The best and worst of racing

Ken ‘Tubby’ Turner knew best and worst of racing


Phillip Bate analyses news from the Queensland racing scene.


“IT was the best of times. It was the worst of times” is among the most famous opening lines in all of English literature. When English author Charles Dickens penned the classic line to begin A Tale Of Two Cities in 1859 he pre-empted San Domenico Stakes day race meeting at Rosehill, Sydney on August 25, 2018 by almost 160 years.

Newcastle trainer Kris Lees paraphrased ‘the best of times’ by describing unbeaten 3YO colt Graff as “the best colt I’ve ever trained” after he won the 1100m Group 3 San Domenico Stakes.

The ‘worst of times’ occurred earlier in the day when former world champion sprinter  Chautauqua earned an embargo from racing from NSW stewards after failing his seventh barrier trial held between races at Rosehill.

Both horses have a common ancestor – the outstanding sprinter and sire Lion Hunter (Danehill/Pure Of Heart). Graff is by Group 1 winner Star Witness who is from the Group 3 winning Lion Hunter mare Leone Chiara while Chautauqua is from another Lion Hunter mare – dual Group 1 and Magic Millions 2YO Classic winner Lovely Jubly.

Lion Hunter was the undoubted ‘pin-up’ horse as a racehorse and subsequent ‘superannuation fund’ as a sire for a man who endured both the ‘best and worst’ of racing with black type wins and licence disqualifications – namely leading trainer and breeder Ken Turner who died in Sydney 16 days earlier on Thursday, August 9, aged 81.

Nicknamed ‘Tubby’, Turner played a major part of Australian racing as a trainer and breeder for more than 60 years. He began training in north Queensland before moving to Brisbane in the 1970s and then to Sydney where he trained at Randwick before turning his attention to breeding. While Alma Vale has a significant history in racing, it was a general farm when Turner bought it. “Spearfelt (winner of the 1926 Melbourne Cup) was bred there and so was Tea Rose – the best mare Queensland ever produced,” he said.

Bought privately from Arrowfield Stud after he failed to find a new owner as a yearling in New Zealand, Lion Hunter didn’t race until he was an early 4YO. In just an eight-race career, he set a Doomben 1200m track record in the process of winning three races in Brisbane and was Group 1-placed in Sydney and Group 3-placed in Melbourne. In addition to Lion Hunter, Turner also trained Sydney Listed winning sprinter Just Awesome – a brother by Last Tycoon to the dams of Group 1 winners Casino Prince and Onemorenomore. "Lion Hunter would have pulled a cart and beat Just Awesome," Turner told Max Presnell of Fairfax in 2002.

Both made the transition from top class racehorses to Group 1 generating sires before meeting untimely deaths on Darling Downs studs. Just Awesome (Glen Avon Lodge) began stud duties in 1996 but only sired two crops which included New Zealand Group 1 winner Sound The Alarm – one of 65 winners from 80 starters.

Retired to stud in 1998, Lion Hunter (Oaklands Stud) managed six crops with more than 360 winners and progeny earnings of more $28 million prizemoney including 17 stakes winners such as Group 1 winners Gold Edition and Lovely Jubly. His influence as a broodmare sire has been even more profound with his daughters providing winners of more than $30 million. His latest Group 1 winner was this year’s Queensland Derby winner Dark Dream to follow in the hoofprints of Chautauqua and Star Witness.

Spectacular success

KEN Turner had spectacular success mating his Last Tycoon mare Chiara to Lion Hunter. Bred by Dennis Marks, of Let's Elope fame, Chiara was a daughter of leading stallion Last Tycoon and the Diplomatic Star mare Etoile D'Or, who was a dual Group 3 winner and placed in the New Zealand Oaks. Trained by Lee Freedman, Chiara raced only four times – her sole win being in a 2YO event at Pakenham.

Turner said that Arrowfield's general manager at the time, Peter Orton, recommended he should look at her when she was offered at the Easter broodmare sale in Sydney, when in foal to Kingston Rule. "She was by a good sire in Last Tycoon and was a lovely big strong mare. I didn't have to pay a lot of money for her ($16,500) either," Turner said.

The Kingston Rule colt she produced, her first foal, failed to win but her unions with Lion Hunter were something else. In fact, the successful ‘nick’ produced two Group 2 winners in Ferocity and Chinchilla Rose plus Group 3 winner Leone Chiara. She, in turn, has produced dual Group 1 winner Star Witness (Starcraft) and Nostradamus (Medaglia d'Oro) who is about to serve his third book of mares  in Victoria after winning three Group 3 races at the Gold Coast, Sydney and Adelaide.

