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The five most underrated Australian racehorses of the last 25 years

So many incredible thoroughbreds have graced the Australian turf over the last 25 years that – perhaps due to quirks of the collective psyche, or just sheer weight of numbers – some are, inevitably, more readily forgotten than others. 

The emergence of three all-time great champions during that time period in Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx has further relegated many star gallopers to the back page, when in another era they too might have garnered all the attention.

But which horses are the most underrated of them all? Which gallopers’ names and feats deserve more repeating than they’ve been granted, whether for their courage, consistency, or sheer ability?

Behold, our five most underrated horses of the past 25 years (forgive the three emergencies, but so many other quality nominations had already been balloted out, we had to include a couple more!).

3rd Emergency – SEPOY

This fellow seems to have suffered from both an unremarkable career at stud (Alizee notwithstanding), and the fact that he belonged to the powerhouse, uber professional Godolphin operation.


Sepoy coasts home to claim the Golden Slipper. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

But for a horse who became only the fifth in history to win the Blue Diamond-Golden Slipper Group One double (and none have achieved the feat since), the chestnut son of Elusive Quality does come across as being criminally underrated. Both juvenile Group Ones were secured in commanding fashion too, destroying his Caulfield opposition by just over four lengths, and comfortably accounting for quality duo Mosheen and Elite Falls in the Slipper.

Prior to contesting the 2012 Oakleigh Plate, Sepoy had won no less than ten of his eleven starts (including a Manikato and a Coolmore), the only blemish when bloused by Smart Missile as a raging $1.18 Todman Stakes favourite.

He finished fifth in the Oakleigh Plate but with an on-pace run as the 58kg topweight in a handicap set up for the swoopers (Woorim and Elite Falls motored over the top from the rear), to be beaten a length was a highly meritorious effort. He only ran once more after that, failing on the Meydan tapeta in the Golden Shaheen, but he was a terrific sprinter deserving of more credit than he gets.

2nd Emergency – ORTENSIA

Speaking of terrific sprinters, what a fantastic mare Ortensia was. Starting out life with Tony Noonan, Ortensia showed bags of ability as a two-year-old, winning her first two starts by a combined nine lengths. As her career progressed she won stakes races in three states, before signalling her immense potential when running a huge close third in the 2009 Stradbroke Handicap, in her first attempt at Group One level.

Her breakthrough victory came in the Winterbottom Stakes of that year (then a Group Two race). She certainly did it the hard-way, backing up from a sixth in the 1600m Railway to drop back to the 1200m just a week later – the Railway hadn’t blunted her sprint whatsoever.

Ortensia returned the following autumn to brain them first-up in the Galaxy. That wasn’t the only thing she returned however, with a positive swab seeing her subsequently stripped of the win.

Switching over to Paul Messara for her latter campaigns, Ortensia’s talent was on show both in Australia and around the world, with Group One wins in the upgraded Winterbottom, the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and the Nunthorpe Stakes at York (defeating a field of 19, three weeks after dispatching 16 rivals in the Group Two King George at Goodwood). Her overseas exploits in particular often get overlooked in favour of other Australian globetrotters.

William Buick riding Ortensia (L) win The Gordon's King George Stakes at Goodwood racecourse in 2012. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

3rd Emergency – STARCRAFT

Now this guy was a dude! The racing world was forced to take notice of this Queensland-trained upstart when he turned up at Flemington – having won three consecutive mile races at Doomben and Eagle Farm (maiden, Class 3, Class 6) – and absolutely thrashed the Melbourne three-year-olds in the Group Three Debonair (Elvstroem among the beaten brigade).

The strapping chestnut showed that his Debonair run was no fluke, testing the supremely talented and ultimately undefeated Reset all the way to the line in a fierce Australian Guineas. Group One wins against the older horses in the Chipping Norton, and against his own age in the Australian Derby followed, returning from the Derby to defeat gun New Zealand mare Miss Potential first-up in the Group One Mudgway at Hastings.

