Kennedy Oaks Day Magic: Passing Chicquita Lodge
‘As they pass Chicquita Lodge …’
In his judicious race calls at Flemington, official broadcaster Matt Hill often positions the field as the horses approach the furthest point from the grandstand. ‘Chicquita Lodge’ remains a coded tribute to the champion filly who won the VRC Oaks in 1949, nearly three-quarters of a century ago. She became one of the sweethearts of the Australian turf.
Chicquita’s Flemington successes in addition to the Oaks included the Edward Manifold Stakes, the Wakeful, and the weight-for-age Craiglee, twice. Altogether in her career she won 16 of her 36 starts, with 12 placings. Other big wins included the One Thousand Guineas and Liston Stakes at Caulfield, and the Feehan and the Alister Clark at Moonee Valley. She had a famous rivalry with Comic Court whom she beat in the 1950 Craiglee by a short half-head before he turned the tables to win the Mackinnon Stakes and the Melbourne Cup. Grey Boots narrowly deprived her of a Caulfield Cup win.
Chicquita’s magic transformed the life and career of her trainer, Tony Lopes – 29 when she won the Oaks for him. On the strength of her success he relocated from Mentone to lease new on-course stabling at Flemington, naming the complex Chicquita Lodge. He spelt out his champion’s name in prominent lettering running the length of the stable’s red brick wall. You can still discern the legend behind sponsors’ placards today.
Now named the Kennedy Oaks, the premium race for three-year-old staying fillies at Flemington was inspired by the English classic.
It has a history as venerable as that of the Lexus Melbourne Cup.
In fact, the very first Oaks at Flemington was held in 1859 two years earlier than the first Cup – although the entries were few and, on the day, only one filly, Birdswing, came to the starting post. She won literally in a walkover. Some lists of Oaks winners date from 1861, but this denies Birdswing and the 1860 winner – George Watson’s Derby winner Flying Colours – their due. Flying Colours won her Oaks in a walkover too.
In later years, Oaks competition has been tighter! The Kennedy Oaks has a special cachet. The honour board includes such modern-day champions as Jameka, Surround, Research and the brilliant Miss Finland. The half sisters Rose of Kingston and Spirit of Kingston won in 1981 and 1984 respectively. Rose’s son Kingston Rule, sired by American turf legend Secretariat, won the 1990 Melbourne Cup, in record time.
Five VRC Oaks winners have themselves won a Melbourne Cup. In the cases of Briseis (1876), Auraria (1895) and Sister Olive (1921), their Oaks victories came two days after winning their Melbourne Cups. And Briseis and Auraria had also run in the Victoria Derby three days before that – Briseis winning, Auraria a good third. It is an impressive feat, one that no modern trainer would dream of replicating.
In 1955 and 1964 respectively, Evening Peal and Light Fingers won the Oaks and went on to take the Cup a year later as four-year-old mares.
Chicquita’s story links with other pages of Flemington’s racing history. Her dam Starr Faithfull (named after an American socialite) was once owned by (Sir) Chester Manifold at his Talindert Stud at Camperdown.
In 1943 Manifold had been elected vice chairman of the VRC. At the time he was absent on active war service and needed to reduce his broodmare holdings with a ‘Stud Depletion Sale’. His good friend and near neighbour, politician (Sir) Gordon McArthur at Meningoort, bought Starr Faithfull for a bargain 40 guineas, but annually thereafter sent the mare back to Talindert stallions. One of her sons, Blankenburg, won an Adelaide Cup. Another, Double Blank, ran third in the 1951 Melbourne Cup won by Delta.
Two other Starr Faithfull foals, sold cheaply as yearlings, came into the hands of young Tony Lopes who won a succession of country races. When Starr Faithfull’s next foal – a filly by the imported Blank – was passed in short of her reserve at the yearling sales, Lopes approached McArthur for a lease to race the filly, in conjunction with fruiterer Frank Dimattina. She was a star from the start.
After Chicquita retired from racing, the mare returned to the McArthurs. To the approval of sentimentalists, she was mated with her great rival Comic Court. Their son Comicquita, foaled in 1957, finished second in the 1962 Melbourne Cup behind Even Stevens. Chicquita’s best son, sired by sprinter Todman, was the brilliant Golden Slipper and Rosehill Guineas winner, Eskimo Prince. Chicquita certainly earned her unofficial Flemington milestone.