An outstanding sprinter, Star Witness won the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes at Caulfield as a 2YO and the 1200m Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington as a 3YO. He also raced with distinction in the Group 1 sprints at Royal Ascot in England being runner-up in the 1100m King’s Stand Stakes and third in the 1200m Golden Jubilee Stakes. Now based at historic Widden Stud in NSW, Star Witness has covered seven books of mares including 220 mares in the 2016 season. Already he has more than 170 winners of more than $17 million prizemoney including 13 stakes winners – dual Group 1 winner Golden Glamour the most prominent and Group 3 winner Graff the most recent.

After being proven correct with Lion Hunter, Turner had high hopes for another lightly raced son of Danehill named Ukok Warrior, whom he stood at Alma Vale Stud. Although he had a modest race record – winning just a maiden at Cranbourne and a class two at Moe in a four-start career – Ukok Warrior was a son of the group-winning mare Peruzzi, who is a prominent member of the Eight Carat family. However, just like Lion Hunter, Ukok Warrior was also ill-fated also serving six books before an untimely death in April 2012. His progeny which include 27 winners to date have earned just over $1.29 million.

Birdsville Cup win – surely you jest?

Jockey Adin Thompson (right) and trainer Bevan Johnson (left) celebrate winning the Birdsville Cup Open Handicap, with Blue Jest on Saturday. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Jockey Adin Thompson (right) and trainer Bevan Johnson (left) celebrate winning the Birdsville Cup Open Handicap, with Blue Jest on Saturday. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

IT began with a 2YO maiden win over 1000m at Prairie in north-west Queensland in June 2014. Now 8YO gelding Blue Jest – ridden by a 17 year old apprentice Adin Thompson – has won the iconic 1600m Birdsville Cup at Australia’s most remote race meeting held on Saturday, September 1.

In between those wins, Miles-based Blue Jest has had a further 19 wins and 19 places from 59 starts on 29 tracks across Queensland in each of his six racing seasons and gives him the enviable strike rate of winning or placing every two out of three starts. The $24,000 first prizemoney also sent his earnings soaring past $200,000 to $214,625.

The final day of Western Queensland’s richest two-day race meeting drew a crowd of close to 5000 to the tiny outpost close to the South Australian border. The Birdsville Cup offered stakes of $40,000 – a record in the race’s prestigious 136-year history.

The 2018 Birdsville Races also boasted the biggest fields in the event’s history with a record 170 acceptors for the 13 races held over the two days. The previous record of 164 was set in 2015. Runners journeyed from as far away as Darwin, Ballarat, Stawell, Quorn, Murray Bridge, Adelaide, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga and the Gold Coast with all races telecast nationally for the first time.

One of the youngest Birdsville Cup-winning jockeys in history, Adin Thompson is apprenticed to Blue Jest’s husband and wife training team Bevan and Mel Johnson.

Bevan Johnson said: “The horse felt good all week. They told me you couldn’t win with top weight and then we drew the worst barrier (10 from 12).”

Bevan Johnson’s win at Birdsville continues a string of successes at country race meeting for the stable after being crowned Queensland Country Trainer of the Year in 2017. The Johnsons have been taking horses to the Birdsville Races since 2010 but 2018 marks their first Birdsville Cup victory. Their jockey daughter Dakota had won many races on Blue Jest but fell pregnant this year giving young Adin Thompson the opportunity to ride in the Cup.

By Danehill (USA) sire Olympus from the Mister C mare Larchwood, 8YO gelding Blue Jest is no stranger to sand/dirt tracks having previously won at Birdsville, Roma, Cunnamulla and Gladstone. The Birdsville Cup now joins the Taroom Cup and Yeppoon Cup among the 21 races he’s won over a long consistent racing career which began with a 2YO maiden win at Prairie in north-west Queensland in June 2014.

Birdsville races raise $50,000 for Drought Appeal

THE Birdsville Cup races have raised at least $50,000 to help struggling Queensland farmers, following the first ever national broadcast of the iconic racing carnival.

Racing Queensland is donating half its wagering revenue generated by the two-day meeting to the Queensland Drought Appeal.

Racing Queensland’s Thoroughbred General Manager, Simon Stout said: “The 2018 Birdsville carnival was an outstanding success, uniting people from all walks of life, like only racing can do. RQ is thrilled to be able to play its part in supporting Queensland farmers doing it tough. While wagering numbers are still being finalised, thanks to the support of race-goers nationwide, RQ will be donating at least $50,000 to the Queensland Country Women’s Association.”


From the front page

Sponsored by