From Group 1 glory to paddock pals
There are many careers a racehorse can embark on post-racing. Some involve re-education into equestrian pursuits, some become much-loved family pets and some take on the very special role of a loyal friend.
The Lindsay Park Racing stable in Euroa is heaven for a racehorse, and the results are showing on the track for co-trainers Ben, Will and JD Hayes. But off the track their retired horses sometimes return to the fold to play a pivotal role, providing companionship and guidance for their equine successors.
Lindsay Park Racing is committed to the welfare of all the horses that pass through their gates and have a robust retirement and rehoming program for their retirees.
They use Racing Victoria Acknowledged Retrainers when a horse leaves the stable for a life after racing. It began with Lisa McMaster and her family on their property in Locksley and continues with Jade Willis at JW Equestrian in Barnawartha. Jade was named 2022 RV Acknowledged Retrainer of the Year Award.
Eventing, show-jumping and dressage are common careers that thoroughbreds embark on, post their racing lives. Their athleticism, intelligence, temperament, and versatility are great assets for those disciplines, and have contributed to their enduring popularity in the equestrian world.
But sometimes retired racehorses can be selected for a career as a professional friend. That’s where the “nannies” come in. At Lindsay Park Racing Euroa, two hours north of Melbourne, horses routinely return to the farm after their racing preparation to have a holiday and a chance to head out to a grass paddock to recharge the batteries and get their head down, pick some grass and just be a horse.
Instead of teaming the horse up with another racehorse, a nanny is often assigned to that racehorse to provide some VIP company and comfort while they rest and recharge in the paddock.
With a companion present, the horse is not alone, will relax more and is more likely to do well.
This a term used to refer to the horse’s eating habits. Ultimately, this ensures they get the best out of their time on the sidelines.
On race day, there may be only one horse heading to a particular race meeting, so one of the gelding nannies would get a day trip back to the races in the horse float as a travelling companion.
The retired geldings are afforded the same treatment, care and love as the budding young racehorses.
Farrier Julian Mahon is able to use the old geldings to teach the next batch of young farriers, while also providing the crucial hoof maintenance that thoroughbreds need to stay sound, happy and healthy.
The retirees come in all different shapes and sizes, with varying levels of success on the track.
A great example is 2009 Australian Cup winner, Niconero, who has adapted to his sedate role fantastically well, which was not always his usual temperament.
The now 22-year-old was somewhat hard to handle as a young colt, a challenging proposition for his multitude of trackwork riders, and sometimes even difficult to figure out for his trainer.
In the years since his retirement, he was tried as a lead pony but that competitive spirit would often pop up, which is not an ideal trait for the job.
He switched to providing mentorship for young, up-and-coming yearling colts, leading a herd of four or five at a time, showing them the path and keeping them in line when playtime got a bit rough.
He travelled extensively as a racehorse, venturing to Dubai and Hong Kong twice each, tackling Group 1s in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, and being successful on five occasions at Group 1 level.
The son of Danzero won 13 of his 55 career starts across four states in Australia, amassing $3.4 million in prizemoney. Forty-nine of those starts were at Group or Listed level, winning nine Stakes races and placing a further ten times at Stakes level.
‘Nico’, as he is affectionately known, has a distinguishable head and rounded nose that “only a mother could love”. His dam Nicola Lass has also produced two other Flemington winners.
Nicconi (by Bianconi) won the 2010 Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m) and is the sire of 9-time Group 1 winner, Nature Strip, and Niconoise (by Redoute’s Choice), who holds the 1700m track record at Flemington, which he set in 2013.
Nico has definitely mellowed with age and has really settled into being an ‘old man’, now that he has been retired from babysitting duties.
Niconero’s paddock buddy was a star in his own right and the two are best of friends. All Thrills Too won the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin for trainer David Hayes and 2010 Melbourne Cup-winning French jockey, Gérald Mossé.
The 26-year-old is the oldest of the Lindsay Park Racing retirees, winning eight of his 32 starts and towards the end of his career chased home Living Legend resident, Silent Witness, whilst he was in the midst of a 17-start unbeaten run in Hong Kong.
Another paddock pal is the gentle giant, Largo Lad, who was a force on the track. Standing seventeen hands high, his enormous hooves still require enormous shoes.
The versatile gelding won six races between 1200 and 1600 metres, and while he never tasted Group 1 success, he acquitted himself well at that level.
He finished a close fifth in the 2008 Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m), behind the thenunbeaten Light Fantastic. Largo Lad was fourth in the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m), won a race up the famous straight six at Flemington before winning the Group 2 Blamey Stakes (1600m) in 2009.
He was again placed fourth in the Group 1 Doncaster Handicap (1600m) at Randwick, enduring an interrupted run to be beaten only a length.
He even stretched his range out to the 2400 metres of the Group 2 Perth Cup in 2010, surging from the back of the field to finish third.
‘Largo’ had stints as a lead pony at the Flemington stable and now spends his days buddying up with current Lindsay Park Racing stars who are taking a break in the paddock. He has taken to the big brother role seamlessly.
The centurion Extra Zero looks a picture of health, galloping around the green paddocks of Lindsay Park Racing Euroa with ex-stablemates and fellow retirees.
He was the dictionary definition of a perennial placegetter, finishing second more than twice as often as he won, but a keen temperament and strong constitution saw him get the absolute most out of his racing career.
He performed in every year of his racing life winning the Listed ANZAC Day Stakes as a two-year-old, and continuing to race all the way until he was an eleven-year-old, when he was beaten under a length in the 2017 Kyneton Cup (2000m).
Extra Zero had a truly remarkable career spanning an incredible 109 career starts. As a three-year-old, he finished fourth behind Starspangledbanner in the 2009 Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) before stepping up to the classic trip of the Group 1 Victoria Derby finishing second to Monaco Consul.
He won the 2012 Listed Albury Gold Cup (2000m), and even led all the way in a 3200m Ballarat hurdle before a fairytale win at start 100 at Flemington, in what was an unimaginable joy for connections and racing fans alike.
Among his placings was a barest of margins second to stablemate Spillway in the 2015 Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m), the photo finish camera having to separate the two.
So while their racing days may be behind them, these remarkable thoroughbreds continue to make a lasting impact as steadfast companions and mentors.