For Australasian racing fans and, more recently, thoroughbred fans in the United Kingdom as well as North America, a colt with a winning heart has renewed excitement in the sport. But for those who knew him first, and despite the wonders of the great filly, Black Caviar, So You Think has earned the right to stand alongside other Southern Hemisphere champions like Sunline, Lonhro, Redoute’s Choice, Makybe Diva, Denman and More Than Ready.
THE VAULT is privileged to have the outstanding photography of Australasia’s most prestigious equine photographer, Bronwen Healy, to enrich our narrative. For readers who would like to see more of Ms. Healy’s work, we recommend EITHER her blog OR her website — OR BOTH!!!!!
It all began during High Chaparral’s summer visit to New Zealand’s Windsor Park Stud in 2005, where So You Think(2006) was bred and foaled. There, the beautiful son of Sadler’s Wells who had won both the Epsom and Irish Derbies, as well as the BC Turf Classic twice (the second win shared with Johar) met up with Triassac (1990), a Group 2 winning daughter of Tights (1981) and a granddaughter of the mighty Nijinsky (1967), England’s last Triple Crown winner. Southern Hemisphere breeders have long been dedicated to introducing the best genetic individuals into their existing bloodstock and the result of the High Chaparral-Triassac union, So You Think, has proved a resounding success in promoting this practice.
Purchased for a mere $110,000 AUD by legendary thoroughbred trainer and owner, Bart Cummings on behalf of the partnership of Malaysian billionaire Dato Tan Chin Nam and Tunku Ahmad Yahaya, the stage was set for the opening of a brand new racing narrative. For if anyone could take an arguably backward colt and groom him into a champion, it would be John Bartholomew (“Bart”) Cummings.
Cummings had trained the great Leilani (1970), who won half of her 28 starts and earned a record $270,870 AUD — more than any mare had ever won before her. The filly’s wins included the AJC Oaks, the Caulfield and Australian cups and she scored a valiant second place finish in the 1974 Melbourne Cup to stablemate, Think Big.
Saintly (1992) remains the stuff of racing legend in Australia, a beautiful chestnut gelding who was bred by Cummings and whose exploits on the track earned him the nickname of “The horse from heaven,” a play both on his name and the fact that his jockey, Darren Beadman, was a born-again Christian. Australia’s 1997 Horse of the Year, the four year-old Saintly first took the Cox Plate before showing up a mere 10 days later to score a resounding victory in the Melbourne Cup. At the time of his retirement, the well-loved champion had started 23 times, winning or placing in 21. Together with Secretariat’s champion son, Kingston Rule, Bart Cummings’ training feats have been so spectacular as to land him at the top of the heap in 2010, with a total of 264 Group 1 winners that year.
So You Think inherited his sire’s “no nonsense” approach to racing. Still, he was a bit of a “late bloomer” in an industry that favours horses who show early speed. In part, this was due to his size — So You Think needed time to “grow into himself” as many of the larger thoroughbreds do. To help him overcome a little of that early awkwardness and immaturity, Cummings outfitted him with blinkers which he sported for his single start as a 2 year-old and throughout his 3 year-old campaign. Another character trait — one that both Cummings and now, Aidan O’Brien, needed to take into serious account — is So You Think’s tremendous stamina, making it risky to let him cruise along to easy victories too often. In other words, this is a colt who needs a challenge and thrives when asked to step up to serious competition.
By the time he reached the 2009 Cox Plate as a 3 year-old, So You Think had won 2 of his 4 starts. True, he needed to be approved by the Moonee Valley Racing Club to even be entered, but the decision was taken not only on the basis of his rather meagre racing credentials, but also on the undisputed fact that there was something about the big, almost black colt that bespoke celebrity.
