In about 1993 I went to Moonee Valley with a friend for the William Reid stakes meeting. At the time I had no interest in racing but was happy to go along and see what goes on and have a few beers.
In the first race that was run after we walked in, there was a horse called Don’t Cry. This was too good to ignore for a young Guns n Roses fan so I had $5 place only on it. It came second at any old price and of course I was thrilled. I knew it was just a fluke but it certainly caught my attention. Everyone we spoke to that day told us that a horse called Wrap Around would be winning the main race and she did at a suitably short quote.
The same day a horse called Dr Grace was pointed out to me and I thought he was the most incredible looking animal I had ever seen.
After that day I took a passing interest in horse racing for the next couple of years. I was a regular weekend punter but took no real interest in anything other than what was in the form guide from week to week.
Around 1995 there began to be racing on TV regularly, at least that was the first time that I noticed it. That year, Octagonal ran 2nd in the Golden Slipper, unleashing an incredible finishing burst but just failing to catch Flying Spur. The following spring he won the Cox Plate, becoming the first three year old since Red Anchor 11 years earlier to win the race. It is history now that Octagonal took all before him as an autumn three year old, winning four Group I’s in succession.
It was with the emergence of Octagonal that I began to realize that the great horses had something that even very good horses didn’t. It was as if he knew where the finish line was and that his job was to get there first. Once you see that, you’re looking for it everywhere but you see it only rarely. I’ve seen it again with Northerly and Sunline but not many others. Makybe Diva and Black Caviar just seem to be a class above their opposition so it’s unfair to compare them.
Before Makybe Diva came along, I considered Northerly, who died this week after a colic attack, to be the best race horse I ever saw in the flesh.
I can remember when he first came to Melbourne with huge raps on him for his performances in Perth. I can remember the commentators talking about his appearance in the mounting yard which was less than complimentary and according to them, his manners pre-race meant that he was ruled out as a winning chance.
But win he did, over and over again against all comers. The first time I saw him was at Caulfield in the Underwood Stakes where he took the lead early in the straight and looked a sitting duck for the VRC Oaks winner Magical Miss and the AJC Derby winner Don Eduardo. It sounds ridiculous but I’m quite sure Northerly saw Magical Miss coming at him and raised another effort to win. I reckon my theory was proved right when Old Comrade beat him in the Australian Cup, coming with one late run out wide on the track where Northerly couldn’t see him.
In my opinion, Northerly’s equal greatest performances were the 2002 Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate beating Fields of Omagh. I thought he’d win the Caulfield Cup after his performances leading in but I didn’t think he’d be able to drop back to the Cox Plate Distance in a week. In the end he won pretty comfortably and stamped his greatness as a dual Cox Plate winner. Only two horses had been able to win the Caulfield Cup/Cox Plate double before Northerly and none have done it since.
Vo Rogue died this week as well and there has been some discussion about his absence from the Hall of Fame. I never saw him race other than on video but his record is quite amazing. The unwritten ‘grand slam’ of Australian racing is the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Doncaster and BMW (Tancred) and the absence of one of those on Vo Rogue’s resume is probably what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame.