The late Colin Hayes was many things – a spectacularly successful horse trainer and breeder and often a visionary when it came to the future of racing. But he was also known for the occasional betting plunge using his vast team of horses, and he relished being a step or two in front of the bookmakers.
In the early 1980s C.S, as he was known, had a promising group of two year old’s who were progressing well at his Lindsay Park property in South Australia. But one filly in particular had caught his eye. It wasn’t for her ability to walk, trot or canter because, in the words of her regular jockey Peter Hutchinson: ‘She had the worst gait a jockey could feel, but once past a canter, it was a different story altogether.’ After two gallops at Lindsay Park, Hayes was stunned at the times the youngster was running.
So after track work one morning, the trainer summoned his foreman and Hutchinson, who was a little-known apprentice in those days, for a conference. He told the pair that the filly was outstanding but that it was to remain a secret between the three of them. He also told Hutchinson to ride the filly every morning, but on fast mornings to make sure she galloped in the dark away from any members of the staff. He also changed the youngster’s stable to further baffle anyone making inquiries about her.
After two months of scintillating gallops, a race at Moonee Valley was chosen. To add even more intrigue, another filly with the same colourings was to make the trip to Melbourne and start in the same race. Hayes then swapped the names of the fillies once the pair arrived at his Flemington stables to throw off any prying eyes.
Stable jockey Michael Clarke, who in those times commanded the best rides, was given the mount on the stablemate with the better chance being ridden by Hutchinson – who had hardly left the filly’s side since her first record-breaking track gallop three months earlier. ‘Not even Clarkey was told what was going on; it was the best-kept secret in town,’ Hutchinson recalled.
‘I remember when the float left Lindsay Park, C.S. said to me: “The instructions are simple – she’ll jump, run and win. She’s pretty bombproof, so you’ll be right.” When we arrived at Mooney Valley, none of the instructions had changed and I’m told once betting opened around Australia, she was backed as if there was no settling,’ Hutchinson said. ‘I remember sitting in the gates – I’d drawn barrier one so I couldn’t be happier – and the starter turned on the lights. When the gates opened I think we’d only gone one or two strides and this mad thing on my outside did a U-turn and put me through the rail and, once I looked up, I was twenty-five lengths from the lead.
‘I felt terrible. All our months of work had gone down the drain, and to add insult to injury the stablemate ran a narrow second in the race. But you know, C.S. copped it well. It wasn’t a hanging offence, he said, telling me that it’s another reminder there’s no such thing as a good thing in racing.’
Oh, by the way, the filly who was the medium of the plunge went by the name of Special, and became the champion sprinting mare of her era.