Australian Race Report: Supreme Sunline

Published in the April 6 issue of The Blood-Horse
Sunline has manufactured many great victories in amassing more than $10 million (Australian funds), but to pass that mark in taking her second Doncaster Handicap (Aust-I) ranks as one of her finest. New Zealand's leading mare cut things extremely fine in leading wire-to-wire. Her official margin was a very short half head.

Sunline's earnings of $10,757,281, most of it when partnered with Greg Childs, is the best for a female outside Japan. The next best in these parts is the $6 million harvested by Tie the Knot.

It isn't just the money. She has tip-toed past the hallowed reputations of the very best to join Wakeful, whose standing, by wins and winning percentage, has reigned for 100 years. With 30 wins and eight seconds from 43 attempts, Sunline's score at the top level is 12 wins and four seconds from 20 starts. Wakeful won 25 and ran unplaced just three times in 44 times at bat.

As she has so often, Sunline grabbed the glory, but spare a thought for the runner-up, Shogun Lodge. He has finished first or second in 15 group I races and because just three have been as a winner, the son of Grand Lodge has been unfairly maligned by some, despite $4.5 million to show for his efforts. After Glen Boss skillfully weaved him through traffic, Shogun Lodge threw himself at the line and was magnificent in defeat. Defier rushed home to take third a half-length back. Sunline was able to treat herself to a few soft fractions--the first half of the 1,600 meters in just :46.76, as none of the other 19 runners were inclined to duel with her. The final time of the race was 1:35.22.

She collected Australia's leading mile handicap for the first time at three and was just run down by the lightly-weighted Over at four. The Trevor and Stephen McKee-prepared 6-year-old is the Doncaster's seventh two-time winner; the first since Super Impose 11 years earlier, the first distaffer to make the list. Sunline carried 128 pounds, and the faithful stuck by her as the 15-8 favorite.

At $2.5 million, the Doncaster is worth $500,000 more than the Australian Derby (Aust-I), but often plays the support role to the country's leading classic. That seemed possible, even likely, this year with Carnegie Express bidding to become just the fifth Triple Crown winner. Octagonal stands alone in the almost 30 years since the Randwick Derby was moved to the fall. Carnegie's absent son Amalfi won the Victoria Derby (Aust-I) last spring and a Triple Crown winner would have capped Carnegie's first southern generation superbly well. It would have also heralded his entry into Darley's new Australian base.

But it wasn't to be. Carnegie Express came almost as close as Real Quiet to achieving the pinnacle. But as Victory Gallop had thwarted Real Quiet, Don Eduardo collared Carnegie Express at the wire to win by a head. He became Zabeel's third Australian Derby winner in six years, the sequence begun by Octagonal in 1996.

In a way, Don Eduardo was defending the Triple Crown title of his close relative--the 141st Derby winner is from Octagonal's group-I winning half-sister Diamond Lover. Don Eduardo's pedigree was good enough for Eduardo Cojuangco to pay $3.6 million (New Zealand funds), the highest price for a Southern Hemisphere yearling, through Tik Tik Trinidad as his proxy. Trinidad's mobile phone connection to Cojuangco in the U.S. famously dropped out soon after Gai Waterhouse bid $3.5 million for Nassar Lootah. That offer was topped before the connection was restored. There is irony in that Waterhouse prepares Carnegie Express, winner of the first two Triple Crown races, the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas (both Aust-I). There is perhaps more in that the Cojuangco-headed San Miguel Brewing Company is the major sponsor of the day.

Don Eduardo roared home to run second at Rosehill and the Derby was considered a duel with him at 5-2 and Carnegie Express firming from even-money to 8-11. Pentastic was seen as the only other serious contender at 12-1 and he battled to finish third, another 1 1/4 lengths away.

Carnegie Express has greater acceleration, but jockey Jim Cassidy obviously feared the finishing speed of his hulking rival. After settling in third, he attempted to steal the race by sprinting his mount away before the final bend. The ploy looked flawless until the last few strides as Don Eduardo belatedly responded to the urgings of Damien Oliver and collared him near the line.

It was a great Derby finish, but they run it every year. There is only one Sunline.