Northerly has come an awfully long way since collecting his first group I in the Railway Handicap in his hometown of Perth last summer. He stunned the Eastern Seaboard fans with a three-length demolition in the Australian Cup (Aust-I) in the fall. His unbeaten spring haul of the Underwood, Caulfield Stakes, and W.S. Cox Plate to make it five-for-five at the group I level, plus a first Moonee Valley win over Sunline in the Feehan (Aust-II), was without precedent. Nine months out from polling day, the plain gelding was a clear front-runner for Australian Horse of the Year honors. Ethereal's historic Melbourne Cup (Aust-I) triumph made a two-horse race out of a walkover, and Northerly had the opportunity to respond with his defense of the Railway, brought forward by a month to Nov. 24. To win the $500,000 (Australian funds) Ascot feature at 1,600 meters, Northerly had to cope with 136 pounds, a feat managed just once, 100 years ago. Damien Oliver inherited the Northerly ride early in the spring when Greg Childs stayed with Sunline and returned to his hometown to partner the 5-year-old. The 5-4 favorite raced in second and was a joint leader into the stretch. But Northerly started to struggle soon after as Old Comrade rushed past on his outside. Northerly finished 11th of 16. There was irony in that Old Comrade had finished second to Northerly in the 2000 Railway, after collecting the Ascot Stakes (Aust-I) at weight-for-age. The 5-1 chance won decisively, by 1 3/4 lengths. The 1:37.61 was almost three seconds outside the course and stakes record due to a lack of early pace. Old Comrade advanced his earnings to more than $700,000 and provided a belated first win in their home state's premier handicap for former WATC chairman Bob Peters and his wife Sandra. The couple bred the 4-year-old and his parents, Old Spice and Belgravia.
The victory sets up an intriguing return bout in the Dec. 8 Ascot Stakes with Northerly, the race tagged as the final one in 2001 by the latter's part-owner and handler Fred Kersley.