The W.S. Cox Plate is generally regarded as the truest “test of champions” in all of Australian and New Zealand racing. Run over a distance of 2,040 metres, or 2,231 yards on the turf, it is open to thoroughbreds of both sexes from 3 year-olds up. Since its debut in 1922, the Cox Plate has been won by the likes of Carbine, Ajax, Phar Lap, Tulloch, Kingston Town (who won it three times), Sunline, Saintly and the incomparable Makybe Diva. Given its sterling reputation, in 1999 the race was included in the Emirates World Series Racing Championship, a kind of “grand Prix” of horse racing, together with other championship races worldwide: the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (ENG), the Japan Cup, the Hong Kong Cup, the Dubai World World Cup, the Canadian International, the Arlington Millions, the BC Turf Classic and Classic, the Grosser Preis Von Baden (GERMANY) and the Irish Champion Stakes. Ask any serious Australasian racing fan about the Cox Plate and they will tell you, without hesitation, that it is a race where legends are made.
So You Think’s 2009 Cox Plate victory did not disappoint:
Even veteran photographers like Bronwen Healy were stunned when they saw So You Think parading in the paddock before his Cox Plate triumph. He was an exquisite-looking individual and a horse who seemed to speak of centuries of royal blood. He regarded onlookers and fellow equines from a kind of lofty distance, as though prescient of what was to come.
Even though he had fans before the 2009 Cox Plate victory, So You Think amassed the hearts and minds of two continents after it. He is a thoroughbred who doesn’t need to win every race he runs to garner the affection and respect of his racing public. So You Think just “has it,” has the quality of a star, of a horse as unforgettable as Secretariat or Man O’ War or Seabiscuit or Nijinsky, or of great racing mares like Sunline or Genuine Risk or Personal Ensign or Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta or Rags To Riches or Makybe Diva. And, hard as it is to describe, all the “great ones” seem to show it. It’s in their eyes that seem to flicker over us and then fly beyond, it’s in their attentiveness to the world around them, it’s in their blood — a blood so close to myth and legend that it does, indeed, seem to transmute into gold.
In his 4 year-old season, the champion returned in what appeared to be even finer form than that of the preceding year. Early on, So You Think took the Memsie, Underwood and Yalumba Stakes, making him the odds-on favourite for the 2010 Cox Plate. At this point, punters were already declaring him to be one of the greatest thoroughbreds ever to race in Australia which, considering the context and the pantheon of champion Australian thoroughbreds, was an absolutely huge endorsement. Once again, but this time without blinkers, So You Think ran his heart out, much to the delight of the crowd and his connections. In the footage below, we hear from Bart Cummings and jockey, Steve Arnold, before switching to footage of the great Black Caviar chalking up still another impressive win. (Black Caviar will be featured in our next article here on THE VAULT!!!!)
A mere 7 days later, So You Think scored another victory, this time in the MacKinnon Stakes, before going on to a 2nd place finish in the prestigious Melbourne Cup. The first victory of his four year-old campaign, the Memsie Stakes, came on August 28, 2010; the Melbourne Cup was run on November 2. So You Think had raced 6 times in 65 days, all in Group 1 company except for the Memsie and had won 5 times.
This underscores Bart Cummings’ comment after the colt’s loss to the wonderful Rewilding at Ascot. “They’re just not pushing him hard enough,” Cummings observed and the sense of that was reflected in the colt’s new trainer, Aidan O’ Brien, who blamed himself for the loss. After which, there has been much debate among the punters in Great Britain and North America about the champion’s “real” ability. But it is our view, here at THE VAULT, that those who question his greatness will need to account for So You Think’s record in 2010-2011. Since his transfer to Coolmore Ireland, the son of High Chaparral has won 3 more races, 2 of which were Group 1’s, sustaining only the one loss to Rewilding before the end of his 4 year-old campaign. Now competing as a 5 year-old, and still waiting for Aidan O’Brien to “get him right,” So You Think has won 1 of 2 starts and the win, in the Irish Champion Stakes, means that he’s annexed 2 races in the Emirates World Series Racing Championship in slightly less than 12 months.
What kind of a thoroughbred is he, this big muscular colt with the wise, glowing eyes?
In the world of horse racing, a place where skillful trainers and wise owners take the time to raise, train, nurture and support a horse with this kind of potential, So You Think is that intangible essence of courage and heart that we call thoroughbred.