Australians Welcome a New Racing Hero

By Rick Albright
To the roar of the crowd, the grand mare Sunline stepped onto the track for her farewell event. She tossed her head about to acknowledge one of the largest crowds ever assembled at historic Moonee Valley Racecourse. At the starting gates a stellar field of runners were waiting for her to contest the $3 million Cox Plate, a Group I event run at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles.

2001 Cox Plate winner Northerly along with favored Lohnro, Defier, and international star Grandera, ridden by flamboyant Frankie Dettori for Godolphin Racing, stood in the way of a winning swansong for Sunline.

As the gates flew open Sunline bounded clear and in her usual style began to string out the sensational field of runners. With head held high, she and regular rider Greg Childs set the pace. As they neared the bend for home she was still three lengths clear and being willed home to a fairytale ending by a crowd of 38,325 well- wishers. For the forty eighth time into the stretch she gave her all to the Moonee Valley faithful.

Unfortunately for those who came to witness a storybook ending it was not to be. Approaching the three hundred meters mark the baton was passed as 2001 Cox Plate winner Northerly swept passed her to win consecutive runnings of the weight-for-age classic.

A new hero of the Australian Turf stepped into the limelight as the champion mare ran on to hold fourth place as a hard charging Defier edged out European invader Grandera, who took third placing in a less than spectacular run to the line.

Northerly took the winners share for a second consecutive year from a field that collectively has won more than $30 million in purse money and has a combined thirty-one Group I victories.

Winning jockey Patrick Payne was the beneficiary of Childs' allegiance to Sunline as he is also the regular rider of the winner, a 6-year- old bay gelding by Serheed.

"The plan was to stalk her (Sunline) and it worked to perfection," said trainer Fred Kersley

"I'm so grateful to train a horse like this. It's taken me a long, long time to get a horse like Northerly."

Asked whether Northerly was now pointed towards the Melbourne Cup Kersley added, "I haven't thought past today. This was the one we aimed at. I'll give it a couple sleeps and then decide on the Melbourne Cup."

Were Northerly to win the Melbourne Cup he would be only the second horse in Australian racing history to successfully win the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in the same year. That racing triple was achieved by the great Rising Fast who took all three races in 1954.

Within minutes of the result Northerly was invited to compete in next year's $10 million Dubai World Cup, a race Kersley passed earlier this year in order to concentrate on targets at home.

As for Sunline, she exits as one of the most distinguished and beloved horses to grace the Australian Turf. She was the winner of thirteen Group I races and brought home more than $11 million in purses in a career that will stay fresh in the minds of all Australian racing fans.