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The Rags to Riches story of Polanski

Ducks Crossing Farm's Polanski.

*story by Chris Humpleby, ANZ Bloodstock News

Polanski (Rakti) might not be fashionable, commercial or particularly well-renowned, but to Ducks Crossing Farm proprietor Jacqui McGregor he is undoubtedly ‘the horse of a lifetime’.

The rising nine-year-old, who covered just eight mares at a fee of $5,500 (inc GST) last year, achieved a landmark success at Flemington on Saturday when Fabulanski landed the Taj Rossi Series Final (Listed, 1600m) to become his maiden stakes winner.

Trained by Robbie Laing, who also oversaw the ten-start career of Polanski, Fabulanski will now be tasked with trying to emulate his sire by winning the VRC Derby (Gr 1, 2500m) this spring, with Polanski having romped to a threelength success in the Flemington feature six years ago.

Victory in the then $1.5 million prize paved the way for the horse’s fledgling stud career – he will cover his sixth book of mares at Ducks Crossing Farm in 2019, with his eldest racing crop now three – and yet the backstory of Polanski is one whereby any success, be it on the track or in the covering barn, looked unlikely at a number of key junctures.

Offered through the draft of Chatswood Stud at the Inglis Melbourne Gold Yearling Sale in 2012, Polanski was purchased by his trainer for just $4,000. After a difficult start in life, the horse subsequently made life difficult for those around him, with a suspect temperament presiding over the early days of his career. However, his talent for running shone through, winning once as a juvenile prior to a much-improved spring campaign that yielded three consecutive wins, culminating in his landmark Victoria Derby success.

Freshened for an autumn preparation, Polanski returned in the Futurity Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) the following February, but he sustained a serious injury to his near-fore in the Caulfield contest and his immediate future looked bleak. Nursed back to health but with no prospect of returning to racing, Polanski was unlikely to find a stud berth as a commercial prospect, being a staying son of the late Chatswood Stud shuttler Rakti (Polish Precedent), so McGregor – an equine vet who has been involved with Polanski since his yearling days – decided to stand the horse herself at Ducks Crossing Farm, where she operates a veterinary clinic.

The five years since have been a self-confessed ‘long road’ and ‘labour of love’, but one that is now starting to bear fruit, with Fabulanski the headline act but by no means the sole star of the show. Reflecting on those early years, McGregor says: “I was doing a lot of Robbie’s (Laing) work at the time he bought Polanski at the sales. He came back and he’d got crook at the sales – he had ticks – and he was one of those horses that was a bit of a handful.”

“They’d had a lot of issues with him during the yearling prep and the Raktis had a bit of a reputation of being difficult. Everyone was gelding all of the Raktis and I remember telling Robbie ‘you’re going to have to geld the Rakti colt’ and he replied ‘this is my Derby colt, I’m not gelding him’, so it was a case of ‘oh well, we’re all going to die!’”

Laing’s insistence that Polanski should remain entire was handsomely vindicated by his racecourse exploits, but the joy elicited by his Derby success was in sharp contrast to the agony suffered by connections following his next-start injury.

“He won the Derby and was favourite for the 2014 Melbourne Cup after that,” McGregor continues.

“The owners got offered a huge amount of money for him, but they didn’t want to sell. He got to the autumn and unfortunately he broke down at Caulfield – it was a pretty catastrophic injury and it was a case of getting him back at my place. We were all just gutted and we nearly thought we were going to have to put him down at one point, but we got him back here – in my backyard – as I’ve got a little clinic at home.”

“He was in a full-wing cast for three months and he was my number one patient. We rehabilitated him by walking him up and down the driveway, just to get the strength back in his legs, and he’s never left!”

Expanding on her decision to stand Polanski, McGregor adds: “My husband and I decided we were going to keep him. We got to know the owners over the course of Polanski’s career. It’s nice that he’s with all of us, we’re his tribe, and he’ll be with us forever – he’s part of the family. He doesn’t owe anything to anyone, but it’s the icing on the cake that we can do this and breed some.”

