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INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
Denise Martin shares the story of her high quality chestnut Theseo, who won several of Australia's most famous races in a glittering Group 1 career.
The night session of the Magic Millions Yearling Sale can be an at times chaotic, turbo-charged affair, with buyers trickling back across the road after a ‘big’ day at the track, primed to try their hand at finding the next Dance Hero, Capitalist or Sunlight.
But for owner Denise Martin in 2005, the tumult of the Gold Coast sales ring was brought into sharp focus by a moment of clarity when a chestnut son of Danewin stepped into view.
“He was offered very early in the night session,” Martin recollected to the Report.
“It can be a bit of an unusual, testing atmosphere for buyers at that night session but I still just remember the first time that I saw him and I thought he was the most beautiful colt, he looked very immature but just really well put together and I loved him.”
After initially seeking out a racing friend to go ‘halves’ with in a partnership that ultimately didn’t eventuate, Martin ended up putting forward the yearling that would race under the name of Theseo for syndication beneath her Star Thoroughbreds banner.
But the raw youngster would bely his new owner’s first impression by coming to hand much faster than anticipated for trainer Gai Waterhouse, so much so that he appeared in some of the season’s first two-year-old trials in September 2005.
“I remember quite specifically that I said to the group that raced him, ‘He won’t be an early to the races two-year-old because he’s not bred to be and he doesn’t look like a precocious horse’, but he quickly put paid to that theory,” said Martin.
While he was early to the track, actually getting a result did take time, owing in no small part to the opposition Theseo faced at his first couple of starts.
Mentality defeats Theseo in the G1 George Main Stakes of 2008. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Fourth on debut in a Randwick maiden over 1100m in February 2006, first and second over the line were none other than Casino Prince and Mentality, who would both become open-age Group 1 winners. Spare a thought then for third placed Coast To The Post, whose two career wins in a Hawkesbury maiden and Newcastle 0-65 were somewhat overshadowed by the collective nine career Group 1s later secured by first, second and fourth that day.
Casino Prince and Mentality again bested Theseo at his second start, although the margin to first diminished from three lengths to an improved three-quarters of a length. At start number three, it was Mentality and another future Group 1 winner Excites that relegated the Waterhouse colt to third.
It in fact took seven starts for Theseo to break through for his maiden victory, winning the 1800m Listed Dulcify Stakes in September 2006. And it turns out a fairly good judge was in the saddle.
“He beat Viewed that day and I recall Zac Purton saying ‘I know you want to win races with him now, but he’ll progress to a really lovely horse later on, I think he’ll get to a really good level’. And we really couldn’t believe he ended up reaching the heights that he did,” said Martin.
It took time for Purton’s prediction to manifest. After a Queensland winter campaign that saw Theseo register his first Group win in the G3 Premier’s Cup, the gelding finished a narrow seventh, beaten less than two lengths, in Empire’s Choice’s Queensland Derby.
But when he returned in the autumn of 2008, he was a fully furnished four-year-old ready to announce himself as a racehorse.
Theseo made light work of his Group 2 opposition in the St George Stakes at Caulfield. (Photo by Getty Images)
“He came out second-up in the Magic Millions Cup and he won it really well from the front, and Nash (Rawiller) said ‘I think this horse has gone to a new level’,” remembers Martin.
The first of five Group 1 wins would be achieved the following spring in what was a red letter day for Martin and Star Thoroughbreds.
Following a narrow weight-for-age second to old foe Mentality in the George Main, Theseo was sent out a lightweight $11 chance in the Epsom, with the prophetic Purton booked to ride at 51.5kg.
Martin had another lightweight chance, the Dash For Cash gelding Bank Robber, also running in her interests. “I recall very distinctly I’d said to Gai when Bank Robber shot to the lead ‘He’ll win this’ and Gai nudged me in the ribs and said ‘The other horse is just getting wound up’ and I was so engrossed with Bank Robber having shot clear that I said ‘What other horse?!’ and she said ‘Theseo!’”
Martin was of course no stranger to Group 1 glory, having enjoyed a strong run of elite results dating back to 1999 Flight Stakes winner Danglissa.
But 2008 was a particularly special year. Prior to Theseo’s Epsom triumph, the great juvenile Sebring – also trained by Waterhouse – had carried the Star Thoroughbreds purple and white to unprecedented success, winning the G1 Golden Slipper on his way to a fleeting, brilliant career that registered five victories from six starts.
A hugely influential stint in the breeding barn at Widden was next for Sebring, but despite his racetrack achievements and subsequent residual value, it’s not a one-horse race when it comes to Martin’s favourite of all time.
“Sebring of course won the Golden Slipper and became a magnificent stallion but if people ask me ‘Who was your best horse?’ I say ‘Dead heat’, because Sebring had such a brief career and Theseo raced for a considerable time for many years in the best races at the elite level.”
Tania Rouse, Denise Martin and Gai Waterhouse celebrate Sebring's Golden Slipper triumph. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
Theseo was rarely out of Group 1 company for the remainder of his 40-start career, and was good enough to win other time-honoured Group 1 Australian races the Mackinnon Stakes, the George Main Stakes and two Ranvet Stakes to add to his Epsom triumph, with Nash Rawiller doing the steering in all but the latter. The outstanding gallopers Mentality, Rangirangdoo, Viewed and Metal Bender were among Theseo’s regular sparring partners.
All three of Theseo’s career runner-up finishes were in Group 1 company, including a desperately close defeat at the hands of swooping Niconero in the Australian Cup at Flemington, and a narrow second to the mudlark Fiumicino in the BMW – two more of Australia’s most famous races. Wet or dry, six furlongs or 12, Theseo almost always showed up on race day.
For Martin, it was Theseo’s will to keep fighting in a tight finish that will remain the legacy of her former star racehorse, who took up a comfortable paddock at his regular spelling farm in Bowral after his career on the track concluded.
“When you have horses of that type that just give their all on race days, everyone who works with that horse just has nothing but admiration for them, and that’s what it was like for us. We just loved him, not because he was such an elite performer but because he was just so genuine.”
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