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Costa Rolfe

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Filante, ‘shooting star’ of a legendary three-year-old crop

The Report spoke to Greg White about the career of the stunning chestnut Filante, a star of the 1990s who was one of his late mother Beryl’s favourite horses.

The southern hemisphere foal crop of 1992 is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, boasting two Australian Horse of the Year winners and a host of other elite Group 1 performers.

This legendary chapter in Australian racing theatre performed its first season on the stage of Sydney’s racetracks in the autumn of 1994, and it soon became clear that this production had no towering, attention-grabbing central protagonist. 

Instead, racing fans were presented with a cast of charismatic, equally-matched equine characters, each vying for their share of the limelight in front of their captivated Saturday metropolitan audiences. 

There was of course Saintly, the horse from heaven. The Inghams’ rock star son of Zabeel, Octagonal. Just like his namesake Roy, ‘The Big O’ had ‘it’. There was Gai’s tough Danehill colt Nothin’ Leica Dane.

And then there was the New Zealand-bred chestnut entire Filante. The product of a mating between Star Way and Eau D’etoile, Filante (or more specifically ‘étoile filante’) translates to ‘shooting star’ in French. And a star he was, among a galaxy of them. 

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Filante and Jim Cassidy. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri)

Greg White, son of Filante’s late owners Geoff and Beryl White, is comfortable with where his family’s galloper sits when it comes to retrospective rankings of the ‘92 cohort, even if the names of Cox Plate winners Octagonal and Saintly might be afforded top billing more often than not.

“I don’t think he misses out in people’s memories,” White told the Report.  

“They appreciate that he was an integral part of what was one of the best groups of three and four-year-olds that we’ve ever had. 

“I think over 1400 metres and a mile and under, he was better than all of them. He had enough quality to take that to 2000 metres, but at that distance and beyond, those Zabeel horses and Saintly were just a touch stronger in the finish.”  

I think over 1400 metres and a mile and under, he was better than all of them.

Filante was knocked down to the Whites for $220,000 at Sydney Easter and became one of the first horses on their Scone farm Invermein, which merged 600-acre Bhima Stud and a neighbouring property. 

He would grow to race in the white silks with purple star and hooped sleeves that were carried with distinction by many other White-owned gallopers, including Golden Slipper winner Marscay, Yodells (dam of the White’s Melbourne Cup runner-up Yippyio and crack sprinter Iglesia), Jetball, Triscay and later, Eremein.  

The good-looking, self-assured yearling immediately made an impression on Beryl, whose involvement in racing and bloodstock dated all the way back to 1974 and continued until  she passed away in July, aged 88. Son Greg, who took over the Invermein operation in 1997, didn’t hesitate when nominating Filante as one of the horses most treasured by his late mother. 

“He was definitely a favourite of my mum’s. She was a big chestnut lover, and he’s a ‘photo on the wall’ type chestnut, he was just a stunner,” said White. 

 

Filante gallops at Breakfast with the Stars. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri)

For a racing family that achieved much of its success via homebreds, the son of Star Way also stood out in terms of racing stock sourced from the sales yard. 

“He was the best horse that they bought,” said White. 

“Winning an Epsom from any racing person’s perspective would be right up there, it’s one of the iconic races on the calendar and both Mum and Dad got a huge thrill out of it, they rated him so highly.” 

That 1996 Epsom demolition – in which Filante set a new Randwick mile record that wasn’t eclipsed for over 20 years – came as no eventual surprise to the colt’s handlers, with trainer Jack Denham identifying Filante’s potential almost from the get-go. 

“The Denhams (Jack and son Allan) loved him as a yearling, they had high hopes for him right from the start. He was a late two-year-old and he won pretty well at his second start, from then on he was always going to be aimed at the better quality three-year-old races,” White said. 

The Denhams loved him as a yearling, they had high hopes for him right from the start.

After returning as a three-year-old to win handsomely first-up at Randwick, Filante’s first of those ‘better quality’ assignments was the G2 Royal Sovereign Stakes, where he ran into another outstanding galloper, the dual Group 1 handicap and Hong Kong International Bowl winner Catalan Opening. 

Next came a fourth in the Hobartville, with Nothin’ Leica Dane, Octagonal and Catalan Opening filling the placings, and then a narrow second to the ‘Big O’ in the G1 Canterbury Guineas. 

A Rosehill Guineas fourth (behind Octagonal, Saintly and Nothin’ Leica Dane) and a gallant Derby third, once again just behind Octagonal and Saintly, rounded out Filante’s preparation. 

Though highly competitive, Filante concluded his three-year-old season without a stakes win to his name, struggling to out-scrap his talented staying contemporaries as his assignments stretched out in trip. 

Filante took great benefit from his time at Invermein in between racing preparations and never more so than in the winter of 1996.

“He loved his spells, he enjoyed being out in the paddock and he let us know when he was ready to go back into work,” recalls White. 

And Filante came back with a resounding bang in the 1996 Warwick Stakes, thrashing his rivals under ‘The Enforcer’ Mick Dittman, with Saintly three lengths astern in second. 

Dittman was again the pilot a fortnight later, when the hot favourite Filante once more bettered Saintly and Nothin’ Leica Dane in the G2 Chelmsford.

A narrow second to Juggler in the G1 George Main followed before that unforgettable Epsom Handicap performance, carrying the topweight of 57kg and with Brian York in the saddle. 

“He exploded in that Epsom, 200 to 300 metres out, and most of it was just under his own steam,” says White. 

While the Epsom win is perhaps most widely regarded as Filante’s career peak performance, White considers the horse’s two Cox Plate defeats at the hands of rival Saintly (1996) and Dane Ripper (1997) as particular highlights. 

“He travelled to Melbourne well, he always seemed to handle the travel,” said White.  

“As much as they were frustrating they were still seconds in the Cox Plate, and for our family the Cox Plate was, and still is, the pinnacle race to win. 

“We had him run second twice, we bred Defier who ran second twice, and it’s now my mission in life to try and win it twice!”

Filante leads the Cox Plate field with Dane Ripper (black cap) stalking in behind. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri)

Northerly defeats Defier in the 2002 Cox Plate. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

For White, part of Filante’s effectiveness as a racehorse was his ability to take up a prominent position. 

“He wasn’t necessarily a front-runner but he was normally in the first three or four. Mick Dittman knew how to get every inch out of every horse that he ever rode and he was one that had a good affinity with Filante in his early days.”

It would be Jim Cassidy who would take the ride in Filante’s last career win, the G1 Yalumba Stakes of 1997. In typical Cassidy style, the chestnut was never kept too far away from the action at the pointy end of proceedings over the Caulfield 2000 metres, proving too good for the high-class Tasmanian Alfa. 

Filante’s career at the historic Widden stud largely failed to live up to his racetrack performance, with Thousand Guineas heroine Macedon Lady his only Group 1 winner from six stakes winners. 

“We made a deal with Widden to stand him there,” said White. 

“We supported him pretty heavily but really didn’t have that much success with him. He was moved to Ilala, which was a little stud on the outskirts of Scone towards the end of his career and he eventually died there.” 

As for Greg White, who has since sold out of Bhima and Invermein and downsized to Robrick Lodge, a scaled-back private farm that combines cattle and horse country just north of Scone, the Moonee Valley 2040m still beckons. 

“We’ll run 20 mares and probably 100 cows at Robrick and aim to win that Cox Plate.”

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