Three-year-olds prominent in Flemington’s historically rich Newmarket Handicap

Saturday’s Group 1 Newmarket Handicap may well be at the mercy of one of this season’s talented three-year-old crop should, this morning, nominal favourite I Wish I Win not accept for the race, as has been mooted. 

The three-year-olds In Secret, Lofty Strike and Buenos Noches feature next in pre-post markets, along with the Joe Pridetrained five-year-old Private Eye who has excelled with a late career focus on 1200 metres races.

The Newmarket Handicap, a race as rich in history as any, has been kind to three-year-olds in recent years and, indeed, has been since its inception in 1874 when the filly Maid Of Avenel was successful. 

Nine three-year-olds have won the race since 2000 with the past six from that age group having performed well in the Coolmore Stud Stakes – at the same course and distance – at the close of the spring. This is the case with In Secret (first), Buenos Noches (third) and Lofty Strike (fourth). 

Each of the six then performed well, without winning and thus averting a handicap increase, in either the Lightning Stakes or Oakleigh Plate in the autumn. This also applies, this year, to Buenos Noches and Lofty Strike. 

The Matthew Smithtrained Buenos Noches, with 50.5 kilograms in the Newmarket, has the best of the relative weights from the Lightning Stakes and the Coolmore Stud Stakes in which he ran, respectively, the second fastest and fastest last 400 metres. 

The check of recent results certainly provided a reminder of why this 1200 metres charge, often with a capacity field, down the famous Flemington straight six, has seen it endure as one of Australia’s greatest races and offers an excuse for reminiscing. 

How good a horse was Weekend Hussler to win under the handicap conditions with second top weight of 56 kilos at the mid-point of his three-year-old season? He would, in the next seven months, also claim the Randwick Guineas, George Ryder Stakes, Memsie Stakes, Makybe Diva Stakes and Underwood Stakes.

However, that was not enough to displace the legendary Ajax who, with 57 kilograms in 1938, is the highest weighted three-year-old to win the Newmarket Handicap.

Eight years later, and a year after WW2 had ended, it was the perhaps incomparable Bernborough who stunned the Flemington crowd with a barnstorming victory under 63 kilos.

It was Ajax and Bernborough who “wrote’ the romance of this race, which then had no rival as Australia’s premier sprint race.

Ajax started at 4/6 and led throughout on the grandstand rail to record his tenth win from 14 starts. The long-time Flemington 1200 metres record-holder Aurie’s Star led the flat side but compounded. 

Ajax retired with 36 wins from 46 starts and was unplaced just once. Famously, of course, he had a winning streak of eighteen come to an end when beaten at 1/40, in the 1939 Rawson Stakes by unheralded Queenslander Spear Chief. 

Bernborough, who won 26 of his 37 starts, started at 4/9 in his Newmarket win with his nearest market rival at 14/1.

Bernborough was sold later that year and Ajax the following year. Both went to America to add further romance to their stories. 

Louis B. Mayer, vice-president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer pictures, bought Bernborough while Charles Howard, who owned Sea Biscuit, purchased Ajax. 

Howard, along with Bing Crosby who is believed to have bought a share in Ajax, was a founding partner of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in 1937 and his son Lindsay was Crosby’s partner in racing and breeding horses, and their extended racing family included Fred Astaire. 

Crosby’s racing interests extended across the Atlantic and he co-owned Meadow Court, the 1965 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Irish Derby winner, while Astaire’s winners – believe it or not – included the 1960 Ballarat Cup with Anything, who was sonamed after Astaire told trainer Stan Murphy to “call it anything’ after several earlier names had been declined (a story well told at

I recall also, an (alas unnamed) journalist, writing delightfully of his encounter with Astaire: “I wanted to talk about Audrey Hepburn and those wonderful eyes of hers. Fred agreed that Audrey would win the Oaks in a goodly year, but wanted to talk about racing. We talked about racing.”

Black Caviar’s female weight-carrying record in 2011; her ‘bunny’ Hay List then winning, in her absence, with 58.5 kilograms the following year and Redkirk Warrior becoming, in 2017, the first horse to win first-up in 100 years have recently added to the race’s mystique.

Finally, mention must be made of Greenline who won in 1930 carrying 64.5 kilos (eclipsing even Bernborough’s weight-carrying feat). Greenline is conspicuous by his absence from any list of great horses but, at the time, it was written that “there is little doubt that he can beat any horse at even weights over any distance up to a mile.” Greenline also won a Railway Highweight, down the Flemington straight, with 71.5 kilograms

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