Polanski has thus far produced seven individual winners and they include VRC Oaks (Gr 1, 2500m) starter Lesedi, progressive three-year old Gennady and Saturday’s Listed winner Fabulanski, who is intertwined in the Polanski story more than simply being a flagbearer for his sire.

“Fabulanski is co-owned by Ross and Fran Warner, who bred the colt and owned 50 per cent of Polanski as a racehorse. They foaled Fabulanski down and he’s been called that since the day he was born.”

Ross and Fran have always been racehorse owners, but Polanski has given them another dimension and they’ve never been as heavily involved as Polanski has made them.

“We’ve been on a journey – Ross, Fran, my husband and I – and I’m so pleased for them. It’s very emotional and they’ve seen it all now.”

McGregor speaks candidly of that journey, one that is refreshingly non-commercial in an era whereby financial implications dominate the bloodstock industry so strongly, sometimes perniciously.

“We’re all spending a fortune, but it’s one of those stories where you just fall in love with the horse and you would do anything for them – and we are,” she says. “We’re not going to die wondering – we’re probably going to die destitute, but not wondering!”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding, especially with results like Saturday. A lot of people say ‘Derby horses don’t make it at stud’ or ‘he won’t be commercial’, but it’s a bonus for me because he wouldn’t be at my place if he was anymore commercial – one of the big studs would have snapped him up.

“It’s a really hard game trying to compete with all of the other stallions that are here, the big commercial studs and the marketing machines behind them, so we decided we won’t compete. We’ll breed our own and the results will be on the racetrack.”

Polanski will once again stand for a fee of $5,500 in 2019, but McGregor is honest in her assessment of how the horse is perceived among Victorian breeders. “I knew he wouldn’t get a great number of mares, but I was surprised he didn’t get more interest from local breeders,” she says. “He’s quite well-bred, he’s just not fashionable being by Rakti. Even though Rakti won six Group 1s and was a champion, people don’t want them. They’ve just got a reputation of not being the easiest to train.”

Elaborating how she and her co-owners have supported the horse at stud, McGregor continues: “Most of the mares he’s covered have been our own, or the owners’ or Robbie’s – we’re spending money, not making money. “We’ve sourced good mares, but they’ve been bargain basement mares, well-bred types that have been cast off and you pick up cheaply at the sales, while a lot of them have been older. He’s had to do it the hard way.”

However, McGregor is buoyant about the future prospects of Polanski, particularly given the youngsters on the ground who have not yet reached racing age. She says: “We’ve got some cracking foals and it’s exciting because I know the foals we’ve got are going to be like Polanski. He’s a beautiful horse – magnificent – and his progeny are big, rangy and strong – he’s throwing types like himself, which is really good.”

“They’re going to out-muscle other horses, especially as late two-year-olds and early three-year-olds. He used to monster everything. They’re quite dominant horses, but even breaking them in they really want to work with you. Also, Fabulanski is just a big, raw colt and it’s been a really big ask for him just having six starts. They’re tough – he got there and he won it – and that’s a bonus.”

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg and our powder is still dry. We’ve got plenty of nice horses around and they’re just works in progress. They take time, but I think they will speak for themselves when we get them to the races.”

McGregor is also hopeful the success of Fabulanski will stimulate more interest from outside breeders. “In previous years he’s covered between two and five outside mares, which is nothing, but there should be some more interest this year on the back of Fabulanski’s win,” she continues. “Even from the number of people who have texted me and I think people are genuinely pleased for us.”

“We’re the underdogs, but we’re on the right path and we’ve got to stay the course.”

Casting her final thoughts over the weekend exploits of Fabulanksi, McGregor says: “We’re crazy horse people – we have to dream and we’re living the dream. It’s been a long road and it’s been a labour of love, but we’re rapt.”

“Just to get horses to the races in the first place, but then to get some nice ones coming out and to get a stakes winner, we’re really pleased, and we’re really proud of Polanski. “He’s a once in a lifetime horse for me – he’s very special.”

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