list of the club’s greatest players.
He’s trained numerous Group winners, utilising Craig Williams in four stakes wins and Hugh Bowman in another, but is perhaps best known for his ‘bridesmaid’ Youmzain (Sinndar) – a three-time runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr 1, 2400m) from 2007 to 2009 and who had the misfortune to run into a no less accomplished trio than; (in order) Dylan Thomas (Danehill), Zarkava (Zamindar) and Sea The Stars (Cape Cross).
Southampton later had the remarkable Matt Le Tissier, named it’s best ever player, and somewhat akin to Essendon’s Paul Van der Haar (for AFL fans) given a penchant for the odd pint. But the clincher, in following the Saints, was that my namesake Steve Moran was voted the Young Player of the Year in 1982 while wearing the red and white.
A little later, but I hasten to add while still in my teens, I was given Warwick Hobson’s 1984 book “The story of the Golden Slipper Stakes”.
All of the stories interested me but, as a youngster who was consumed by permutations and combinations, there was one in particular which stood out. That was Vivarchi (Wilkes) winning in 1976.
Why? Because what were the odds of the following happening?
Vivarchi was Lot 405 at the Inglis Easter Sale, offered on 3 April, 1975. She was knocked down to Bart Cummings for a sales topping $62,000 (the Golden Slipper was then of $126,000).
The very next lot through the ring was a colt by Baguette (Rego), later to be named Romantic Dream. He was sold for $10,500 to the Cook brothers from Newcastle who’d been underbidders on Vivarchi.
Then 12 months later, to the calendar date, they ran one-two in the Golden Slipper with the filly again immediately before the colt. Third was Desirable (Without Fear).
Newspapers, at the time, reported this: “Vivarchi equalled Tontonan’s 1973 race record of 1:11.7 and jockey John Duggan had an armchair ride as the filly strode to the front half way through the race and was never headed.”
Much was made of the fact that Vivarchi wore blinkers for the first time as did Desirable (Without Fear) when she turned the tables on the Golden Slipper winner in the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m). Blinkers first time now, of course, being commonplace in major juvenile races.
The Colin Hayes-trained and John Stocker-ridden Desirable had earlier won the VRC Sires’ Produce (then Gr 1, 1400m) which took Without Fear’s two-year-old progeny earnings to a record $172,450, bettering the mark set in 1971-72 by Vivarchi’s sire Wilkes who’d had earlier Slipper winners Vain and John’s Hope.
It was not all good news, however, for Cummings on Slipper day in 1976 with his champion mare Leilani (Oncidium) breaking down with a strained sesamoid in the Tancred Cup (now The BMW (Gr 1, 2400m)).
Vivarchi’s only win, among seven, after her two-year-old career came in a race named after Leilani at Moonee Valley in September 1976. By career end, her earnings of $171,910 were bettered by those of Romantic Dream who won 15 races and in each of the five mainland states for prize money of $218,000.
Jockey Robert Thompson, an inductee into the recent and inaugural Newcastle and Hunter Racing Hall of Fame, declared Romantic Dream the best horse he has ever ridden having won on him in five states. Thompson’s ridden more than 4260 winners and still going.
“A bit of a freak,’ Thompson once said of Romantic Dream, “won on him in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Had a will to win. And he could run fast.”
Also inducted, this month, into the Newcastle-Hunter HOF was – not surprisingly – the mighty Luskin Star (Kaoru Star) who won the Golden Slipper the following year, 1977. He wasn’t the original “Coalfields Champion’ – that honour sits with Rogilla (Roger De Busli), the Caulfield Cup (Gr 1, 2400m), Sydney Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) and Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) winner of the early 1930’s, who was also an inductee.
However, Luskin Star certainly was a ‘freak’ and practically unbeatable. His only defeat at two was on heavy ground, behind Mistress Anne (Vain), at Newcastle. And his only defeat, in six starts up to 1600 metres at three, came at the hands of the aforementioned Romantic Dream when Luskin Star was first-up on a slow track in the Canterbury Stakes (Gr 1, 1300m).
Luskin Star also went through the sales, then carrying the full title of William Inglis, at Newmarket at Easter. Luskin Star was turned out in the off-fore and failed to reach his reserve of $8,000. The late and great Max Less later bought the colt, for the said $8,000, from the paddock at Jim O’Neill’s Luskintyre Stud.
That story prompted Warwick Hobson to recount the tale of legendary Melbourne trainer Fred Hoysted buying True Course (Midstream) at the 1949 Inglis Easter Sales. She was badly turned in, in the near fore and Hoysted was said to have regretted buying her for 1200 guineas after heavy rain had limited his inspection to cursory at best. She won six of seven starts at two.
Wonder what Max Lees and Fred Hoysted would make of today’s scopes and x-rays? Wonder if the 2018 Golden Slipper winner might be at Newmarket next week?