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It is well documented that when times are tough, the average Aussie looks for something or someone they can look up to, aspire to, live the dream with – because if we don’t have dreams, life can be terribly boring. This tale is just a reminder that racing belongs to the average man on the street and not just to those hanging out in the boardrooms.

The story begins in 1999 at Meringo Stud, near Moruya on the southern coast of New South Wales. A colt by the stallion Celtic Swing, out of a well-bred mare, Shady Stream, hit the ground running. It was an easy decision to syndicate this thoroughbred to three successful businessmen. The boardroom businessmen were all involved in the takeover of Melbourne’s Crown Casino for Kerry Packer, so naming the colt Takeover Target was a logical choice.

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The well-respected trainer John Morish, at Randwick, was selected to get their investment ready for the track. As can sometimes be the case, the following two years were full of disappointment. Takeover Target had a problem with his suspensory nerve, which was very painful for the horse and which contributed significantly to him being one very cranky customer.

Because of the injury, there was no chance of a race, so the businessmen decided to cut their losses. Next stop for Takeover Target was a dispersal sale, in 2003.

At the next Inglis Dispersal Sale, there were four bidders. The bidding started at $500 and then escalated to $800; it finally concluded with a cabbie named Joe Janiak, who paid the princely sum of $1250 for the horse. Joe thought at the time that the price he paid for this cranky son of Celtic Swing was a little steep but, nevertheless, what was done was done. Joe and his trusty steed wound their way back to Queanbeyan and to Joe’s home, a caravan.

Takeover Target’s cranky disposition was highlighted the very first day in the stables when he reared, sending Joe packing to the local hospital to get 30 stitches for a head wound. Not a great start.

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No-one could possibly imagine that this trip to the hospital was the start of a union that would result in 21 wins and ten placings for 41 starts, with winnings in excess of $6 million across Australia, Great Britain, Singapore and Japan. Here are just some of his Group race wins in Australia and overseas:

• 1st, 2004 – Group 1, Flemington Salinger Stakes

• 1st, 2005 – Group 3, Doomben Summer Stakes

• 1st, 2006 – Group 1, Flemington Lightning Stakes

• 1st, 2006 – Group 1, Flemington Newmarket Handicap

• 1st, 2006 – Group 2, Royal Ascot King’s Stand Stakes, UK

• 1st, 2006 – Group 1, NAKA Sprinters Stakes, Japan

• 1st, 2007 – Group 1, Doomben 10,000

• 1st, 2008 – Group 1, KrisFlyer International Sprint, Singapore

• 1st, 2008 – Group 2, Perth Winterbottom Stakes

• 1st, 2008 – Group 3, Perth AJ Scahill Stakes

• 1st, 2009 – Group 1, Randwick TJ Smith Stakes

• 1st, 2009 – Group 1, Morphetville Goodwood Handicap

Some horses have a preference for particular tracks and conditions, but Takeover Target raced at his peak everywhere and in all conditions. He won on twelve different tracks all over the world. He always gave his best – and all any punter wants is for his horse to put in. ‘Archie’, as he was fondly known, was always in the leading bunch and never let you down. That running style was reminiscent of the great Vo Rogue and Might and Power. To top off this exciting story, there is also something deeply satisfying about cheering on a horse that is owned and trained by a real-life Aussie battler.

Takeover Target has written his name in the annals of Australian history through his ageless ability to win at the highest possible level when many thought that his best was behind him.

To support this ageless theory, it should be known that Takeover Target was the oldest horse on the card on Doncaster Day at Randwick in April 2009. He astounded all and sundry by taking out the TJ Smith Group 1, beating a champion in his own right, the well-credentialed performer Apache Cat.

The crowd erupted that day when ‘Archie’ led them around the turn and just kept on increasing his lead. Joe had a tear in his eye as he admired his champion – nay, the people’s champion. He had always known that the horse could do it, but very few others had believed.

Our great sporting commentator Ken Callander said of Takeover Target on that day, after that win: ‘Well, I’ve never seen anything like him. What a champion.’

Now the drug slur …

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Joe Janiak’s third Royal Ascot campaign in England with Takeover Target was soured by accusations in the British press that described Takeover Target as ‘the drug runner from Down Under’.

The accusations were made by Mark Johnston, a qualified veterinary surgeon and one of Britain’s leading trainers. He questioned the authorities as to how they could allow this horse to have another stint at the riches of Royal Ascot and why Joe Janiak’s training licence was not suspended.

Johnston was quoted in The Times as saying:

As I understand the rules of racing in this country on drug use, it is an offence to administer a prohibited substance to a horse with intent to affect the racing performance. … It strikes me that Mr Janiak is guilty under those rules and that if I was to admit administering anabolic steroids to one of my horses I would be liable to have my licence to train withdrawn. I cannot, therefore, understand how a horse which has previously tested positive for a prohibited substance and whose trainer has freely admitted administering the drug, can be invited to participate in a race in this country.

This sorry saga began when Takeover Target arrived in Hong Kong in October 2006 to prepare for the HK$14 million Hong Kong Sprint. He had travelled from Japan, where he had recently won the prestigious Sprinters Stakes.

Joe advised the Hong Kong officials that a drug (HPC) had been administered to Takeover Target to assist with his air travel and flight out of Japan. He had been assured by a vet in Japan that the substance would clear out of his system within two weeks.

Minute traces were found in his system on the morning of the Hong Kong Sprint, so stewards had no option but to insist that Joe withdraw his horse, and they also slapped a HK$200,000 fine on him. Despite all the assurances given by veterinarians, these were the strict rules of racing and they had to be adhered to.

In Australia at that time, the drug known as HPC was not a banned substance. It was widely reported to have a calming effect on horses, as well as being a mood stabiliser and appetite stimulant. Reflecting on Mark Johnston’s unprecedented outburst before Royal Ascot, we don’t suppose it had anything to do with Takeover Target being victorious over his runner in Japan’s prestigious Sprinters Stakes the weekend prior.

Mark Johnston’s outburst was viewed with great suspicion by Australians. Australians are still vehemently against anything that smells of a class structure. We do not accept our culture being contaminated by pomp and ceremony, nor do we accept any comment that hints of class distinction, especially when it is seen as a thinly veiled attempt to deride one of our great champions.

Joe Janiak and Takeover Target: the people’s champions.