What decade, since the 1930s has had the best five horses? For the purpose of this exercise the best five horses equals the best decade of racing. This is a bit of a hard task, but by doing all the research, we can find out what decade had the best quality of racing. Sure, it is a bit of a stretch to judge the entire decade on just the 5 best horses of that decade, but champions provide the best and most interesting racing. The five choices for each decade were not easy to come up with. There could have been ten horses chosen for any decade. So the choices are open for debate. Here we go with the five chosen for each decade… One little pointer. In the past there were no Group One or Group Two races, so in the countdown, when a horse is listed as having won a certain amount of Group Ones, that stat is based on what is a Group One now.
Phar Lap, Peter Pan, Ajax, Hall Mark and Chatham
High Caste, Tranquil Star, Shannon, Flight and Bernborough
Hydrogen, Rising Fast, Redcraze, Tulloch and Todman
Sky High, Wenona Girl, Tobin Bronze, Galilee and Vain
Taj Rossi, Dulcify, Surround, Gunsynd and Luskin Star (huge apology to Leilani but we can’t fit them all in)
Emancipation, Strawberry Road, Kingston Town, Manikato and Vo Rouge
Might And Power, Octagonal, Super Impose, Better Loosen Up and Lets Elope
Lonhro, Northerly, Sunline, Takeover Target and Makybe Diva
Each horse will get a mark out of ten based on their career. The original Hall Of Fame inductees will all get 10 out of 10. The others will get a mark based on their champion victories. Whatever group of five horses has the highest accumulated total (out of a maximum of 50) will be the winner and therefore be granted the best decade status. Here we go…
In 8th place comes the 1970s. All the best hoses from this decade seem to have only performed in their juvenile years.
Surround. This champion is still the only filly to ever win the Cox Plate. Her three-year-old season is still unmatched by a filly. Surround Won Classics the Caulfield Guineas, Cox Plate, VRC Oaks, AJC Oaks and Brisbane Oaks. 12 of Surrounds 17 wins were at Group One or Group Two level. 8 out of 10.
Luskin Star. Luskin Star is one of the best two-year-olds to ever run in Australia. He was also pretty impressive as a three-year-old winning the Caulfield Guineas and 5 from 8 overall. But it was as a two-year-old that Luskin Star gained the most fame. He won his first start by 12 lengths and later won the Golden Slipper by 7 lengths. He won classics the Golden Slipper, Sydney and Brisbane Sires’, Champagne Stakes and Caulfield Guineas. 11 of Luskin Stars 13 wins were at the elite level. 7 out of 10.
Gunsynd. As well as being one of the best all-round horses to ever run in Australia, Gunsynd rivals Black Caviar and Bernborough as the most popular. He raced year in and year out and had 54 starts for 29 wins. He is well known for winning the first Cox Plate that had huge prize money and for winning all the four best mile handicaps in Australia, the Toorak, the Doncaster, the Emirate and the Epsom. Of his 29 wins, 17 were at Group One or Group Two level. 8.5 out of 10.
Taj Rossi. Here is a horse that impressed in restricted company but was struck down before dominating open class. There is no doubt of his talent, and an eleven week period in the spring of 1973 was simply unbelievable. During this 11 weeks, Taj Rossi ran 9 times for 8 wins and only was narrowly defeated in the Caulfield Guineas after a horrid run. In the Emirates that year, Taj Rossi unleashed the fastest last 200m since Bernborough. As a three-year-old, in a row, Taj Rossi won the VRC Derby, Cox Plate and Emirates Stakes. Then he got sick and never won again. 6 of Taj Rossi’s 9 wins were at Group One level. 7 out of 10.
Dulcify. Dulcify died on the track after breaking down shortly after starting a run in the 1979 Melbourne Cup. It is known as one of the saddest days ever on an Australian racetrack. Dulcify won his first start at 300/1. Fancy that! Dulcify won classics the VRC Derby, Australian Cup, Rosehill Guineas, and AJC Derby. He also won the Cox Plate by 7 lengths then the next week won the Mackinnon pretty easily as well. Then he was gone. Of his 10 wins, 8 were at Group One level. 8 out of 10.
1970s get 38.5 out of 50.
In 7th place come the 1940s. Bernborough’s decade. World War II cost Australia a great deal of racing and some potential champions so it is understandable that they finished so low.
Bernborough. 10 out of 10. Original inductee into the Hall of Fame.
High Caste. A very durable horse that was originally from New Zealand. High Caste went onto become a very successful sire after he retired from racing. He also ran a dead heat for first on three separate occasions! The kiwi bred versatile horse won classics the Sires’, the Champagne, Rosehill Guineas, Caulfield Guineas and Epsom Handicap. 15 of his 35 wins were in Group One or Group Two races. 6.5 out of 10.
