The Golden Slipper Stakes might not stop a nation, but it proved again on Saturday that it is increasingly giving the entire racing world reason to pause. No-one seriously pretends the Slipper has a place in Australia’s sporting psyche like the Melbourne Cup. It has, after all, only been run since 1957, almost 100 years after the first Cup. And its winners, by necessity, are newcomers, mere babies compared to those that line up at Flemington each November.
Neither does the Slipper have the international standing of the classic races of Britain, Europe or the United States - even if it’s worth more than all of them. But the crowd that cheered home Vancouver on Saturday is just as likely to have witnessed the making of a super horse as those who turn out for an Epsom Derby or a Breeders’ Cup.
With his win from the outside gate in the 15-horse field, Vancouver probably became a colt worth $20 million with as much potential earning power at stud as just about any horse on earth. The evidence to support it is clearly laid out in the Slipper’s history. Pierro, the previous colt to win the race, was syndicated for $30 million and stood his most recent season at $77,000; Sepoy, the 2011 winner stood in his first season for $66,000 at Darley and has duly become the hottest young stallion in Australia. The next colt to have won the Slipper and gone to stud, Sebring, was syndicated for more than $20 million and stood most recently for $60,500.
It has been a similar story with Slipper winners since the very first of them. Todman, a son of Star Kingdom, sired two Golden Slipper winners and at the time of his death in 1976, had 50 of his sons at stud in Australia. His bloodline came to international prominence through his brother Noholme who sired the great American stallion Nodouble. In 1969 the Golden Slipper was won by Vain, the champion sprinter who sired 370 winners and the 1977 winner Luskin Star became a successful sire at Newhaven Park. The list goes on: Marauding, Canny Lad, Flying Spur, Catbird, Stratum – all winners of the world’s richest -year-old race and all influential sires.
“From the point of view of a future stallion, the Golden Slipper is the race to win in this country,” says Arrowfield Stud’s John Messara. “The whole Australian breeding industry is centred on the Golden Slipper. It’s said that it’s only a test of speed for immature horses, but it’s also a pressure race. They need speed, but also courage and a good constitution to win it. As a result of that, Australia is producing the best sprinters in the world.”
Gai Waterhouse, whose win on Saturday with Vancouver gave her a Slipper record of six winners she holds jointly with her father, Tommy Smith, also acknowledges the race’s importance to Australian racing and breeding. “It’s a fantastic race,” Waterhouse said. “In its own way it’s the most significant or important race of the year. It’s about proving who’s the very best, the fastest.”
She is also aware that in the Northern Hemisphere a 1200 metre 2-year-old race worth $3.5 million might be a horrifying thought. But with six winners to her name, why should she care. “The truth is that the Golden Slipper has played a vital role in Australian racing and breeding since its inauguration in 1957,” she recently wrote in the American publication Daily Racing Form. “It has given us a huge amount of thrills over the last 50-plus years, but the race is perhaps more important for its contribution to the Australian breeding industry. “It is a true stallion-making race.”
And Vancouver is the latest stallion it has made. Vancouver’s stunning win also drew a revelation from Waterhouse that her late father had berated her early in her career over her lack of success with 2-year-olds and thus ensuring she would at least equal his wins. “The last words my father said to me here at Rosehill before he died were “you make a man sick, you can’t train two-year-olds,” she said. “Then he passed away two days later. “That was the driving force for me. After I thought I’m never going to let that be my thing.” As a result, she has played a large part in the evolution of the Golden Slipper into the race that more than any other has shaped and developed the Australian Thoroughbred.
Extract from ANZ Bloodstock News