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By Robert Heathcote | Thursday, September 30, 2010

Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.

Spring is my favourite season of the year.

It's the time when we say farewell to the cold and wet mornings of winter and pack away all of the horse rugs and sheets.

Winter certainly seems to be hanging around longer this year with the continual wet lingering on with more wet tracks likely over the next week or so. I am no fan of racing on wet tracks, but we have to play with the cards we are dealt!

This is the time of year also when, as a trainer, it gets a little exciting as we start to test the new season juveniles and see what sort of 'motor' some of the 'babies' have.

The youngsters are the future of the stable in the years to come so it gives us a real buzz when we find one that might be a bit special!

It’s also the time of year when racing takes centre stage with the Spring Racing Carnival in both Melbourne and Sydney where we get to see the cream of the Australian thoroughbreds strut their stuff on the biggest stage chasing the many riches on offer.

These include the race that the industry participants perhaps covet the most, the Cox Plate, and the carnival of course leads to the holy grail of Australian racing, the 'race that stops the nation’, the Melbourne Cup.

Our stable very nearly got onto the big stage recently with an excellent effort from Woorim in the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke.

It is also a time of year when we often get to hear racehorses described as 'superstars' and even 'champions'!

Perhaps these 'labels' are handed out far too easy and they may be over the top descriptions, but have you ever wondered as to what criteria has to be met for a racehorse to achieve the tag 'CHAMPION'?

Does a horse have to win certain races or a certain number of Group 1’s to be considered a champion?

It is always cause for robust debate when we compare the greats of times gone by with the current crop of 'superstars', but is it possible to compare the prowess of Kingston Town to the deeds of Might And Power? Can Tulloch be compared to Makybe Diva? Can Manikato be compared to Take Over Target?

Or are these discussions basically a fruitless exercise?

I guess they are questions that cannot be accurately answered and, like most things in racing, everyone is entitled to have their individual opinion.

At the end of the day, that's exactly what it does come down to … an individual's opinion.

There are no doubt a number of factors that have to be considered before a horse achieves that immortal tag of a champion.

No doubt the quality of the horse’s wins are a factor along with the level of opposition. Saintly is a perfect example as his generation produced a host of top horses and he competed against a very high calibre of opposition.

The individual has to have enormous heart and be able to overcome adversity. Octagonal is a horse that springs to mind with his Australian Cup win as an example!

The horse has to have charisma and that special 'X' factor. All champions seem to have this, but the special ones just seem to endear themselves to the racing public as a whole! Sunline was certainly that mare.

There are so many factors that make up the qualities of a champion racehorse be it their ability as a sprinter such as Takeover Target or the super stamina powers of the immortal Makybe Diva.

I certainly do not consider myself an expert on the subject but I have been very privileged to have seen a few race since I have been involved in racing.

Takeover Target’s win at Doomben when he carried 59 kilos and ran 1.07 something will always stick in my mind as simply breathtaking!

The greatest in my eyes and the only one to achieve the immortal tag has to be the three- time Melbourne Cup winner in Makybe Diva.

I still remember trainer Lee Freedman saying after the third win, ‘Go and find the smallest child on the course, because they will be the only person here who might see something like this again."

She sure did receive ‘Legend’ status that day when bringing up her third Melbourne Cup victory.

Personally I do not have a problem like some in the media when the term 'champion' is used.

As a trainer and a racing fan, it’s just great to see the best horses at that current point in time competing against each other … and yes, it's always good to see the acknowledged favourite get the win in the big ones as we all want to have another champion.

This current season it may well be Bart’s up and coming 'champion' in So You Think labeled the best in the country … or perhaps it could be Gai's More Joyous!

There is a pretty good sprinter around at the moment called Hay List who looks to be very special so maybe he has to win the Oakleigh Plate, he Lightning and the Newmarket and then he can proudly wear the 'Champion' Tag.

Perhaps at the end of the Spring Carnival we may well be applying the ‘champion’ tag to a few more stars of the turf. Maybe Shocking might win a second Cup and join the 'champions’ brigade.

These are just more examples as to why this is a very exciting time of the year in thoroughbred horse racing!

We are a bit funny here in Australia though as the term ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome' didn't just come out of nothing.

We love to put them up on a pedestal and sometimes we are just as quick to want to knock them off!

Life is full of the knockers and baggers and the biggest irritants I find in this industry are those that want to knock the quality of any of the feature races saying how weak a particular race is.

Try and win one and then you will see how treasured it is for the connections when in fact they do win a feature race!

I said earlier that the champion tag is pretty much an individual thing and I would be lying to you if I said I have never heard an owner call his horse a 'champion' after winning a race … even if it was a Class 2 at Ipswich!

In fact he would be right as the Oxford dictionary definition of a champion is a person or a thing that has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition.

That makes me feel better now as I have quite a few champions in my stable now!

More articles

Takeover Target came to Doomben on a meet and greet visit on May 29. Stars of his calibre will always attract a crowd of adoring fans.
Takeover Target came to Doomben on a meet and greet visit on May 29. Stars of his calibre will always attract a crowd of adoring fans.
He knows he is good, doesn't he?
He knows he is good, doesn't he?
Stretching his legs.
Stretching his legs.
Meeting the crowd.
Meeting the crowd.
Leading out the field for the Doomben 10 000.
Leading out the field for the Doomben 10 000.
Making someone's day.
Making someone's day.
Living the dream
... Takeover Target and Joe Janiak.
Living the dream
... Takeover Target and Joe Janiak.
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