Roch 'N' Horse on course to break Newmarket history
Mike Moroney has been training horses long enough to know it is best not to let external factors influence the preparations put in place for them.
The Flemington horseman has won more than 50 Group 1 races, many by horses thought to face insurmountable hurdles.
Sarrera won a Queen Elizabeth Stakes at $51, Monaco Consul was the same price when he won the Spring Champion Stakes, while Mr Baritone’s Stradbroke Handicap win came at $31.
But none have been more surprising than Roch ‘N’ Horse’s win in last year’s Newmarket Handicap, in which she started $101.
The Kiwi mare scored another upset last spring when she defied public consensus to defeat a field including superstar sprinter Nature Strip and his heir apparent Giga Kick in the Group 1 Champions Sprint.
The daughter of Per Incanto will have to defy something else – history – if she is to win another Newmarket Handicap at Flemington this Saturday.
Considered the Melbourne Cup for sprinters, the Newmarket, like the VRC’s signature race, boasts an honour roll containing just five multiple winners.
Redkirk Warrior broke a 35-year drought when he completed back-to-back wins in 2018, becoming the first repeat winner since Razor Sharp (1982/83), while Correct (1960/61), Gothic (1927/28) and Aspen (1880/81) are the others to win the 1200-metre Group 1 more than once.
Aspen is the only mare on the dual winners’ list, which Moroney concedes is daunting, but not enough to prompt him to direct the six-year-old’s campaign elsewhere.
“You do have to look at history sometimes and it does give you a few answers,” Moroney said.
“So, we know it’s going to be hard, but you can only try to break history and one thing about history is it is there to be broken. Let’s hope it’s us this weekend.”
Some champion fillies or mares have won the Newmarket, none better than Black Caviar.
Wakeful, Toy Show, Maybe Mahal, Special, Belle Du Jour and Sunlight are some of the other female horses to have upstaged the boys in the race that was first run in 1874.
But most know they only get one crack at it. In the past 50 years, only two female Newmarket winners have tried to defend their crown – Toy Show (1977) and Miss Pennymoney (2002) – and both failed to place.
That’s been the fate that has awaited most defending champions, be they filly, mare, colt, gelding or entire.
Fifty-seven Newmarkets have contained the previous year’s winner with just two seconds (Iownit, 1915 and Nebo Road, 1968) and one third (Regular Bachelor, 1937) to go with the five back-to-back winners.
Roch ‘N’ Horse’s title defence will be carried out under 55.5kg, which is 3kg more than she carried last year, but Moroney said she also has a few things in her favour.
“She’s got to go about it a totally different way to what she went about it last year,” Moroney said.
“She had very little weight last time, whereas this time she’s one of the topweights, and last year she’d only been here a month from our New Zealand stable, whereas she’s been a resident here for a while going into his one.
“There are not many similarities, so she’s got a bit to conquer, but I think she is a bit stronger and a bit wiser from being here in Australia and well used to racing here now.
“She’s certainly at her full maturity now and I do think she’s relaxed that little bit more for being here for a while, so while there are disadvantages there are some advantages too.”
Roch ‘N’ Horse, who was bred by Little Avondale Stud, whose colours Jamie Mott will carry on Saturday, was a late-comer to the track, not racing until almost three months into her four-year-old season when she won a 1000m maiden at Te Aroha.
She ran second in the Listed New Zealand Lightning (1200m) at Trentham five starts later, won a Listed 1200m event at Hastings two starts after that and was brought across the Tasman by Moroney after her second placing to Levante in last year’s Group 1 Telegraph Sprint (1200m).
At her first start in Australia, Roch ‘N’ Horse led home an all-longshots trifecta when defeating $61 chance The Astrologist and September Run ($26) in the Newmarket.
The defence of that title has been Moroney’s goal ever since the Champions Stakes, and even though a minor hoof problem kept her out of the Black Caviar Lightning, her 10thplacing under 58kg in the Oakleigh Plate on February 25 has Moroney happy.
“That cleaned out the cobwebs out and she needed a cobweb-cleaner,” he said.
“She was probably pretty chubby by her standards and I was a bit scared to work her after she knocked a leg, so she probably missed a decent gallop going into the Oakleigh Plate, but she’s come out of it terrific, she’s relaxed back down and looks great.”
Roch ‘N’ Horse confronts an outstanding Newmarket Handicap field with Private Eye, Mazu, I Wish I Win, In Secret, Lofty Strike, Buenos Noches, stablemate Snapper and the two horses that finished immediately behind her last year among the opposition.
Don't miss out on tickets! Australia's most famous sprinting handicap, the $1.5 million Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap (1200m), is a highly anticipated date on the racing calendar for racing purists and eventgoers alike.