Still touching lives beyond the track

28 January 2020 Written by VRC

Home to some of Australia's greatest retired racehorses, Living Legends continues to provide a place that these champions of the turf can live happy, tranquil life, while also bringing joy to all those that visit.

This was proven when the popular venue took out the 2019 RACV People's Choice Award for Best Tourism Experience or Service where more than 11,000 votes were cast over 60 Victorian venues.

When the dust settles on a brilliant career on the track, equine athletes are rewarded with lives of comfort and rest, something that Living Legends provides for several ex-racing champions.

Woodlands Homestead in Woodlands Historic Park, 20km north-west of Melbourne’s CBD houses several celebrated racing legends, including winners of most of the major horse races in Australia and Asia. With the current roll call including All Times Lucky, Apache Cat, Brew, Bullish Luck, California Memory, Chief De Beers, Designs on Rome, Efficient, Fields of Omagh, Maluckyday, Might And Power, Paris Lane, Peniaphobia, Redkirk Warrior, Rogan Josh, Silent Witness, Super Impressive, Who Shot Thebarman, Zavite and Zipping, the honour role of others who have passed away or moved on, is just as impressive.

Dr Andrew Clarke, Living Legends CEO and Veterinary Director is immensely proud of the work that Living Legends does, and has done, for the past 14-plus years. “At Living Legends we put the focus back on the horses and really love that people get to experience them up close,” he says.

Although first and foremost a place of rest and relaxation for these stars of racing, and of course providing the opportunity for horse lovers to meet their heroes, the farm also offers opportunities for education in many forms. From primary school groups, to special needs classes to vet students from universities, the horses facilitate invaluable experiences.

People head to Living Legends for different reasons, with several making it a ‘bucket-list’ item. Dr Clarke has the privilege of meeting many of these visitors, and fondly recalls a story of a man in his 80s who had lost his wife. He wanted nothing more than to just pat Doriemus and Better Loosen Up, and his dream became a reality shortly before he passed away. “I find that sometimes it comes down to the simple things,” says Dr Clarke. “Many people just want to pat a horse.”

Elderly people especially love the visits, with many seniors groups passing through. “Many of these people remember riding horses to school, and they particularly love getting close to horses again. They comment on how much they love getting that smell of horses on their hands again, bringing back long forgotten memories.”

It is well-known that horses are beneficial when used as therapy and Dr Clarke has seen it firsthand such as with children suffering from autism. “The most profoundly affected kids react in the most amazing ways. One little boy was almost not brought out as his carers were not sure it would be worthwhile. Thankfully he came, and it was incredible to watch him bond with Silent Witness who nuzzled him over the fence.”

There are also the stories of joy when people meet the horse they backed, where the win had a significant effect on them. An engagement ring or wedding is often involved. “There was a couple who decided to put all of the money they had saved for their wedding and put it on Saintly. Luckily for them, it paid off! Or the guy who wanted to meet Doriemus as the horse had paid for an engagement ring.”

One of Andrew’s favourite stories is that of a woman who, attending the Melbourne Cup in 1999 declared that if the horse that she backed won, she would name her child after it. Years later, Josh was bought out to Living Legends to meet his namesake, Rogan Josh. “It just goes to show how deeply embedded in our psyche these champions, and a race like the Melbourne Cup, are,” says Dr Clarke.

Equine studies and veterinary students from institutions like Melbourne Polytechnic, Latrobe Animal Sciences, and Melbourne Universities all benefit from the hands-on programs at the farm. Not only do they gain invaluable experience, they get to work with some of the most famous and talented equine stars in history.

The horses themselves live out a long, happy life at Living Legends. Cared for and loved, they are also lucky enough to see life outside the paddocks, as they often visit many different places and functions, further brightening up the lives of those who love racing. The organisation’s partnership with the VRC is extremely valued, as the Club has been one of Living Legends’ longest-standing supporters. Living Legends stars are often seen on course at Flemington at racedays, providing awe and excitement to the crowds, once again.

The People’s Choice Award win is the first time Living Legends has won a prestigious RACV Tourism Award, and Dr Clarke paid credit to his team at Woodlands Park and the extended Living Legends family. “It’s been a legendary team effort to grow and develop Living Legends into the treasured place it is today, from Annie’s famous scones in the Black Caviar Cafe to our 25 retired racehorses including the likes of Might And Power and Apache Cat who are available to the public 364 days a year. We were in a very strong field and on debut, and it feels like we’ve won the Melbourne Cup of Tourism. We are proud and humbled to receive this honour,” Dr Clarke said.

In addition to taking out the People’s Choice Award, Living Legends was also acknowledged as one of five finalists in the Cultural Tourism category of the RACV Victorian Tourism Awards. This recognition comes just two weeks after being announced as the winner of the Tourism category at the 2019 Hume Business Awards, run by Hume City Council.