Journey of a lifetime

25 October 2021 Written by Michael Sharkie

Mystic Journey has had consistent success over the past few years, and as her connections look towards Cup Week at Flemington, we take a look back at where it all began.

The 2017 Magic Millions Tasmanian Yearling Sale had meandered along without much fanfare by the time lot 43 was led into the auction ring – and nothing much changed when she arrived.

A black filly by Needs Further, a son of Encosta De Lago once trained by the great Gai Waterhouse, from the Colombia mare White Gold – the winner of two lowly races at Sale; the filly was far from a drawcard on the 133-lot catalogue presented on that Thursday afternoon in late February.

There certainly was no indication that the filly would become anything remotely special, let alone the 2019 Group 1 Australian Guineas and inaugural $5 million 2019 All-Star Mile winner, Mystic Journey, now an earner of over $4 million.

“My notes from the sale read ‘attractive athletic filly, correct, well conformed’ ... but there was nothing that stood out about her; in fact, I don’t even remember selling her on my run but Armidale Stud yearlings are always well presented making the auctioneer’s job much easier,” says Magic Millions Sales Director and senior auctioneer David Chester.

“When I knocked her down at $11,000 I thought that was about her money. It’s sales like this that bring buyers back to yearling sales. Snippets put the Gold Coast sale on the map, Mystic Journey will do the same for Tassie.”

Chester has been selling horses for fifty years and has been a part of the Magic Millions team since the company was founded in 1980. He says it is the responsibility of auctioneers to see every horse in a sale, to make notes and look for angles to help each horse achieve a positive sale result.

“Sometimes a horse will come through and sell for much less than you expect, other times one might really overachieve. There are always surprises and it can be nerve-wracking for the vendors,” he says.

For vendor David Wishaw, preparation for the sale begins even earlier.

“Well, it starts from birth really, but in the context of preparing for a yearling sale, we begin when the foal is weaned from its mother, around five months of age,” he says.

Wishaw and his family have run Tasmania’s Armidale Stud for more than 50 years.

In the paddock-to-track life cycle of a thoroughbred, farms like Armidale are the primary producers charged with caring for and preparing young horses in readiness for life as a racehorse.

“From birth our horses are free to be horses. They roam around paddocks in herds. They play, they kick, they buck and roll in the mud,” he says.

“But at some stage to become a racehorse they need to get used to human interaction. That is basically what a yearling preparation is – we desensitise those young wild horses to human contact.”

Wishaw and his wife Rhiannon are hands on with their staff during a yearling sale preparation which takes about seven weeks. The yearlings are introduced to life in stable boxes, to rugs, bits and leads ... and to people.

“A lot of it is an introduction to the sort of environment that they will find in a stable – remember they have lived in a paddock every day up until that point,” says Wishaw.

The young thoroughbreds switch from a grass diet to a “hard feed” diet of grain, and are walked on a lead by hand every day for the last three weeks of a sales preparation so that they are ready for buyer inspections.

Mystic Journey’s preparation was no different to the other 30-odd horses that Armidale offered for sale at the Magic Millions in 2017.

“Rhiannon did most of the work with her because she was so straightforward, just a relaxed uncomplicated filly,” says Wishaw.

“Physically, she appeared to need a bit of time. She had a lighter frame and was a bit behind the eight ball in terms of muscle and conditioning.

“Go back a few generations and her pedigree was strong, but it looked like she was from a fading arm of the family. We didn’t have any great expectations. I told Ralph (Zito, Mystic Journey’s breeder) that a reserve of $10,000 would be about right.”

Not exactly a figure to retire on, but as Wishaw explained, it is better to meet the market than set unrealistic goals.

“I learned very early that the market valuation and the vendor valuation can be very different, and that can be hard if you’re not prepared to let go to a degree and put them (the horse) out to be judged by the buyer,” he says.

When the auctioneer’s hammer fell on lot 43 at just $11,000, Wishaw was a little surprised.

“I was a little shocked, to be honest. I thought she was worth a bit more than that. Since she’s done what she has done, I’ve had at least a dozen people come and tell me that they were the underbidder on her and how much they loved her.”

Spreyton-based trainer Adam Trinder needn’t worry about those that missed out, he’d secured a filly for what he thought was a bit of a bargain.

“When it comes to underbidders, you often only ever hear about them on the fast ones, not the slow ones!” he says.

“If I miss out I put a line through them and move on. I’d rather concentrate on what I’ve got than worry about horses I’d missed.”

For Trinder, yearling sale research begins on the farms where the horses are born and raised. A former top jumps jockey, Trinder believes it’s important to get a feel for the horse in its raw state.

“We get out to the stud farms in the back end of November and in early December so we can see them in their natural environments. This filly was a little black uncomplicated filly. My partner Leah loved her, and David and Rhiannon made a really good case for her to us,” he says.

“I’d trained the brother and sister so I knew the family, and really there was nothing wrong with her. Luckily, we secured her.”

Mystic Journey filled an order for client Wayne Roser, who agreed with Trinder that the little black filly might be worth a punt if she fell within their $20,000 budget.

Twelve months after buying Mystic Journey, Trinder and Roser bought another daughter of Needs Further from the Tasmanian Magic Millions Sale, a three-quarter sister to Mystic Journey for $28,000. That filly became Tasmania’s champion two-year-old of 2019, Mystical Pursuit.

“It’s the way it goes sometimes, that the affordable ones turn out to do great things, but you never really know which are going to make it and which don’t,” Trinder says.

“That’s the beauty of the sport isn’t it? Until they get to the track, it’s all a mystery.”

Did you Know?

Racing success runs in the Trinder family blood: Trainer Adam Trinder is the grandson of Ray Trinder, owner of 1972 Melbourne Cup winner Piping Lane. Adam was also an outstanding jumps jockey, and his father a respected trainer and formidable horseman.

Image: Adam Trinder with Mystic Journey after winning the ALL-STAR MILE at Flemington Racecourse on March 16, 2019 in Flemington, Australia. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)