Woody Allen once said he didn't want to know when or how he would die, just where, so he wouldn't go there. Obviously no one warned Lonhro about going back to Randwick for his final race.
More than 30,000 turned out on the final day of the AJC Fall Carnival April 17, most to bid farewell to the best Australian bred since Kingston Town more than 20 years ago. The numbers ticked past 130,000 for the compressed four-day meeting.
The chosen race for the sign-off, the $750,000 (Australian funds) Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Aust-I) even contained a portent. His dad had famously been beaten in the 2,000 meters weight-for-age race in his final start seven years earlier. Octagonal also ran in the Ingham cerise, was handled by John Hawkes, and had Darren Beadman atop.
Lonhro's winning strike-rate of 75% however, is superior to most modern champions, including the also hugely popular Octagonal. The 5-year-old was 1-4 to make it group I win No. 12 and close out a spectacular career with 27 wins from 35 starts. Someone bet $5 million on his nose.
At the wire, however, that nose was six lengths back of a roaring Grand Armee (13-2) and a mere three-quarters of a length ahead of Pentastic (20-1), runner-up to Lonhro in the 2003 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. As it became obvious the champ would not catch the leader, the cheers lapsed into a hum of disappointment.
It wasn't supposed to happen that way. Plans and racing often go their separate ways. If all things come down to math, as scientists insist, you don't need to comprehend binary code for this simple equation. Dan Beasley was able to amble Grand Armee through the first 1,400 meters in a slow 1:29.15.
The winner logged :34.11 for his final 600 meters which meant millions were forever in the black holes of bookmakers bags and the tote well before the six reached the top of the stretch, two behind the favorite.
Beadman admitted in post-race interviews that he'd "stuffed-up" in not putting Lonhro into the race much earlier. Pilot error was certainly a factor but, in the aftermath, you felt the jock fell on his sword for a horse who has rewarded him greatly. Lonhro's trademark is his closing speed but, after getting to within three lengths, he wasn't at his best. Whatever the exit, he is a champion.
That said, Grand Armee is also a special commodity. The Hennessy-sired 5 year-old was in uncharted territory for the final 400 meters. Five days earlier he'd been caught in the last couple of bounds by Private Steer and deprived of back-to-back Doncaster Handicaps (Aust-I), Australia's leading mile. Before that he was second to Lonhro in the George Ryder (Aust-I) at 1,500 meters. The Newhaven Park Stud-bred gelding has won $3 million since owner Alan Bell acquired him as a yearling for $150,000.
Earlier, Dance Hero completed the Junior Triple Crown (all Aust-I) in adding the Champagne Stakes at 1,600 meters to his wins in the Golden Slipper (1,200 meters) and AJC Sires' Produce (1,400 meters) on the previous two Saturdays.
A race after the Queen Elizabeth, Makybe Diva became only the fourth to win the Melbourne and Sydney Cups (both Aust-I and 3,200 meters) in the same season. The previous was champion Galilee 38 years earlier. She is the first female to achieve it. Makybe Diva has returned almost $4 million for her breeder, Tony Santic.
Then there's the aforementioned Private Steer. She capped her grand last-to-first Doncaster win over Grand Armee by her final day performance. In the All Aged Stakes (Aust-I and 1,400 meters) the filly staged another thrilling late rush to grab the also brave Our Egyptian Reine almost at the wire. It gave her rider Glen Boss his fifth group I win in the four days. He also partnered Makybe Diva.
It wasn't the day of racing we had expected but, somehow, it ended up more than we'd hoped for.