By Bren O’Brien for TDN Australia/NZ. 31 August 2018
Oregon’s Day (Domesday) beat a number of more-fancied rivals in Saturday’s Group 1 Memsie Stakes at Caulfield and looks to be on the verge of a win at the highest level. Such a victory would represent the most remarkable chapter of a great racing success story for a collective of old friends.
Paul Girolami manages the group who bred and now race Oregon’s Day, with the five-year-old the most significant success in what has been a fantastic journey.
The opening chapter of the story was written some 20 years ago when legendary former New Zealand jockey Bob Skelton took a horse off the float at Mornington which Skelton’s wife initially mistook for a pony.
“This is not folklore, this is fair dinkum, when the horse arrived and was unloaded, it was twilight and Bob’s wife said, ‘Where’s the horse?’ She thought it was the stable pony,” Girolami told TDN Aus NZ last week.
Skelton, who had trained in Mornington having moved to Australia in 1979, had asked his good friend and fellow trainer Theo Howe, to source him a filly out of New Zealand.
He then convinced five of his friends, including Girolami, to race the mare and they went into the venture with few expectations.
Small horse, big heart
“At the time she was racing, she was the smallest thoroughbred racing in Australia. She was a midget,” Girolami said. “She had a terrific ticker, as it turned out.”
Oregon Seal (Oregon) would go on to win nine races for Skelton, including a Group 3 Tesio Stakes at Moonee Valley.
Girolami said the collection of friends were ‘blessed’ with the run they had with their courageous mare, who he said returned about twice on what they invested in her.
“If I get to heaven, I’m going to find out who the patron saint of owners is,” Girolami said.
But the story was far from finished, with the decision made to continue to breed from Oregon Seal despite concerns over how suited a mare of her small stature would be as a broodmare.
The next generation
It turns out her breeding career was even more successful than her racing career. She initially had two foals by Bianconi (USA), with the first winning two of his four starts before being sold to Hong Kong, while the second won three races.
Her third foal, a filly called Talent Show (Jeune) would go on to win a Group 2 Perth Cup, while the owners decided to retain the next foal, by Bel Esprit.
That was Oregon Spirit, who would go on to win eight races and nearly $500,000 under the care of master trainer Peter Moody.
Each year, the group of friends would meet to determine where they were going to send the mare next, mindful that because of her size, they had to find the right stallion.
The best of the lot
In 2012, they headed up to north-east Victoria plotting the mating that would become Oregon’s Day.
“We were looking for who to breed her too and we went up to Darley in Nagambie and we went to look at Reset, but we thought given her size, he was a bit small,” Girolami said.
“The next one we saw was Domesday and we thought he looked alright and we had our owners’ meeting and decided that was the way to go.”
Oregon’s Day picked up a black-type win at just her second start and trainer Mick Price immediately held a high opinion of her.
She has continued her progress to win four races in total and over $800,000 in prizemoney. She won the Group 3 Alexandra Stakes as a 3-year-old and then the Group 2 Hollindale Cup at weight-for-age earlier this year, while also finishing second in the G1 Coolmore Classic at Rosehill.
The end of the journey
But Oregon’s Day also represents the end of the road for Girolami and his friends. She is the last of the foals from Oregon Seal to survive and the broodmare has now been retired. and lives at Sun Stud in Victoria.
Skelton, whose family remain in the ownership, passed away two years ago and the remainder of the original group are in their late 70s to mid-80s. Girolami, who is 80, said they were ‘too bloody old’ to go on another journey.
“We’ll be in the grave watching the next lot of horses at the races!” he joked.
Skelton’s son Craig may be the one to continue the story and has bred from one of Oregon Seal’s other daughters, Sacred Seal (Bel Esprit), with a foal by Domesday set to arrive any day.
Meanwhile, Girolami and his friends continued on their great journey when Oregon’s Day performed admirably on Saturday at Caulfield, knowing how lucky they have been.
“If I get to heaven, I’m going to find out who the patron saint of owners is. Fair dinkum, I’m sure it will be a woman and I’m going to thank her very, very much, because we have been so fortunate,” he said.