Snaring a Cox Plate would have secured Starcraft’s legacy but it was not to be, with Savabeel and Fields Of Omagh beating him into third in 2004. But owner Paul Makin had even bolder ambitions, taking on the world in 2005 which culminated in commanding Group One Prix Du Moulin and Queen Elizabeth Stakes II victories (Christophe Lemaire aboard for new trainer Luca Cumani).

Cristophe Lemaire and Starcraft get the better of the Frankie Dettori ridden Dubawi to land The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Newmarket. (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)

An outstanding international CV coupled with the compelling storyline of the ‘battler’ taking on the big boys!


We kick off the top five with one of the most versatile horses seen in recent years, Criterion. Precocious enough to win a Black Opal and a Todman at two, stout enough to win an Australian Derby on a bog at three – Hugh Bowman roaring in the saddle – and durable enough to run third in a Melbourne Cup two years later, this guy could do it all.

Hugh Bowman takes out the Australian Derby aboard Criterion. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

Wet or dry, on-pace or off, Criterion was the epitome of a high-class, professional thoroughbred racehorse, with the pedigree page to match.

A product of a match between the outstanding stallion Sebring and Mica’s Pride, dam of four stakeswinners, Criterion was bred to be anything. And he kind of was: anything and everything. He won Group Ones at three, four and five. Switched from David Payne to David Hayes for an international raid, he ran third behind two of Hong Kong’s champions Designs On Rome and Military Attack in the 2014 Hong Kong Cup.

Returning to Australia for a seriously dominant Queen Elizabeth Stakes win (Craig Williams has never had that much horse under him at the 300m of a Group One!) Criterion again took on the world, earning another Hong Kong placing behind Blazing Speed and Staphanos in the QEII Cup.

The entire’s penultimate campaign also featured a Cox Plate second, beaten almost five lengths by a rampaging Winx. A great horse who doesn’t get the accolades he deserves, his breeding career was blighted by infertility.


Bob Thomson’s chestnut (the fourth on this list, including emergencies) was a supremely talented galloper who competed strongly for several seasons, until his tragic collapse and death during the running of the Emirates Stakes in 2003.

But for all his immense ability, Shogun Lodge would finish runner-up in Group One races a staggering 12 times, managing to land the major spoils on just three occasions.

Like Criterion after him, Shogun Lodge was seriously versatile, putting his get-back-run-on methodology to use over a range of distances. He won a Skyline and a Pago Pago as a two-year-old, ran third in Catbird’s Golden Slipper, and returned as a three-year-old to run second to Blackfriars over the 2500m of the Victoria Derby, unable to get the result overturned on protest.

Shogun Lodge is denied by Blackfriars in the Victoria Derby. (Photo by Stuart Milligan/ALLSPORT via Getty Images)

Shogun Lodge would also run second in the Australian Derby (bested by Fairway, who had also previously been too good for him in the Spring Champion Stakes). The Group One seconds didn’t stop there as he denied by gallopers the calibre of Sunline, Northerly, Lonhro, Viscount, Sky Heights, Landsighting and Assertive Lad.

Shogun Lodge however still had his share of days in the sun, his defeat of Sunline as a three-year-old in the 1999 George Main Stakes no doubt the biggest.

A mighty warrior whose consistent ability to feature in Group One finishes lands him a place on this list.


Perhaps a controversial inclusion, given Testa Rossa is held in high regard by most Australian racing fans. But is it high enough?

He was an outstanding two-year-old, winning his first four starts for jockey Eddie Cassar, the last of which was a genuine procession in the Magic Millions 2YO. In what was a long first racing preparation, Testa Rossa entered the Blue Diamond at his sixth start, having tasted his first defeat the start prior in the Blue Diamond Prelude. And then entered Redoute’s Choice.

For mine ‘Testa’ suffered a little for his two defeats at the hands of that other star colt, in the Diamond and that famous Caulfield Guineas, with the latter roundly exalted as one of the great races. Whilst Redoute’s lunged and won, and then went on to achieve extraordinary, breed-shaping things as a stallion, Testa Rossa was raced on by trainer Dean Lawson and owner John Cappellin.

