A Victorian bred horse will be shooting for a winning share of US$10 million on Saturday night when he lines up in the Dubai World Cup.
Gun Pit, trained in Hong Kong by Caspar Fownes, will be shooting for international Group 1 glory and his breeders Kellie and Tony Smeaton are very excited.
There is quite some story in the five and a half years leading up to this moment. And it starts at the Barnawartha (close to Wodonga) farm of the Smeatons.
Tony Smeatons has been interested and involved in racing all of his life and now has a broodmare and cattle farm near the Murray River where he and Kellie keep about six mares including Gun Pit’s dam Magic Tori.
Magic Tori (Ali-Royal (Ire) – Golden Gossamer) was a good performer for Cranbourne trainer Greg Eurell, winning in the city and amassing prizemoney of $141,645.
According to her breeder Tony, she had a dicky knee requiring her to largely stick to soft tracks even though she had a liking for dry tracks. It meant she couldn’t quite show her full talent on the track and the much-demanded black-type was not achieved.
But Tony fell in love with the mare just on her race record alone and snapped her up. A mating to Masterpiece produced the multiple country winner Shibby who also was prone to a weak knee (and who was eventually retired to the Smeaton’s breeding operation where she still lives).
A year later, Magic Tori was covered by the then “unfashionable” Dubawi. Unlike his current halcyon days at Darley’s Newmarket breeding barn, Dubawi was less favoured by Australian breeders and his offspring similarly so in the sale ring.
Gun Pit was foaled down at Gary Mudgway’s Grange Thoroughbreds and, according to Tony, he was different from the other five or six yearlings of his that year.
“He was outstanding from day dot,” Tony says.
The Dubawi colt was taken to the 2012 Inglis Premier Yearling Sale where he was purchased Mark Treweek of Lyndhurst Farm in New Zealand for a modest $65,000.
In Kiwi land, the youngster was prepared by Lyndhurst for the Ready to Run Sale. Tony says he continued to outperform his peers even bucking the jockey in the breeze up and confounding onlookers with his natural speed.
This certainly was reflected at the Ready to Run sale of 2012 when he was knocked down to Michael Stedman Bloodstock – buying for Hong Kong owner Cheng Chung Wah.
In Hong Kong, Gun Pit has now won 8 races in 21 starts for total prizemoney of nearly $1.5 million.
Gun Pit wins in Hong Kong | credit: Kenneth Chan / SCMP
At Dubai’s Meydan racecourse three weeks ago, Gun Pit demonstrated that he has acclimatised to his temporary surroundings with a brave runners-up effort in the US$400,000 Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge (2000m dirt).
Gun Pit in work at Dubai for the World Cup (PIC: EPA/ALI HAIDER)
Gun Pit may not have the international credentials of some of his rivals in the Dubai World Cup, such as California Chrome and Frosted, but he has a few things in his favour.
Firstly, his trainer got the luck of the draw and was afforded the chance to pick any barrier. He opted for a safe one in barrier 3.
Secondly, Gun Pit likes the dirt surface having won seven from seven on dirt at Sha Tin. Added to that was his Group 1 second at Dubai on the surface three weeks ago.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has, arguably, the world’s best jockey on board, Joao Moreira.
“I’d like to think he has come on nicely since his first run here and I have been happy with his work here,” said Fownes in Dubai this week.
“Of course, I respect the fact there are so many good horses in the race but I feel he is a live chance to finish in the first four or five.”
Tony Smeaton said he and Kellie were thinking seriously about travelling to Dubai to see Gun Pit race live for the first time, but farm duties including calving cows kept them at home.
“I know it’s a once in a life time thing…but it’s a long, long way to go for two minutes of racing!”
Let’s hope for their sake – and for the Victorian breeding industry’s – that staying up late to watch it on television can prove a lucky charm.
A win would certainly designate Gun Pit as one of North East Victoria’s best ever equine exports.
Broodmare Magic Tori has had it tough since foaling down Gun Pit. She has either missed or had foals euthanased in three of the past four seasons.
Thankfully, a Stryker filly named Three Strykes has made it to the track and shows promise. Trained by Simon Morrish at Ballarat, the now three-year-old filly got her maiden win at Donald earlier this month. Magic Tori is currently in foal to Coolmore’s Rubick (as pictured below at Barnawartha).