AN AUSTRALIAN VENTURE
When Harry gave his speech to the Carbine Club in 2003, it set the wheels in motion for a new venture. “I came back home and I had a horse that could potentially be directed the following year into the Melbourne Cup,” explains Harry.
That horse was Distinction, and despite a very credible sixth place, things didn’t quite go to plan. “Three races before the Cup, Distinction’s jockey Darren Beadman, whacked his head in the starting stalls quite badly. He sat out the remaining rides until the Cup. To be fair to Darren, I think there was a touch of concussion lurking, and it looked like he wasn’t having the easiest of times aboard Distinction. He finished sixth, and we were thrilled he ran so well, but I think if you ran the race again in different circumstances, he could have finished closer.” However, Harry is quick to point out that it’s unlikely they ever would have won — after all, 2004 was in the midst of the Makybe Diva era!
The whole Melbourne Cup experience was enamouring for Harry and Distinction’s shareholders alike. “It was fantastically exciting and it really began this love affair with Australian racing,” says Harry, who explains that the prizemoney on offer here is also a big drawcard. Shortly after, Highclere Australia was born with Godolphin Flying Start Program graduate Dan Robertson at the helm.
So far, their biggest success in Australia has been with Libran, who took out the New South Wales Champion Stayer title for the 2015/16 season after a hat trick of wins at the Sydney Autumn Carnival, followed by a second placing in the Group 1 Sydney Cup.
At present, Highclere Racing has nearly a dozen horses in training in Australia, including potential Melbourne Cup runner Lord Belvedere. “He is our star of the moment, as he has won his last three races at Flemington, and heads to The Bart Cummings over 2500m on 3 October, which is a ‘win and you’re in’ for the Melbourne Cup!”
Harry explains that when choosing horses for Australian racing, Highclere looks for horses that show speed. “We really want horses that have shown enough speed. Just to have a plodder that has won over two miles in the UK, and to say ‘now we’re going to win the Melbourne Cup because that’s also a two-mile race’… those horses tend to be too slow.
“We need to find really decent, progressive young staying horses and middle distance horses in the UK that we feel would suit Australian racing and hopefully update down there into prospective Melbourne Cup candidates. It’s a different style of training in Australia. Sometimes I think horses can have the speed trained out of them here in the UK, while the Australian system can train that speed back into them. They start running over shorter distances and it can really suit them.
“I love the fact that a horse is going to be trained differently. And that will bring out something different in the horse and improve the natural pace and rhythm of that animal.” Harry explains that it took some getting used to early on, when he’d see their stayers starting in 1200m and 1400m races at the beginning of a campaign — however, he believes it works.
While Lord Belvedere is their Aussie star for 2020, Harry says they have a few other horses worth keeping an eye on for 2021 — including Bartholomeu Dias, Global Gift and Dursten. Another talented horse now on his way to Australia is Great House. Born on December 28, he was a “disaster” for Coolmore with 1 January being the official birthday for northern hemisphere racehorses. The timing meant that Great House would always be a year behind physically in terms of age-based races and therefore wasn’t going to be winning any lucrative Group 1 races early on.