Flight. This champion mare can probably make a case for being the horse who competed regularly against some of the best horses Australia has ever seen. On 5 occasions Flight ran a placing behind either Bernborough or Shannon and in another 6 races she ran in the top 6 when the winner was Bernborough or Shannon. She won four classics, the Champagne as a two-year-old, a Mackinnon Stakes and two Cox Plates’. 16 of her 24 wins were at today’s Group One or Group Two level. 7.5 out of 10.
Tranquil Star. Along with Wakeful and Makybe Diva, the most durable mare to ever run in Australia. However, her career record of 111 starts probably makes her the toughest. Imagine if More Joyous had had 111 starts! Perhaps Tranquil Star’s most famous feat was being beaten into a place 32 times, and 21 times as favourite. She did win 23 times as well, so on 55 times she ran a place or won. In 1942 Tranquil Star in a row won the Yalumba at Caulfield, the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate and the Mackinnon. She ran terribly in the Cup that year as favourite. Of her 23 wins she had 7 wins in classics including the Mackinnon three times and two Cox Plates. 14 of her 23 wins were in Group One or Group Two races. 7.5 out of 10.
Shannon. Shannon is most famous for missing the start of the 1946 Epsom Handicap and almost coming from a 100m or so last to go down by a nose. Apart from this freaky run, Shannon was an out and out superstar. He won 14 from 25 including the 1945 Epsom and the Sires’ as a two-year-old. Nine of his 14 wins were at today’s Group One or Two level. 8 out of 10.
The 1940s end up with 39.5 out of 50.
In 6th place comes the 1980s
Kingston Town. 10 out of 10. Original inductee into the Racing Hall of Fame.
Manikato. The man as he was known was one of the greatest sprinters we have ever seen. He was a gelding and ran for 6 seasons winning group ones in all 6 seasons. He won classics the Golden Slipper, the Blue Diamond, Caulfield Guineas and Doomben 10,000. 22 of Manikato’s 29 victories are now Group Ones. That is close to a record. He was an out and out superstar and the second horse after Kingston Town to ever win one million dollars in Stakes money. 9 out of 10.
Emancipation. This super grey sprinter only raced as three and four year old. She won the Doncaster as well as five other races that were Group Ones. She beat Manikato a couple of times in Group Ones and ran second to Strawberry Road twice, including once in a Cox Plate. 6.5 out of 10.
Strawberry Road. It is important to note that Strawberry Road, after winning multiple Group Ones in Australia, went on to win major races in German, the USA and France. Strawberry Road won classics the Rosehill Guineas, the AJC Derby, the Queensland Derby and the Cox Plate. 7 of Strawberry Road’s wins were in Group One or Group Two races. There was a brief period when it looked like this horse was going to be a superstar, and he probably was but he was sent overseas to race where he went pretty well. 7 out of 10.
Vo Rouge. The horse from the bush with the battling trainer that got out in front and was very hard to get past. He was a cult figure and one of everyone’s all-time favourites. Vo Rouge had 86 starts for 26 wins. He won at multiple distances, in multiple states, often after backing up week in and week out. Of his 26 wins 11 were at Group One level. 8 out of 10.
The 1980s end up with 40.5 out of 50.
Coming in fifth place is the 2000s.
Makybe Diva. The mare was elevated to legend status shortly after she was retired so that counts as being an original inductee to the hall of fame. 10 out of 10.
Lonhro. The son of Octagonal is often bagged out because he never won a major race. Instead he won lots of weight for age races in grand style. He did win classics the Caulfield Guineas, Australian Cup, and a Mackinnon. Altogether Lonhro won 25 races at group or listed level including 11 at Group One level. His best win was at Caulfield in the Yalumba where he ran down Sunline. 7 out of 10.
Takeover Target. Despite the romance associated with the connections, Takeover Target was a great sprinter. He won classics the Goodwood, the TJ Smith, the Krisflyer in Singapore, Doomben 10,000, a Group One in Japan, Kings Stand in England and the Newmarket. He won a total of 21 races and 16 of these were in group races. He was a marvel and at least as good as Lonhro 7 out of 10.
Sunline. The kiwi mare that just refuse to give up. She won so many races by just grinding the opposition into the ground. Her classic wins include two Cox Plates, two Doncasters, and a Hong Kong mile. She won 28 races that were at group level including 14 Group Ones. Ummm, this is a hard one. She is going to get a slightly better mark than Northerly so it has to be 9 out of 10.
Northerly. The fighting Tiger from the west was tough and hard and usually won. He won classics including two Cox Plates, two Australian Cups, a Caulfield Cup and a Railway Stakes. He beat Sunline twice in his two Cox Plates, but she was not at her best. His total of 19 wins included 18 at group level. He was a superstar but he gets 0.5 less than Sunline because of the variety of victories he has compared to her. Sunline for instance won the best mile race in the world in Hong Kong as well as Group One sprints and Cox Plates. 8.5 out of 10.
The 2000s get 41.5 out of 50.
Tune in tomorrow for the top 4.
By Zeb Armstrong