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Luskin Star is considered an all-time great but was sent out at generous odds when he completed his dominant two-year-old Triple Crown sequence of wins and it seemed like everybody in his home town of Newcastle took advantage.
There are few better people to tell the tale of Luskin Star and how the horse bought a town–wide windfall than Group 1-winning jockey turned media man, racetrack ‘clocker’ and raconteur Alan ‘Jock’ Gollogly.
Gollogly had a decorated and colorful career in the saddle that included a win in the 1972 Doomben 10,000, a stint in Hong Kong and even a Port Moresby Cup on his way to a jockeys’ premiership in his adopted hometown of Newcastle.
It was there in what was a booming steel town by the sea that Gollogly got to gallop the best horse he was ever associated with and a colt many argue is the greatest two-year-old of all-time.
“I’ve never driven a Formula 1 car but I reckon I know what it feels like having ridden Luskin Star,” Gollogly told Asian Racing Report this week.
Passed-in at the sales, from unfashionable breeding and with a turned-out ‘pigeon foot’, Luskin Star was purchased out of the paddock on a lower Hunter Valley farm by Newcastle trainer Max Lees.
Regular jockey John Wade didn’t let Luskin Star too far out of his sights but when unavailable Lees would turn to a trusted set of hands in Gollogly.
Gollogly, who is now times horses in trackwork for Lees’ son Kris at the same track, was first legged aboard Luskin Star for a barrier trial after he won the second division of the 1976 Breeders’ Plate by 12 lengths on debut.
“They would have barrier trials on a Sunday at Newcastle to raise money for the local Mater Hospital and there would be thousands of people there,” Gollogly said. “John Wade was away so I was on board and I was trying to give him an easy time. I was strangling him the whole way, just holding him the best I could but he still won by at least ten lengths.
“I had ridden some pretty good horses – I had ridden the 1970 Slipper winner Baguette in work – but this was another level, I just said to Max “you have got a machine here” … he kept getting better too, he was phenomenal.”
Maybe it was because Luskin Star was prepared at a provincial track by a then relatively unknown trainer and ridden by a low-profile jockey, but he was seriously underrated by betting markets throughout that two-year-old season. Word had obviously spread about the speedy chestnut in Newcastle though and the ‘Colt from the Coalfields’ was soon a cult hero.
Those thousands at the Sunday trials and plenty more Novocastrians backed Luskin Star next start when he jumped even money equal favorite in the Silver Slipper Stakes and cruised to an easy three- length win.
“You could always get a bet on him,” Gollogly said. “Of course I was a jockey at the time so I couldn’t bet but it is fair to say I got something out of him. Let’s just say that my mother Joyce had a lot of big bets during that era.”
Those seeking top odds for the Golden Slipper got a boost when Luskin Star suffered the only defeat of his two-year-old campaign on his home track when beaten in the Northern Slipper.
“It was a heavy 10 and Max wanted to scratch him but the stewards wouldn’t allow it,” Gollogly said. “He wasn’t knocked around though, he finished second, and the confidence was still high.”
Luskin Star started 11-4 ($3.75) in the Slipper and the many Novocastrians who had taken the three-hour trip to Sydney couldn’t get enough on.
“There was busloads of people that went down to Rosehill, it was like when the local rugby league team the Newcastle Knights play in the big games down there against the Sydney teams, there was an enormous amount of pride and parochialism, but they also knew how good he was,” Gollogly said.
There is a moment, just after the field turns for home in the 1977 Slipper where the equal favourite Blazing Saddles, Tommy Smith’s well-bred Blue Diamond Stakes winner, cruises up to the leader Mistress Anne. Jockey Roy Higgins is sitting pretty and looks as confident as a rider could be.
Higgins looks across to his left and sees a chestnut flash and in two strides the race is over as Luskin Star ran away to take a full second off the race record.
That seven-length demolition was the last time Luskin Star would start better than even money that season. Luskin Star completed the two-year-old Triple Crown with more ‘space jobs’; his three length win in the Sires’ Produce was in Australian record time for the distance and he won the Champagne Stakes by six for a combined margin of more than 16 lengths for the three Group 1s.
“He then showed how tough he was when he backed up and won the QTC Sires’ Produce and what is now known as the JJ Atkins in Brisbane in the winter,” Gollogly added.
Wade had ridden Luskin Star in each of his nine starts as a two-year-old for eight wins and despite the dominance, he would later recall “I never pulled the stick once.”
It is part of the Luskin Star legend that Lees would eventually lose the horse to a big name Sydney trainer, but only after the colt had won the Cameron Handicap in front of a capacity crowd on his home track.
Robert Sangster bought the colt as a stallion prospect and gave him to Bart Cummings, who believed Luskin Star was the best two-year-old he had seen and trained him to four more wins as a three-year-old including the Caulfield Guineas and the Galaxy.
Gollogly says losing Luskin Star was a blow to Lees and those who cared for him, “I can still see the look on his strapper Lee Cantwell’s face when the float took him away, she was devastated, like she had lost a family member.”
Luskin Star was standing at Newhaven Park at Boorowa in the Hilltops Region on the south west slopes of New South Wales when, in 2000, three years before Max Lees’ passing, the trainer would have one more meeting with the horse that became a hero in his hometown.
Gollogly was then a reporter for a local news station and a five seater plane took he and Max, Kris and a cameraman to the farm for a story.
“It is still vivid in my mind, when we got to the paddock, Max said ‘here boy’ and Luskin Star ran across the paddock to him,” Gollogly said. “There was a tear in Max’s eye, and he used the old Bart Cummings line, ‘I’ve got a bit of hay fever’, but I think we all choked up. He was a special horse.”
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