The Quarterback’s forever home
In 2016 The Quarterback made dreams come true for connections when he won the Lexus Newmarket Handicap, especially his trainer Robbie Griffiths, for whom it provided his first Group 1 win. These days the champion is enjoying retirement in the care of his ex-jockey, Matthew ‘Max’ Allen.
The 2016 Newmarket feels like yesterday for Robbie Griffiths. “To win any Group 1 was remarkable, but to win your first Group 1 at Flemington in the best sprint race in Australia, the Newmarket Handicap, that's just a dream,” Griffiths says.
A horse with a great affiliation with the Flemington straight, having had three wins there already including the Listed Kensington Stakes, connections were confident in The Quarterback’s ability. Vital to the result was input from part owner and Griffiths’ close friend, the late Deane Lester. Lester’s pre-race analysis and speed map helped form a plan for The Quarterback to follow Chautauqua, a known backmarker. “It was a pretty brave plan to try and come off the back of a champion, but that was our strategy, and with the light weight we thought we would stalk him, and it all came to fruition.”
Piloting the horse to victory that day was Craig Newitt, his third Newmarket win after victories on Miss Andretti and Shamexpress. The Quarterback’s more regular rider at the time, Max Allen, couldn’t ride at the 52kg allocated to the horse but was “there in spirit” according to Griffiths.
“Max was a big part of his story. He rode him in a lot of his wins, from his maiden victory right through a lot of his victories throughout his career.”
Allen has become an even more integral part of The Quarterback’s life, and took him into his care once the horse retired. Happily living at Allen’s home, The Quarterback is “spoilt rotten” by Allen, his partner Rachel and son Max Jr, with visits to the beach and freedom to run around the paddock in the company of his paddock mate.
“I don’t think people outside of racing understand the bond that everyone has with racehorses in general, because we all started ungodly hours of the morning and you don’t do it for the money, you do it for the passion, and it’s the passion and the love you have with the horses that you work with”, Griffiths said.
Horses that retire from racing but go on to have successful careers in other areas is always thrilling for Griffiths, his team and the owners. “We have a lot of our horses that compete well in Garryowens and Barastoc newcomers and show jumping and so on, or are just happy in retirement like The Quarterback.”
While the Newmarket brings back special memories each year for Griffiths and connections, it will be especially emotional in 2023 as the first one without Deane Lester, who was such an essential part of The Quarterback’s success.