Among many more fine performances, his Emirates Stakes win in the wet was perhaps finest of all. Sweeping home under Paddy Payne – a gifted heavyweight rider seemingly custom built to offset 59kg imposts – ‘Testa’ overwhelmed some quality opposition, Weasel Will, Crawl and Umrum chief among them.

Testa Rossa wins the Emirates Stakes with P. Payne up. (Photo by Darrin Braybrook/ALLSPORT via Getty Images)

All in all he won six Group Ones – four of those highly plentiful 1400m affairs, plus a Lightning (outsprinting Falvelon first-up over the Flemington 1000m!) and that big Emirates mile win. Throw in a Cox Plate fourth and a close up fifth in the Group One Spring Cup in Tokyo, and you’ve got yourself a serious racehorse.

While again upstaged by Redoute’s Choice in the breeding barn, Testa Rossa was still a resounding success at stud, siring 55 stakeswinners including one of the ‘emergencies’ for this list, Ortensia. Is being underrated a heritable factor?


If Redoute’s Choice upstaged Testa Rossa, then I’m not quite sure what Black Caviar did to her half-brother All Too Hard. But the shadow cast by the burly daughter of Helsinge was a mighty one.

Not only did All Too Hard have Black Caviar to live up to, he also came attached with a price tag commensurate to a horse of his pedigree: $1,025,000.

Carrying the colours of Nathan Tinkler’s Patinack Farm would also prove somewhat burdensome in generating widespread popularity for the son of Casino Prince.

But this colt could really run. He won handsomely on debut at Flemington in the Talindert before braining them by four lengths in the Group Two VRC Sires’. After a comfortable Pago Pago victory in his first clockwise start, the decision was made to bypass the Golden Slipper for the ‘easier’ Group One, the ATC Sires. That plan somewhat backfired when the Slipper winner Pierro showed up again a week later, comfortably accounting for the $1.65F All Too Hard in claiming what would be the second leg of his two-year-old Triple Crown.

Vengeance on Gai’s dogged colt would however come in the spring when All Too Hard – the gloss somewhat having come off him after three only fair runs – was sent out at double-figure odds in the Caulfield Guineas. This time it was All Too Hard’s turn to upset a raging favourite. The $1.22F Pierro was forced to work early from a wide gate at his first look at Caulfield and was nabbed in the shadows. All Too Hard again had the better of the great Pierro in the Cox Plate, beating him out of second place, but ultimately could not match the finish of the New Zealander Ocean Park.

All Too Hard wins on debut at Flemington. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

All Too Hard returned as an autumn three-year-old for a three start Group One campaign taking in the Orr, Futurity and All-Aged Stakes. He won all three of them. To put that effort into context, the only two three-year-olds to win three Group One races against open age company since 2000 are All Too Hard and Yell.

Given his lofty pedigree, it was inevitable that preservation would win the day, and that was the last we saw of him. He was very very good, yet is virtually never spoken about for a horse with his credentials.


Yes he received plenty of credit in a glittering career that saw him land seven wins at the elite level.

But the fact is this is a horse that absolutely donkey-licked Lonhro – by six lengths, running away – in The Black Flash’s final race. There were excuses for the champ given the slack early tempo, but perhaps to be expected – given Lonhro’s imperious standing amongst his contemporaries – the story out of that day has always centered around the vanquished, not the conqueror.

Lonhro is no match for Grand Armee in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. (Photo by Jon Buckle/Getty Images)

But Grand Armee was a truly gifted animal, who kept turning up and kept winning big races. He won a Doncaster by three-and-a-half lengths. He went to Melbourne and won a Mackinnon by four.

He won a Ranvet by five, a Queen Elizabeth by half that margin, and of course the other Queen Elizabeth – the one that was supposed to be Lonhro’s – by six. He would have won a BMW too if not for a mare called Makybe Diva! A seriously great gelding who deserves to be celebrated.



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