The much anticipated $1 million Stradbroke Handicap, one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious group I races, was won by a 33-1 chance June 7 at Eagle Farm.
The seven-furlong dash, always a major hit on the Australian racing calendar, was a complete anti-climax this year despite a big field of 20 sprinters. The favorites finished right back while the top four placings went to rank outsiders.
Mr Baritone (Stravinsky--Tunisia) just grabbed the chocolates from the 100-1 chance Hard To Catch while 11-1 shot Double Dare rattled home for third. The race unfolded over the final furlong for all three of them to finish within a long neck of each other.
But while punters hated the result, as always, every race has a wonderful story and in this instance it centered around the winner’s apprentice jockey, Sebastian Murphy.
He comes from a family of riders and his father, Gary, won the Stradbroke back in 1990 on Plush Embassy. This was young Sebastian’s first ever group I winner and the result was stunningly sentimental.
"My Dad won his first group I race as a rider when he rode Plush Embassy to win in 1990," began Sebastian. "So this win is an emotional time and I couldn't be happier. But, they were coming hard and I was very pleased to see the finish line," Murphy said.
Michael Moroney trains Mr Baritone and although he had a year where he once trained a Melbourne Cup winner, he hasn’t had a year where he consistently outshone everyone else like this year.
But booking young Murphy for Mr Baritone only came about for Moroney because the horse’s regular rider Stephen Arnold couldn’t make the weight. Mr Baritone carried 53.5kg (118 pounds).
Winning trainer Moroney has been a big supporter of Murphy and had no hesitation calling on the inexperienced rider for the high-pressure sprint. Murphy had won twice previously on Mr Baritone who has now recorded eight wins from 32 starts. The 6 year-old did not start racing until he was a 4 year-old.
"Sebastian's only young but he's a very, very good rider and he's one of the best young riders in Australia," said Moroney, who continued his great recent run in majors this season.
Mr Baritone's victory was the 42nd group I triumph for the Kiwi born trainer, who is nowadays based in Melbourne, and his fifth group I this season.
Hard To Catch (Dodge--Mrs Bligh) was competing in his third Stradbroke and after two unplaced runs over the past two years he wasn’t considered a chance here. But he rattled home out in the middle of the track to grab second spot, beaten a head by the winner.
Double Dare (O’Reilly--Dare) from Sydney had been knocking on the door of late in group I races finishing just behind the place-getters. He, too, came from well back.
The favorite Casino Prince ran 8th of 20 beaten less than three lengths. He will be retired now and will spearhead Patinack Farm’s move into breeding.
Mr Baritone took his purse winnings just past the $1 million mark by claiming the $660,000 first prize.