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Apache Cat won 19 races and $4.5 million on the track, but it is his immense popularity off it that has elevated the extravagantly marked chestnut to become the (baldy) “face of Australian racing”.
That an eight-time Group 1 winning thoroughbred would be most revered for his exploits off the track goes some way to explaining the unique celebrity of Apache Cat.
But before he wowed the general public with his striking appearance and outgoing personality, Apache Cat was thrilling racing fans with a lethal combination of speed and tenacity.
Prepared by Cranbourne trainer and former Olympic equestrian rider Greg Eurell, this son of Lion Cavern was both fast and tough.
Apache Cat would remarkably never race at a provincial track during his 43-start career, debuting with a win at Sandown Lakeside and only competing out of stakes company on one other occasion.
A win over the Flemington mile at just his third start in the 2005 Listed Gibson Carmichael Stakes infamously attracted the attention of a Hong Kong buyer and an almost half-million dollar offer.
With the vet checks passed and all in readiness, the owner-to-be became aware of Apache Cat’s unique colouration after watching a video of the horse in action and deemed the white markings ‘unlucky’, so calling off the sale at the eleventh hour.
It didn’t take long for that decision to bite, with Apache Cat returning to that Flemington mile to take out the Group 1 Australian Guineas the following year.
Though successful at 1600 metres and even contesting a Cox Plate in 2006, as Apache Cat aged he began to present more as a pure sprinter.
The dashing chestnut cut a swathe through the autumn and winter carnivals of 2008, reeling off five-straight Group 1 wins as he claimed the Lightning Stakes, Australia Stakes, TJ Smith Stakes, BTC Cup and what would be the first of back-to-back Doomben 10,000 (he also went back-to-back in the Australia Stakes the following year).
Finishing a close-up third as the $1.90 favourite in the 2008 Hong Kong Sprint, Apache Cat would race for the last time in the same fixture in 2009, fracturing a sesamoid bone when seventh behind Sacred Kingdom on International Day.
“He had his last race in Hong Kong and popped a sesamoid, that’s how he came to us, but he needed to be on a graduated exercise plan, so we put him in a small paddock and let him start to run around a bit,” said Andrew Clarke, CEO of Living Legends, a retirement home for former racehorses located in Greenvale, some 21 kilometres outside the Melbourne CBD.
It quickly became apparent to Clarke, a founding Living Legends board member and self-described “worn-out old vet loving life with some worn-out old horses”, that Apache Cat’s frequent trips to the winner’s enclosure had created a thoroughbred with a fairly healthy opinion of himself.
“We paraded him once up at Doomben, he was walking along the straight and looking at himself on the big screen, it’s almost like he was admiring himself thinking ‘gee that’s a good looking bloke up there’,” Clarke told Asian Racing Report.
‘Patch’, as he is affectionately known at the farm, quickly proved particular in terms of who he shared a paddock with.
“He’s a funny horse, he doesn’t get on with everyone and we picked up pretty early in the piece that he got on well with Rogan Josh, so eventually we put ‘Josh’ in the paddock with him,” said Clarke.
“Patch was just so excited to be in a paddock with another horse that he was bouncing around all over the shop, while Josh was standing as far away as possible near the fence and was looking at this other horse going mad and thinking ‘What have I got here?’.”
The self-confident sprinter with swagger and the laidback Melbourne Cup-winning stayer overcame that confounding first impression to form something of an ‘odd couple’ at Living Legends. Despite the ten year age gap and the contrasting personalities, Apache Cat and Rogan Josh shared a deep bond until the latter’s passing in 2022 aged 29.
“Usually Patch went off to the races and Josh would be left at home, but if you took Josh away on Melbourne Cup parade duties and left Patch behind, that was the end of the world for him, he’d start running around barking like mad,” said Clarke.
It wasn’t just his paddock mates that the beautiful, bold chestnut with the four white socks and striking baldy face made a big impression on.
“All the horses are appreciated here but Patch would have to be our most popular horse with the general public,” said Clarke.
“He’s just so recognisable. We have school groups come in and the kids are mesmerised by those markings. One little kid even said ‘Look miss he’s even had his eyelashes done white on that side’.”
Clarke too acknowledged the several visitors facing terminal diagnoses who have travelled great distances in order to be in the presence of Apache Cat.
“These people facing their mortality were no longer thinking about the new car or the next holiday, it’s just amazing that you get to meet these people who just want to see and spend time with a particular horse.
“They were all racing people, and there are a lot of tears on those sort of visits, but one of their final wishes has been to come and see Patch.”
Not only has Apache Cat proven a major drawcard for the Living Legends operation, Clarke also credits the gelding with boosting the profile of racing in general.
“He’s done plenty for the farm, but Apache Cat is the face of Australian racing in a lot of ways.
“Living Legends was set up to nurture that deep connection between people and horses, and to promote the life after racing for all horses, and Patch has helped us do just that.
“Our unique position in all of this is to connect people with horses that don’t normally get the opportunity to see them. People can come here all year round and meet and mingle with champion racehorses, it really helps strengthen that social licence for racing.”
Though Apache Cat didn’t enjoy success at the ultimate level in Hong Kong, Living Legends has also proven a bastion for many who did, including champions Silent Witness, Beauty Generation and Good Ba Ba.
And if Clarke has his way, Hong Kong’s current flagship galloper could be next.
“We’d love to see Golden Sixty come here when he eventually finishes racing,” he said.
As for Patch’s new paddock mate following the loss of his old mate Rogan Josh?
“His buddy now is another chestnut, Gailo Chop. ‘Chopper’ has a strong personality but not as strong as Patch’s, and they make a pair of pretty happy redheads really.”
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