Monday, January 23, 2012

Grand Finale Down Under

--Christina Bossinakis

   Last Monday morning, not-so-bright but certainly early, I departed the Gold Coast and arrived at the Brisbane airport. Lacking any pep in my step because of my ongoing battle with fatigue (the Broadbeach hot spot Moo Moos every night could do that to you) and a developing cold, I lumbered onto a flight headed for Sydney, and ‘lo and behold, who should I cross paths with once again, but John and Kris Messara. Shortly after arriving in Sydney and while waiting for our baggage, my cousins (it seems to have stuck) kindly invited me to their Sydney home for dinner Thursday evening. Following a week of great experiences and even better coincidences, this would certainly be a treat.

   Before I would be spending any time in the city, however, plans called for a midweek field trip to Coolmore in Jerry’s Plains with some of my nearest and dearest friends. Embarking on the journey were Asiyah (who could certainly tell you a story or two about my university days in Montreal), her Aussie husband Shane, her mom Annila and baby Gabby. We were greeted by a lovely day and an equally warm welcome by Australia’s Coolmore team.

Coolmore Australia
   Our visit kicked off with a stop at the stallion barn, where we saw residents Royal Academy and Encosta de Lago, Haradasun, Oratorio and Choisir (now those are hindquarters!), all of whom looked magnificent. We later headed off to see some of the broodmares, including G1 Australian Oaks winner Circles of Gold, dam of champions Elvstroem and Haradasun; Samantha’s Choice, dam of champion 3YO and leading sire Redoute’s Choice; and the Group 1-winning daugher of Serena’s Song, Sophisticat (a $3.4-million yearling purchase). We also paid a visit to the Fastnet Rock--Rose of Cimmaron colt that brought the sales’ topping A$960,000 at last week’s Magic Millions sale on the Gold Coast. Hanging out in a very large paddock with a young buddy, the super-refined yearling gave me a knowing glance as I approached, as if there was a sense of recognition from the week before. Or maybe it was just a look of annoyance given I was interrupting snacktime? Truth of it was, the handsome bay is a seriously laid back colt, who couldn’t have cared less if we had brought along a troupe of dancing monkeys with us. Good thing we left those at home.

   Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was a visit with arguably (not by me) Australia’s greatest route mare, Makybe Diva. The fairest comparison by North American standards, and the only other mare from this era I might dare compare her, would be Zenyatta. When you take a moment to look at the 13-year-old’s list of accomplishments on the racetrack, it is really quite extraordinary. A two-time Australian Horse of the Year; multiple divisional champion; seven-time Group 1 winner, including three wins in the G1 Melbourne Cup; and earner of over A$14.5 million. That is some of the most serious street cred most of us will ever have a chance to gaze upon. With a Lonhro colt at her side, ‘the Diva’ certainly lived up to her name on the track and, quite deservedly, is relishing the royal treatment she is now enjoying as a broodmare.

Makybe Diva & CBoss

   To cap off an already spectacular day, Peter O’Brien invited us back to his house for some beer (the boys were certainly ready), lovely wine (we are in the Hunter Valley, after all) and a great barbeque, commandeered by grill master Shane McGrath. Also in attendance was GM Michael Kirwan and his children, who are quite honestly the most polite and respectful youngsters I have encountered in quite some time. A quick sidenote, if you ever encounter Coolmore’s stud manager and he tries to feign ignorance in the kitchen, don’t believe him. He has a set of knife skills that would have even Bobby Flay reaching for the blade sharpener. Great horses, great food and even better company; our trip to Coolmore certainly ticked all the boxes.

The great Danehill

   The week, and my trip, concluded with a small dinner party at Casa Messara in Sydney. The soiree--hosted by the remarkable Kris Messara--kicked off with a small group of ladies, including Sky (tv) presenter and personal friend Jo McKinnon, TVN presenter Caroline Searcy (these ladies are as good as it gets) and Arrowfield’s Megan Kelso. The gathering of ladies enjoyed spectacular views and lovely appetizers ahead of a wonderful meal. Half way through dinner, Arrowfield master John Messara arrived--accompanied by Racing NSW’s board member Tony Hodgson--after having attended the Sydney launch of the movie Buck. What ensued was plenty of thought provoking and interesting conversation that really made the occasion one I will remember for a very long time. Very early on, it was clear that I was in the presence of industry leaders and their knowledge and insight into Australian racing was really refreshing for someone with a decidedly North American perspective.

   During the course of my three-week visit in Oz, I encountered innumerable experiences that made my trip so enjoyable, but it will be the people I encountered along the way that will make my trip to Australia rank as one of the best ever. It never ceased to amaze me just how generous, genuinely warm and welcoming the locals are, and not because they have to be, but simply because it is their way. I loved every moment of it and met many people who, I am confident, will remain friends well beyond my return. The visit also underlined one of the best things about our industry, which is no matter which racing venue you might venture to on the international stage, you will always find and enjoy a sense of comradery with the locals simply by extension of our sheer love of the game. For those who have yet to make the trip down under, you should definitely work it out for this next year, because it is really something to experience.

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