I was confident. Over confident as it turns out. When Bel Esprit landed his 155th individual winner for 2012-13 just on a week ago, I’d taken the fast track to cloud nine. And Brian Donohoe was floating adjacent. Only one more winner required for the all-time record.
Now Brian, for those of you who don’t know, was (still is) a part owner in Bel Esprit and if there is a person walking on this mortal coil that keeps a closer eye on a particular stallion’s stats, then I’d be surprised.
In fact, look ‘fanatical’ up in your dictionary.
Brian’s the bloke that runs the Bel Esprit blog and rarely misses an Esprit event (except for perhaps a six week break a year or so back when Mrs Donohoe dragged him to the North Pole … I kid you not!).
Anyway, it was Brian who alerted us a couple of weeks back that Bel Esprit was looming large and, to back it up, provided a comprehensive rundown of national premierships (by winners) for the past 12 seasons.
Not only was Bel Esprit poised to overtake Commands’ record (set in 2010-11), he was doing so with a superior strike rate. In fact, this champ's winners to runners is the best in 10 years.
So, in preparation for the big day, we double checked and triple checked. Lots of checks as a matter of fact … Brian Russell, the Stud book, Stallions publisher Andrew Reichard – even Jeff Kruger at Lyndhurst which stood one of the all-time great winner-getters in Celestial Dancer. All clear. 156 would be the most … ever!
And we thought he’d do it on his ear. Really. How could he not … I mean, he’s been pumping out – on average – five wins a week, every week for 12 months.
Surely there would be ONE more for heaven’s sake. I was cocky too – even thought how nice 160 would look in print.
I managed to drag a few compadres in … we’d check the entries every day, size up their chances. Thursday and Friday were wipes, but all day Saturday, there I was, hunched over the keyboard … waiting, waiting.
Eliza Park’s noms lad, Phil Marshall, was actually smiling. Who knew he had teeth?
But then disaster struck. Lemaitre finished second and so did Royal Request.
A Facebook friend (the only ones I’ve got) went off before acceptances by posting a ‘well done’ when Half His Luck won at Morphettville. Half His Luck? Try no luck! Half His Luck had won his previous race at Bendigo at 5pm on 2 August 2012 – just 41 hours into the season. Ouch.
By Sunday arvo, Phil was getting wobbly and by Monday night, he’d done what his fellow countrymen rarely do – he’d walked.
Indeed, he began to scoff at my suggestions that a $180 pop might just turn it all around.
The clock was winding down and runners were few.
Then out came The Hummel in the Aussie Mornington Plate over 1200m on Tuesday … 30 July. Less than 33 hours before the end of 2012-13. Seventh line of betting in an 11 horse race.
Now, I wouldn’t have a clue what a Hummel is but when he started to put in the big ones near the finish line, I was seriously considering having the name tattooed on my left cheek.
But wouldn’t you know it, right on the wire he gets nabbed by the Tony Noonan trained Special Girls. Now Tony is a top bloke. Good trainer too. But Tony, you are not, repeat NOT, invited to my next birthday party.
The Hummel missed by a nostril. If Bel Esprits were renowned for blinding speed AND big noses, the champagne corks would now be popping.
So, 155 it is. Can’t say we’re totally shattered though … after all, he is the first Victorian stallion since way back when to win a national general sires’ title and he went within a Hummel of becoming the greatest winner-getter in an Australian racing season.
Of equal import, he even did it with less runners!
That’ll do Bel … that’ll do.