After more than 220 years on the job together, Australians and their horses have yet to fully comprehend the debt they owe each other. Horses are redolent in the white man’s history, language and culture. Our horse poets are some of the world’s finest. Our horses are even better at expressing themselves.

Along with the rest of the world, we celebrate the big Cup in Melbourne as one nation, united in mind, body, spirit, sweep and totalisator. Before tractors ploughed our fields and cars clogged our freeways, we were totally dependent on the horse for our agriculture, transport, communications and friendship. We even turned them into our most popular recreational pastime. Without them, we would have struggled with the basic rudiments of mental arithmetic and long division.

Of more than 160,000 of these worthy democratic steeds (standardbred New South Walers most of them) who saw active service during the Great War only one ever returned home — Major-General Sir William Throsby Bridges’ mount, Sandy. These magnificent warhorses were centre stage at the last great cavalry charge at Beersheba on October 31, 1917.

Anyhow, God bless and speed all the Walers; and those who rode so lightly on their backs. A monument to the Light Horse troopers and those that carried them was established in Tamworth in 2005 and in 1989 the first horses were recorded in a Waler Horse Studbook to ensure the recognition and preservation of this uniquely Australian breed.

The thoroughbreds we dote on these days were too precious to waste as cannon fodder or in the cook’s stew. They were the aristocrats that arrived with the Rum Corp on the First Fleet and have been coming ever since to share their seeds with the native broodmares.

The Group 1 Manikato Stakes (formerly the Freeway Stakes) is a 1200-metre (six furlong) sprint at Moonee Valley, which carries a purse of $500,000 and was sloppy Slow 6 on Friday night despite the synthetic surface. If you don’t know who Manikato is, you’ve obviously been given a very poor education in contemporary Australian life and there is nothing I can do for you.

THE HORSE

The winner was six-year-old Sydney galloper Danleigh, a bay (brown horse with black hair) gelding (snipped) by Mujahid (USA) from local gal Graceful Lily (by Dr Grace, NZ) who was having his first outing this spring, his first look at Moonee Valley and racing on a tight left-handed (anticlockwise) track. He is excellently prepared by Chris Waller at Rosehill who was over the moon with the win and promises to come back to Melbourne for more.

Danleigh was bred and retained to race by Keith Leonard who gets to add $300,000 to the $1,047,595 prize money already in his kick. It’s probably just enough to cover the feed bill, stud and training fees for the year. Leonard picked up Danleigh’s dam Graceful Lily for only $1,300 at the Inglis mixed thoroughbred sale in February 2001. She was obviously a bargain buy but is no Waler (with all due respect to the Walers out there).

Danleigh’s dad, Mujahid (its Arabic for one who engages in jihad or warrior of God), is a totally different kettle of fish. He’s a shuttle stallion from the States who has a pedigree longer than TP Maher’s current list of creditors. Back home at Horse & Jockey in County Tipperary, the local horse thieves and whisperers have a saying: “Breed the best with the best, and hope for the best.”

Keith Leonard got it half right when he stood the princely Mujahid at the foot of a knee-trembling Graceful Lily’s bed the day they produced Danleigh.

Just like the Walers, Mujahid’s pedigree is built on the success over success formula. He is by Danzig, the current leading sire of stakeswinners to foals, out of a mare by Storm Cat, the current leading US sire by earnings.

Now, Mujahid’s stud brochure waxes lyrical like a wine label: “The duplication of Northern Dancer lends itself beautifully to Star Kingdom-line mares, while the presence of Secretariat as Storm Cat’s damsire suggests that Sir Tristram-line mares (or any other pedigree carrying Secretariat’s half brother, Sir Gaylord) should work very well with Mujahid. Mujahid’s dam is breed on a very similar cross to Bluebird, being from the Storm Bird sire line and from the same female family.”

It’s just two horses having a root, for Christ’s sake…

What we republicans have to put up with in the sport of kings, beggars belief.

THE JOCKEY

Kerrin McEvoy is a champion jockey. He loves his horses so much. He sat Danleigh very nicely from barrier one and settled him well back in the pack to save ground for the right time. Then, he pushed into the clear with only about a furlong to go; and flashed past Wanted who had kicked out strongly into the straight.

With his whip hand in the new fast-forward motion now condoned by the stewards in the last 100 metres, McEvoy lunged for the line. Danleigh was followed closely over it by Phelan Ready and Nicconi, who came from way back to save my bacon.

THE RECKONING

When I was a boy, my dad (an SP bookie) used to sing me the bits of the TAB song by Anon that he could remember. The chorus went:

At Warwick Farm, Rosehill and Randwick they race/ It’s a sign of our moral decay/

But wipe that superior smile off your face/ I expect the trifecta today…

Danleigh’s starting price was $17 — which, if your man had had the courage of his convictions — he could have easily turned into $340 from his lazy wad of four $5 notes. Alas, as it was a dark and stormy night in Melbourne and he had lingered too long in Jimmy Watson’s abstemious establishment in Carlton. When he finally got to the track, he choose the coward’s way and plunged $10 each-way on the favourite Nicconi; who just managed to hold on for the third placing as they lunged at the post.

And so it came to pass that your man got to return the money he had surreptitiously removed from the turf accountant’s handbag earlier in the evening; Neither of us were any the wiser from our experiences at the Valley on Friday night. We suspect we will get a better run for her money at the $500,000 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on Saturday.

It is my dear dead dad’s birthday on October 3 (he would have been 89 if the Japs hadn’t poisoned his well in the South-West Pacific) so I’m hoping he’ll bring me some luck from beyond the grave. I expect the trifecta that day.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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