Mr Celebrity Thrust Into Aussie Spotlight

Mr Celebrity thrust himself into the spring spotlight in winning the George Main Stakes (Aust-I) at Randwick Sept. 24.

A 5-year-old with a history of problems, Mr Celebrity collected his sixth and most important success in the $350,000 (Australian funds) mile from just eight starts. The narrow success rewarded the patience of his owners, Nick Vass and Tom Pongrass.

The Main win came on the first anniversary of his initial race start, which he won. Vass paid $280,000 for the son of Peintre Celebre as a yearling at the 2002 Australian Easter sale. Current score is $336,000 - less expenses.

Knee injuries kept him from racing until a spring 4-year-old, and he succeeded in his first four starts before failing at his graded debut in the fall. The suspense took a nasty turn as colic benched him again, threatening more dire consequences.

The gelding won again on resuming, then ran second in the Cameron Handicap (Aust-III) at Newcastle. Trainer Gai Waterhouse launched him into a group I debut in an attempt to force his way into the field for the $600,000 Epsom Handicap (Aust-I) Oct 1.

Mr Celebrity needed to defeat the field at weight-for-age to win an Epsom start. Now he heads betting on the big Randwick mile.

For much of the stretch drive the 5-1 shot appeared likely to fall short of the light. But just as the 5-2 favorite Shania Dane (by Danehill) grabbed Outback Prince (Desert Prince) close to the wire, Mr Celebrity collared that pair to win by a head. Only a short head separated the place-getters with another Danehill filly, Nevis, close up in fourth.

Mr Celebrity's weight will drop to 114 pounds for the Epsom. He will meet Shania Dane and Outback Prince on more favorable terms. Shania Dane was unlucky in the Main, pocketed behind pacemaker Dance Hero for much of the stretch.

"This horse could be anything," Waterhouse said of Mr Crelebrity. "I thought he was our Caulfield Cup horse because I wasn't sure if he would make it into the Epsom field. We're there now and he's the horse to beat."

Waterhouse has won 68 group I races, of which 42 have been on her home track at Randwick. The latter total includes previous George Main successes with Juggler and recently-retired Hennessey warrior Grand Armee.

Nick Vass - also part-owner - raced another of them in Electronic, a New Zealand-bred distaff winner of Randwick middle distance feature, The Metropolitan, plus another group I in the Rawson.

Jockey Len Beasley was impressed by Mr Celebrity's performance. He is committed to the also Waterhouse-trained Lotteria in the Epsom, the Celebrity mount to be taken by his brother, Dan.

Mr Celebrity was bred by Bob Emery and is the second foal from the well-bred but poorly-performed Lamora. Her group I winner was conceived at Coolmore's Australian branch but born in New Zealand, where she was mated with another Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner, Carnegie, at Trelawney Stud.

The 61st Main winner is from the first of five crops left by Peintre Celebre from Coolmore, New South Wales. He didn't return in 2004 after his previous year covers fell to 77. His other southern group I winner is Mr Sandgroper in last year's Western Australian Derby. With his fourth southern generation just reaching the track, Peintre Celebre has four graded winners. His U.S.-bred son, Fantastic Love, won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Aust-II) at Flemington for Godolphin last year.

Peintre Celebre has sired four group I winners; the others: Dai Jin in the 2003 German Derby and Vallee Enchantee in the Hong Kong International Vase later the same year.