So the list ended up being the best 20 horses in the past 20 years to have honed their craft on Australian soil. Trainer: David Mueller then Lee Freedman Record: 31:19-3-2 Prize money: $2,848,991 This superlative sprinting mare made her debut on a rock-hard track at Sinatra in Western Australia and went on to win nine of her 13 starts in the west before being sent to Melbourne.
Trainer: Greg Eur ell Record: 43:19-4-7 Prize money: $4,588,655 Most memorable for the white patch on his face, this chestnut gelding was a serious sprinter. The Greg Eurell-trained gelding showed promise as a youngster and won plenty of races, including a blistering win in the Group 1 Australian Guineas over 1600 meters.
Apache Cat won the Australia Stakes, TJ Smith, BTC Cup and Doomed 10,000 in succession. Although he will be remembered as a star sprinter, he won over a mile at Group 2 level and finished seventh in a Cox Plate.
Eur ell wasted some of his golden years trying to make him into a horse that he simply wasn’t. Trainer: Gas Waterhouse Record: 30:21-0-2 Prize money: $4,572,450 When this filly made her debut in a two-year-old race at Rose hill in 2009, ‘they knew’.
Sensationally sent out as the $1.35 favorite, Nash Raillery didn’t need the whip when steering More Joyous to a five-length win. She was sent out the same price in her next start, but the punters didn’t get a collect after the saddle slipped, and she failed to finish.
But she ended up repaying the punters plenty over the next few years, winning 12 of her 15 starts from ages three to four. Talented in Melbourne but a class above in Sydney, she kept racking up the wins until she was retired after a disappointing run in the 2012 Cox Plate, the same race that made headlines when Gas Waterhouse picked a wide barrier for the John Singleton-owned runner.
Trainer: Rob Heath cote Record: 51:19-9-8 Prize money: $7,300,194 There are perhaps more talented horses who didn’t make this list, but very few were as tough and resilient as Buffering. The popular Queen slander was never a favorite of mine as he seemed to lose when I was on him and win when I’d jump off, but nevertheless, he was a star.
But up against the likes of Black Caviar, Hay List and Sepoy, it took him 18 starts at the top level to break the Group 1 drought. The only knock on his career was that he failed to deliver a Group 1 victory in front of his adoring Brisbane fans.
Atlantic Jewel would have retired undefeated if she didn’t run into another freak of a horse, Dundee, who we’ll get too shortly. A supremely talented middle-distance horse with a devastating turn of foot, it was a shame we didn’t see Atlantic Jewel in the Cox Plate, a race she would have almost certainly won.
But injury problems ran in her family and she was worth plenty as a broodmare, hence the decision to retire her young. Trainer: Murray Baker Record: 19:10-4-1 Prize money: $5,396,905 Once again a victim of the breeders, this brilliant colt was retired far too early from a racing purist point of view.
His 6.8-length win in the Rose hill Guineas remains one of the best victories produced in that historic race. When he ventured onto the track for the last time, he was nine years old and won the Cox Plate.
Over his lengthy career, ‘FOO’ competed in Australia’s best race on five occasions for two wins, a second, a third and a fifth. While there are classier horses around, his longevity and ability to win Cox Plates against the likes of Loner and El Segundo have him rated highly in my book.
Trainer: Sir Michael State, then David Hall, then Eric Musgrove Record: 97:16-9-11 Prize money: $3,747,283* When Karate made his race debut, John Howard was the Prime Minister, the Adelaide Crows had yet to win back-to-back premierships, and I was still in primary school. Karate raced nine times in the UK for Sir Michael State before making his way to Australia.
He would have a further 88 starts in his career and win 13 times in a period dating from 1999 to 2008, leaving a lasting legacy. After a lean patch of form for David Hall, he was sent to master jumps' trainer Eric Musgrove to be schooled over the sticks.
Trainer: Tony Basil Record: 32:10-4-5 Prize money: $5,722,274 There’s only one horse on this list that opened their career with a maiden win at Swan Hill, but that shouldn’t take the shine off his achievements. His three-year-old autumn failed to reach great heights, with just one win from eight starts, but he was always thereabouts.
The ding-dong battle between Elvstroem and Maybe Diva in the 2004 Caulfield Cup remains etched in my memory. Probably my favorite horse outside Win, this beautiful beast of a gelding was cut down by injury in his prime.
Unseen as a two-year-old, Weekend Hustler made a slow start to his racing career, losing on debut at Sale before a maiden win at Claiborne. Injuries kept him from finding his best and Weekend Hustler was eventually retired three years after hitting his peak.
My favorite Choir moment came in the Lightning Stakes when Glen Boss decided to be a hero and ride him solo on the outside of the straight. Usually considered racing suicide to go it alone down the Flemington straight, Choir was simply too good for his rivals who chose the outside fence.
Trainers: Michael, Wayne and John Hawks Record: 32:13-7-4 Prize money: $8,821,935 It’s easy to remember Chautauqua for being a barrier rogue and a horse that failed to win in nine of his final ten races, but that would be forgetting one of the best sprinters to grace the turf in the past two decades. There were more consistent sprinters, and I’m sure many will argue this gray gazelle is placed too high in the rankings, but Chautauqua is one of the most talented thoroughbreds to have raced in my lifetime.
