As the grand sweep of Seabiscuit's story reaches many more generations in movie theaters, the career has closed on one of Australia's wonderful underdog thoroughbreds. Northerly departs far from the applause which accompanied his recently conferred Horse of the Year title.
He injured the tendon in his right front leg in a light workout in Perth, Western Australia. X-ray scans taken last Thursday (July 31) confirmed it as career-ending for the winner of $9.3 million (Australian funds).
In Northerly chapter there was a strong element of Seabiscuit's against-all-odds fame, which carried along those around him. The gelding is a son of Nijinky II's deceased southern discard, Serheed and was foaled on a $A4,000 season. He rose to defeat many blue-bloods in winning 19 races from 34 starts, nine at Grade I. He finished second seven times.
His $9,340,950 is a record for an Australian-bred and second only to retired New Zealand distaffer Sunline 's $11,351,607. It was Northerly who stopped Sunline's attempted three peat in the 2001 W.S. Cox Plate (Aust-I).
He repeated his win in Australasia's weight-for-age Championship at the expense of Defier, Grandera and Sunline last October. The rising 7-year-old was limbering up to again defend the title when he suffered his first serious injury.
His tribulations started at birth at Neville and Duncan's Oakland Park farm near Busselton, north of Perth. He was far too ungainly to take to the sales and the Duncans sold a half interest to Perth horseman Fred Kersley. The price valued the then 2-year-old at $18,000.
Kersley leaned his craft initially in driving and handling harness horses. In the Thoroughbred side of the business the 50-something trainer pottered around in relative obscurity until Northerly made him a media cult-figure at 61. Kersley had always maintained every decison was made by and for the horse and reflected about the journey, rather than its end.
"We have been very fortunate and are eternally grateful for the ride Northerly has given us. He defied the odds for more than three years to make history."
Kersley's wife, Judith, a part-owner, said they were lucky to have the horse, rather than unlucky to lose him to injury.
Except for an occasional public appearance, Northerly will spend his retirement at Oaklands Park.
Jim Bowler, head of Australasia's Classifiucations panel, says Northerly is one the best champions he has seen in his 25 years as a handicapper with the Victoria Racing Club. The horse leaves with a 124 International rating.
Sunline's trainerTrevor McKee said Northerlyhad the most unorthodox style he has seen in a champion racehorse.
"I was in awe of him."