Sitting in the grandstand last Saturday at Randwick, my seven year-old son Jack turned to me and said, “Will More Joyous race Hay List?” and with that one question it dawned on me that racing has not had it so good in a very long time.
For years now we have had a very bland, lacklustre offering served up each season as carnival racing and while I don’t wish to offend the connections of some very good horses, Takeover Target aside, it’s been less than inspiring.
There was a glimmer of excitement when Miss Andretti and Gold Edition went to head to head in a couple of races in the Melbourne spring of 2007, but outside of that ... boring!
Where were the stars?
When Lonhro and Northerly retired in 2004 they took all the glamour and excitement out of racing with them.
An equine Adonis, Lonhro had the suave, sophisticated, charismatic charm of a George Clooney, while Northerly had the toughness and street smarts of the WA brawler he assuredly was … and then we had Sunline!
From the moment I first laid eyes on her at Randwick when she stepped out for the Furious Stakes in 1998 she had me ... she had me at hello!
Feisty, powerful and domineering, this Kiwi phenomenon was excitement on four legs!
Since their departure, racing has slipped into a malaise of more of the same with talented horses packed off to stud all too soon and other good horses winning the big ones, but failing to ignite any real passion with the dwindling race day crowds.
That has all changed this spring as we now have a cast of larger than life characters straight from a Hollywood movie ... Shrek!
In the title role we have Shrek himself, the lovable ogre – Hay List (by STATUE OF LIBERTY).
A giant of a horse that has won 11 of 13, I feel privileged to have been at Moonee Valley last Friday night to watch this hulking athlete win his first Group One for ‘battling’ trainer John McNair and his owners the Davenport family.
Sitting at a table that included the connections of the great Manikato, owner Mal Seccull and jockey Gary Willetts, I couldn’t help but wonder if Hay List might be able to channel some of the great horse’s spirit and bring that much needed magic back to racing.
If we have a Shrek we have to have a Princess Fiona and that is undoubtedly More Joyous, a blue-blooded princess with a feisty edge if ever there was one.
Trained by Australia’s first lady of racing Gai Waterhouse for one of most popular owners in the land in John Singleton, More Joyous has won nine of 12 and her last seven in a row.
A somewhat fragile conveyance earlier in her career with a freakishly brilliant turn of foot, four year-old More Joyous has blossomed this preparation and what we are seeing now is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this mare can achieve if allowed to race on, which she assuredly will as this is one owner in no hurry to rush off to stud.
Standing over all of them is Prince Charming, the Bart Cummings trained entire So You Think.
With five wins and two seconds from just eight starts, So You Think is only just starting to hit his straps.
He won the Cox Plate last spring as a boy at his fifth start and is back this time as a man, his appearances this preparation nothing short of breathtaking as he marches towards a second Cox Plate and possible tilt at the Melbourne Cup.
The trainer Bart Cummings and owner Dato Tan Chin Nam aren’t frightened to run them so let’s hope we see a lot more from a horse that is one of the most drop dead beautiful thoroughbreds you will ever see.
And speaking of beautiful there is another character to this cast of equine stars, albeit not from this movie.
Tall, statuesque and darkly dangerous is the Angelina Jolie of the horse world, Hot Danish.
A seven year-old mare trained by Les Bridge, Hot Danish is the punters favourite in Sydney with 16 wins from 25 starts and $2million in prizemoney.
She gets the crowd on their feet and has never gone better, her sire Nothin’ Leica Dane a key player from another glorious era of racing ... that of the The Fantastic Four.
In the autumn of 1996, Sydney racegoers were witness to a series of epic battles featuring Octagonal, Saintly, Nothin’ Leica Dane and Filante.
This was gladiatorial stuff, gut wrenching, spine tingling, genuinely exciting racing that took the sport we love to a wider audience.
That wider audience is about to be re-captured, bring it on!