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Few horses have covered as many miles on their way to a Group One raceday at Eagle Farm as V J Day, the one-time Kentucky blueblood turned bush hero for St George trainer Pat Webster.
Last-start winners from Cloncurry, Chinchilla, Mt Isa, Home Hill, Nanango, Barcaldine, Cunnamulla, Injune, Bowen, Innisfail and Gayndah dot the capacity field for Saturday’s Battle Of The Bush at Eagle Farm, with $200,000 on offer for Queensland’s outback racing stars.
The concept of offering a championship for bush-trained horses is by no means a new one, but in Queensland, where outback racing has defied the tyranny of distance to prove a heartland for the sports, it resonates particularly well.
The 1000km round trip that Pat Webster – not the Group One winning-trainer but the part-time horseman, and full-time builder of the same name – will undertake to get from St George to Eagle Farm won’t be the longest undertaken by a trainer for the race, but V J Day has claims to be the greatest journeyman in the field.
He also holds the right to be considered the most in-form horse running anywhere in Australia on Saturday, with the American-bred seven-year-old having won 10 of his past 12 starts, a streak going back to his first victory under Webster’s care, at Cunnamulla, 12 months ago.
But the extraordinary story of V J Day extends far beyond the 6000 km in float trips to and from the races he has taken in the past year, all the way back to one of the world’s premier thoroughbred nurseries.
Foaled at Stonestreet Farm in Kentucky in 2015, he is a son of War Front and multiple Grade One winning mare Sassy Image, giving him one of the richest pedigrees in Saturday’s racebook, a program which also features the Group One Tatt’s Tiara,
He headed to Book 1 of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale the following year and, as one of the first lots of over 4000 at the Sale, he was purchased by an emerging Hong Kong-backed outfit with Australian interests named Aquis for US$250,000.
St George Race Club (Photo: @Littlerivercollections - Instagram).
Aquis’ Justin Fung and bloodstock agent Julian Blaxland were on hand to sign the docket in what was Aquis’ first major international foray.
A little over an hour later, a son of Scat Daddy caught the eye of another international group with strong Australian connections. Newgate’s Henry Field played a key role as China Horse Club and Maverick Racing paid US$500,000 for Justify, the colt who would later become the first-ever unbeaten US Triple Crown champion.
That day may have been as close as V J Day got to greatness. Justify headed on his historic path with Bob Baffert and co while V J Day headed to England, one of the early flagbearers in what have now become the familiar Aquis aqua colours.
He developed into a formidable horse, physically, but starting out his career with Kevin Ryan in England, he was only able to win one of his first eight starts, on the Newcastle all weather. He then spent three starts with Martyn Meade, adding another victory, this time at Windsor, before being shipped to Australia in January 2019.
He landed with the stables of Kacy Fogden, Aquis pre-trainer, and the wife of Blaxland, who had purchased him back in Kentucky three years prior. Again, he showed patches of form, winning a Doomben Class 3, but after four starts was offered for sale through the Inglis Digital platform.
V J Day in his most recent win at Chinchilla (Photo: Facebook - Chinchilla Race Club)
It was trainer Luke Berger who landed all 16.2 hands and 582kg of him, for the princely sum of $8000. Over the course of the next 11 months, V J Day would go through five different stables, eventually landing with Webster in December 2020.
“I had a couple of horses for the owners. They had sent him up north (Queensland) for the carnival up there and he raced really good. But the owners were from Moree and Inverell which is just across the border. “I think they wanted to see him a bit more often,” Webster told Asian Racing Report.
It’s a measure of how folks from western Queensland measure nearby that it is actually 300km from Moree to St George, a leisurely drive by the local standards.
It was a bit of a slow start with what was his seventh stable, with V J Day taking five starts to register a win. However, the return has been remarkable from that point, with those 10 wins in the space of just over 12 months including a victory in the $75,000 Doomben Stampede in November.
Not that it has been an easy task for Webster, who admits the big, powerful unit needs plenty of care between runs.
“He’s a high maintenance horse. He’s a big horse with not the best set of joints under him. We have spent a lot of time on his legs looking after them and that seems to have paid off,” he said.
“He may not have the most ability, but he has got the most determination of any horse I’ve trained. He’s such a big, strong horse and if he wants to go somewhere, he will usually just go there.”
Pat Webster (far left) and connections of V J Day (Photo: Facebook: Chinchilla Race Club)
Webster, who has been training horses since he was 18, following the path of his father and his grandfather, had already made the first part of the long road trip to Eagle Farm with V J Day by the time Asian Racing Report contacted him on Wednesday, stopping off at Barham Stud in Toowoomba.
He admits that in the past, such a journey had proven a disincentive for the best horses in the St George district, but the lure of the $200,000 prizemoney pool proved irresistible.
“It’s a fantastic concept, it really gives country racing a boost, they have done a really good job with it,” Webster said.
And after you have travelled as far as V J Day has in his life, another 1000kms on the odometer won’t make too much of a difference.
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