Ad Vo Rogue and jockey Cyril Small win the Australian Cup at Flemington on 13 March 1989. (Geoff Ampt/Fairfax)

Pride Of Jenni's quest to become 'the next Vo Rogue'

27 March 2024 Written by Patrick Bartley

Vo Rogue’s front-running tactics captivated the nation and earned him multiple victories in the late 80s, early 90s. Now, decades later, a new phenomenon, Pride Of Jenni, has emerged with remarkable speed and tenacity.

As she prepares for the $3 million TAB Australian Cup, racing enthusiasts eagerly anticipate the outcome of this historic race, she is reminiscent of champions like Vo Rogue.

The 1988 Bicentenary Australian Cup was billed as one of the most eagerly awaited encounters the famous Flemington Racecourse had seen in decades. Vo Rogue, a crowd favourite due to his daring front-running style of racing, was up against the legendary Bonecrusher who was looking for back-to-back Australian Cup wins.

An enormous crowd gathered to see Vo Rogue add the Australian Cup to his already imposing record. Despite being more than eight lengths in front with 300m to go, the horse was overtaken in the final 150m by unlikely contender, Dandy Andy, leaving spectators at Flemington astounded.

Trained by country trainer Jim Cerchi, Dandy Andy was a five-year-old who started at 125-1 and left the crowd at Flemington stunned with the result. Amazingly, Dandy Andy finished fourth to Vo Rogue in the St George Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield two starts prior, a whopping thirteen lengths behind the champ.

In his call of the race, Bruce McAvaney exclaimed “Vo Rogue is home, he’s so far in front!” Even after the race, McAvaney quipped that if he’d had the call again he would have said the same thing.

But while Vo Rogue was defeated that day, he captivated the Australian public for the next two years.

His origin story made his feats even more amazing. Neither his sire, Ivor Prince or his dam, Vow, had ever won a race, making Vo Rogue’s galloping talent even more freakish. He was trained by ‘battler’ Queensland trainer Vic Rail, who was known for his unconventional training methods.  

Despite this, people came in droves to see the daring tactics of Vo Rogue. Bravely going straight to the front in his races, he carved out extraordinary sectional times that most horses found impossible to counter.

He won 26 races, earning $3.1 million from 1986 to 1991. He scored six Group 1 wins, including two Australian Cup victories in 1989 and 1990, and two seconds in the race in 1988 and 1991. He notched up ten wins at Group 2 level.

He also held track records in six metropolitan racecourses at the same time, a feat that no horse in Australia had ever achieved.

Following an injury and a dip in performance, Vo Rogue was retired in 1991 to Jeff Perry’s farm, where he lived out his days until the age of 29.

Thirty-six years since that epic 1988 Australian Cup, it would seem another racing phenomenon has emerged in Pride Of Jenni, a mare now garnering support not unlike Vo Rogue.

Pride Of Jenni has served it up to her opposition by leading in staggering times against the cream of Australian racehorses.

In the All-Star Mile, Pride Of Jenni left her opposition standing when she bounded away before the turn, proving that she will, like Vo Rogue, be highly competitive in this year’s TAB Australian Cup.

Vo Rogue’s longtime jockey, Cyril Small, can see similarities between the two horses.

“They can both go out and run and run hard and manage to stave off their opposition,” he said.

“It’s an ability rarely seen that horses can run extraordinary sectional times and yet keep going.”

Pride Of Jenni’s jockey, Irish-born Declan Bates, agrees with Small that the mare has freakish tendencies that are rarely seen in racehorses.

“In her younger days it took a little bit of training and settling, but once she matured she has become the fastest horse I’ve ever ridden in my career. She’s strong, she’s tough and just beats her rivals through sheer speed,” Bates said.

Both Small and Bates agree that their respective mounts were a pleasure to ride, as all they had to do was rate their horse in front and then they would largely do the rest.

Even experts in equine health are at a loss to explain why horses like Vo Rogue and Pride Of Jenni have the constitution and ability to master a racing style that so few horses have.

Could their endurance stem from a similar trait of another famous mare, Makybe Diva? One veterinarian suggested that Makybe Diva’s three Melbourne Cup victories were aided by her “huge lungs and an ever-so-slow heartbeat that helped her racing style no end when it came to the endurance of races over two miles.”

Whatever it is, all eyes will be on the TAB Australian Cup this weekend, a race that Leigh Jordon, Executive General Manager – Racing, says will be a ‘titanic battle’.

“As well as Pride Of Jenni, we will have the cream of Australia’s most brilliant weight-for-age horses chasing her.

“It will be one of the most compelling 2000m races of the autumn and a battle of endurance.

“Sadly, because of injury Gold Trip will not be in the race. He would have certainly relished a hard run 2000m at Flemington.”

We can only hope that it is as incredible as that 1988 edition of the race after which even the trainer of the winner heaped praise on the freakish Vo Rogue.

“I was fortunate to have seen Phar Lap as a young man, and I must say, I think Vo Rogue was the next best horse,” Jim Cerchi said.

Such accolades highlight Vo Rogue’s stature in racing history, a position that Pride Of Jenni could ascend to if she emerges victorious in the 2024 TAB Australian Cup.