Steve Moran

The Champagne party not yet over for Laurel Oak and Fireburn

Brilliant Golden Slipper and Inglis Sires’ winner Fireburn will join elite company; confirm the likelihood that she is exceptional and offer portent of even better to come if she can annex Saturday week’s G1 Champagne Stakes to complete Sydney’s two-year-old triple crown.

Victory would see her join Baguette, Luskin Star, Pierro, Tierce, Burst and Dance Hero as triple crown winners – each of whom won major races post their two-year-old season while the first three named were highly acclaimed if not champions of their time.

The Rebel Dane filly has won five straight since a luckless debut at Warwick Farm last December and rocketed home in 11.5 seconds and 11.9 to claim the Inglis’ Sires on testing ground. 

By comparison, Nature Strip ran the same split from the 400m to the 200m in the G1 T.J. Smith Stakes but was almost a second slower for the final 200 metres. Of course, the tempo was much stronger in the open sprint but nonetheless this is a two-year-old compared to the world’s best (older) sprinter. 

Only Straight Arron, who looks like being The Autumn Sun of his generation (and not just because he sports the same colours), in the G3 Carbine Club Stakes and the unlucky Commando Hunt, in the Country Championships, returned similar late splits to Fireburn last Saturday. 

Some may be sceptical given the heavy conditions of Fireburn’s of two Group 1 wins but she is also proven on top of the ground and the form at the top end has held remarkably truly despite Sydney’s spate of wet tracks as evidenced by Anamoe, Forbidden Love, Duais and Hitotsu. 

The filly’s managing owner Louis Mihalyka, of Laurel Oak Bloodstock, has been in the game too long to make any rash predictions but believes her closing splits in the Slipper and the Sires do confirm her immense talent. 

“Brenton (Avdulla) said to me on Saturday that when she straightened up six lengths off them he was confident they weren’t far enough in front given her closing speed,” Mihalyka said. 

The filly’s success is just reward for the time and effort through 35 years in the business for the former accountant, soccer player and son of Hungarian post-war immigrants who was keen to acknowledge the part played, with both Rebel Dane and Fireburn, by Murrurundi’s Goodwood Farm (who, incidentally, also bred Dance Hero). 

“Why are you bothering?,” I asked – as in what are the chances of finding another Fireburn – as Mihalyka spoke to me (hands free of course) en route to the Inglis Easter Sales yesterday. “Yeah, good question,” he replied. 

The answer would be that Laurel Oak has enjoyed considerable success with yearling purchases as well as homebreds and they include Benaud who was knocked down to Laurel Oak and John O’Shea for $280,000 at Karaka in 2020. He, of course, beat all bar Hitotsu in last Saturday’s G1 Australian Derby. 

Mihalyka estimates that Laurel Oak has been involved in about 350 horses since the operation’s first yearling purchases in 1986. One freak is probably not a bad strike rate from that number not to mention over 75 per cent winners to runners and numerous Group, Listed and city winners.

“I’ve kept records since 2000 and we’d have averaged an intake of 10-14 horses per annum in that period. Before that, the numbers would have been a little lower,” he said. 

Laurel Oak’s first yearling purchases were in 1986. They included Rebel Dane’s great grand-dam Georgian Gold. “The late Jenny Churchill, of Stallions fame, went to Dubbo on our behalf and bought Georgian Gold for $5000 and she was our first winner in June 1987,” he said. 

Four of Rebel Dane’s owners also have an interest in Fireburn – John Murphy, Andrew Fitzgerald, Mike Powell and Laurel Oak itself. “Mike (Powell) was also a shareholder in Georgian Gold,” Mihalyka said.

Fireburn is the first foal of the winning So You Think mare Mull Over, purchased by Laurel Oak for $22,000 from the Lime Country draft at the 2018 National Broodmare Sale. She is, of course, the first Group 1 winner for Rebel Dane and the first for So You Think as a broodmare sire. 

Fireburn’s deeds have reinvigorated interest in Rebel Dane who will stand at Widden Stud this year, after five years in Victoria, in a deal brokered by bloodstock agent Mark Player. 

As to the Champagne mission, that remains the goal barring misadventure. “She’s pulled up well and bounced out of her box on Sunday and Monday morning so the signs are good. The Sires and the Champagne were more her early goals rather than the Golden Slipper.

“Before she won the Sweet Embrace, we might have considered going to the Sires via the Black Opal but she won (the Sweet Embrace) so well and Gary (Portelli) said she’s in the Slipper now, she’s guaranteed a start and she’s going so well we have to go there,” he said. 

Fireburn was not pushed early and nor did she contest any of the usual high profile spring two-year-olds races often associated with Golden Slipper winners.

“Rebel Dane didn’t race until September as a three-year-old and she’s out of a So You Think mare from a Zabeel mare so we weren’t in a rush but once she got to the races she didn’t give us a reason not to go again,” Mihalyka said.