Without a doubt, his best and most memorable win was in the 2017 TJ Smith when he defied all logic to produce an unlikely victory. Chautauqua was so far back that he made Kingston Town look like a sure thing when Bill Collins famously declared he couldn’t win.
Dead last at the 400 meters to go sign on a bog Sydney track, Tommy Berry weaved his magic to come from the clouds and win. Purchased by Queanbeyan taxi driver and horse trainer Joe Janice for $1250 in 2003, Takeover Target went on to win more than $6 million in stakes.
In Takeover Target’s case, he didn’t make his race debut until he was four after battling leg and joint problems as a youngster. The gelding debuted at his home track in April 2004 and, by October, had won seven races in a row.
My most memorable Takeover Target moment was the start prior to the Salinger, at the northern NSW track of Grafton. There were plenty willing to write off the new whiz kid of racing in the Ronnie Handicap that day.
That day, he turned heads with a blistering win that Grafton locals still describe as the best they’ve seen. There were some hiccups after his early success, but Takeover Target’s love of the Flemington straight came to the fore in the summer of 2006 as he racked up wins in the Group 1 Lightning and Newmarket Handicap.
Janice then embarked on an overseas venture, which resulted in wins at Royal Ascot and in Japan. The horse known as ‘Archie’ saluted in the Doomed 10,000 in 2007 and made another trip to the UK, finishing second in the Golden Jubilee.
In 2008, he won the Grislier Sprint in Singapore and made another assault on English rivals. Janice came home via Western Australia and added the Winterbottom Stakes to his resume in December, followed by a win in the TJ Smith at Rand wick in the autumn.
The Fighting Tiger would rank first in toughness, but Sun line and Loner had him marginally covered for talent. Northerly’s undoubtedly the best horse to come from Western Australia and there have been many stars over the years.
I rate the Cox Plate as the best race in Australia and the toughest to win, yet I have Loner here at number six, ahead of horses like Northerly and Fields of Olaf. But I’ll make an exception and note that Loner simply didn’t handle Mooney Valley.
If he liked it there, I have no doubt he would have won multiple Cox Plates and made a case to be a top three horse on this list. If you remove his starts at that track (which I love, for the record), Loner raced 33 times for 26 wins and four placings.
History will judge him harshly as a result of his flops in Australia’s WFA championship, but I did my best to be kind to this modern marvel. Trainer: Bart Cummings, then Aidan O’Brien Record: 23:14-4-1 Prize money: $10,749,800 Had he been allowed to continue his career in Australia, there’s no doubt So You Think would have been able to challenge the next four horses for a podium placing.
I’ve always said there’s one sure way to determine class in racing; put a horse in uncomfortable conditions and see how they handle the challenge. It might be a heavy track, or it might be over an unsuitable distance, but the classy horses tend to prevail.
It was a shame for Australian racing that Commodore took So You Think from Bart and sent him to the other side of the world, but you only need to revisit some of the colt’s highlights to remember how special he was. In the spring, summer and autumn of 2000-01, Sun line raced 11 times in four countries and won on eight occasions with three placings.
Trevor McKee sent her back to Pekoe after her Cox Plate victory for the Group 2 Breeders Stakes over 1400 m. From Warwick Farm, she left for the UAE and managed to run third in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes.
Amazingly, connections were not done yet, returning her to Australia to run in the Aged Stakes at Rand wick. Prize money: $14,526,685 Not many needs to be said about Maybe Diva other than that she will be remembered as one of the great staying horses in Australian history.
But 12 months later she had to face a star-studded line-up that included Irish St Leger champion Minnie Roe, Caulfield Cup winners Mummify and Elvstroem, Mammal from the Go dolphin stable, and the 2002 Cup champion Media Puzzle. Carrying 58 kg on a track that had a touch of sting out of it at Freedman’s request, Maybe Diva was remarkably $4.40 to win that day.
Ridden a peach by Glen Boss, the brilliant mare created history and was subsequently retired a champion. The only knock on her career was her failure to win overseas, having been sent to Japan for two starts between Cups two and three.
As I wrote about So You Think, class rises to the top in racing and Black Caviar had oodles of it. In her decorated career, she won the Newmarket Handicap, the Lightning Stakes (now named the Black Caviar Lightning after she won it three times), the TJ Smith, the ARC Sprint, the BTC Cup and The Good wood, to name a few.
Dealing with public pressure, Moody then put her on a plane to England where she raced in front of Queen Elizabeth II to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. While all the eight aforementioned horses on this list had a legion of fans, Black Caviar changed the game.
She was the first horse since Par Lap to capture the attention of the entire Australian public. I’ve been a little cheeky here and given Win 37 wins from 43 starts with an added $2.32 million in prize money.
Let’s be honest, her chances of winning her final race in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes are as sure as the sun coming up tomorrow. There has been the odd stayer and middle-distance horse to win over the shorter distances, especially early in their campaigns, but for Win to be able to do so consistently over her career is unheard of.
They’ve tried running races at a quick tempo, knowing Win gets back early. They’ve tried going slow from the start, knowing that she relies on having one sustained sprint in the final 400 m.
Matt is a newspaper editor by trade but spends his time dwelling about his glory years as an average opening batsman and slow half-back flanker.