Five-star Mr Brightside shines again
Mr Brightside (Bullbars) showed he could be on the way to earning champion status with a spine-tingling fifth elite-level success in yesterday’s CF Orr Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) at Caulfield.
Resuming after a strong but bittersweet spring – in which two Group 1 triumphs and a Group 2 win were followed by three top-tier seconds – the Team Hayes-trained gelding started a dominant $1.90 favourite against eight rivals for the $750,000 WFA contest.
Backers and connections endured some tense moments when the six-year-old dwelt at the start and Craig Williams was forced to settle just worse than midfield, with key rivals Veight (Grunt) and Pride Of Jenni (Pride Of Dubai) ahead of him.
As she’d done in her pair of 1600-metre Group 1 triumphs last spring, Price Of Jenni set a cracking pace up front, which left Mr Brightside six lengths behind her, and under hard riding, on the turn. But while the tactics almost paid off for Pride Of Jenni, they also ultimately worked for Williams in the last few strides, with Mr Brightside grinding down the outside to just nose Ciaron Maher’s gallant mare out at the finish.
The victory added to Mr Brightside’s others at the top level in two Doncaster Miles (Gr 1, 1600m) and last spring’s back-to-back Memsie (Gr 1, 1400m) and Makybe Diva Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) double, while he was also nosed out by the barest of margins by Romantic Warrior (Acclamation) in last year’s Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m).
Significantly, despite two recent moderate jump-outs, this was also the first time in his career Mr Brightside had resumed from the short summer break to win his first-up autumn assignment.
And with the tenacious gelding also a short-priced favourite for his next Melbourne autumn targets in the Futurity Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m), All–Star Mile (1600m) and Australian Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) – and with chief rival Alligator Blood (All Too Hard) out injured – the stage looks set for Mr Brightside to further push his claims towards Horse of the Year honours.
Co-trainer JD Hayes was delighted with the performance of Mr Brightside, the foundation star of the Hayes Brothers’ operation after the departure to Hong Kong of their father David in 2020.
“He’s a great horse. He’s so dear to our hearts,” said Hayes, celebrating Lindsay Park’s first Orr Stakes win since Jeune (Kalaglow) in 1995, and atonement for losing last year’s edition when connections of Jacquinot (Rubick) successfully protested against Gentleman Roy (So You Think).
“He was slow away but it worked out perfectly with the pace on,” Hayes continued. “Pride Of Jenni was so brave, but I was glad he got there late. And with so much improvement in him to come, hopefully it’s the start of a big autumn.
“He’s been beaten in the autumn every time first-up. This is a first for him and we’re very happy to see it.
“But he’s a seasoned campaigner now. There was nothing to read into the trials and jump-outs. We thought it was … just him being an older horse.”
Williams was also full of praise for Mr Brightside after chalking up his 71st Group 1 – four of which have come aboard the gelding. Bred in New Zealand by Ray Johnson in partnership with his late wife Martha, and sold for just $22,000 at the Karaka May Sale in 2019 to Phill Cataldo Bloodstock, Mr Brightside took his earnings to $11,923,000 with yesterday’s ninth stakes win.
“Credit’s got to go to the Hayes boys,” Williams said.
“I’m very lucky. It feels like that when they give you the opportunity to come in and ride this type of horse.
“Today was a bit of hard work. He half dwelt at the start and reared. We were lucky enough to get into a nice position. He raced well, but then – Pride Of Jenni’s such a tough horse.
“That was a brutally run race, but I’m just very lucky that … he’s got a great deal of ability but an amazing will to win.”
Williams was still concerned when Mr Brightside took time to build into his top rhythm before the turn. He was still three lengths off Pride Of Jenni at the 200-metre mark, with the mare herself fighting back after being headed by Caulfield 1400-metre specialist Buffalo River (Noble Mission), who hung on for a close third.
“The start was never a worry. It was only when we came under pressure and he wasn’t travelling I thought, ‘Oh wow’,” he said.
“It was a brutal tactic by the second horse and it got us all out of our comfort zone, but Mr Brightside’s got a great tenacity and a great will to win.
“He’s ready to come to the races and compete and win, but he’s still got more to come, so there’s still more improvement.”
Mr Brightside remains a stunning outlier amongst the progeny of Bullbars (Elusive Quality), the Darley-bred stallion whose finest win came – appropriately – in the race named after the Hayes brothers’ legendary grandfather, the CS Hayes Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m).
The 16-year-old, who stood several seasons in New Zealand before returning to Australia in 2020, now stands at South Australia’s Orange Court stud for $9,900. He covered fewer than 20 mares in each of his first three seasons back in Australia.
Other than Mr Brightside, Bullbars’ two other stakes winners from 105 runners are Contessa Vanessa, who won a Group 2 and a Group 3 race in New Zealand, and Beauden, who won a Group 2, a Group 3 and two Listeds, also across the Tasman.
Mr Brightside is the third foal out of the unraced Lilahjay (Tavistock), who now has a yearling daughter by Darci Brahma (Danehill). That filly’s sister sold for $70,000 to Trent Busuttin and First Light Racing at last year’s Karaka sale.
Team McEvoy’s highly rated three-year-old colt Veight, the $6 second–favourite, had his chance in the straight but was overtaken by the winner, ultimately finishing fourth, beaten a length and a quarter.