Exciting mare Duchess of Dorset overcame a near fatal attack of colic to loom as a genuine Group contender for well-known Warrnambool racing administrator and identity Marg Lucas.
Trained by Symon Wilde, the mare didn’t start her racing career until March this year as a four-year-old but has made up for a delayed start to racing with four wins and a second from six starts.
The now five-year-old scored an impressive victory at last Saturday’s Ballarat Cup meeting in a benchmark 79 for mares four-years and up.
She lived up to her pre-race hype when she started as the $1.95 favourite and won by 2.8 lengths.
The mare’s only “blemish” was when she finished fourth at her second start, coming off her debut win at Stawell, on a heavy Warrnambool track.
Lucas bred Duchess of Dorset after sending her broodmare Commands Gold (Commands x Gold Tycoon) to Canford Cliffs (IRE) when the stallion stood at Blue Gum Farm.
But the mare nearly didn’t make it to the track.
“She got colic early on in her career when she was being pre-trained and that was the reason why she only started racing recently,” Lucas said.
“She got through the colic operation which was a bit of a process in the middle of 2019 and when I eventually got her home I thought what do I do with her now.
“I was paralysed with fear, but they did a fabulous job up at Symon Wilde’s satellite stable at Ballarat. It was probably lucky that they were able to walk her down to the vet clinic and I got a phone call in the middle of the night from a vet, Travis Smyth who was a surgeon at the clinic, asking what we were going to do.”
Lucas said that her initial thoughts was to put the filly down, but she rang her daughter, Phoebe Farrel, who she describes as the horse person of her four children, and she insisted that they attempt to save the horse.
After a successful operation, the filly was then sent to Laura Dixon’s rehabilitation property at Ballarat.
“It was a long process but it all turned out very well,” Lucas said.
But Lucas said that in the long months of Duchess of Dorset’s layoff the filly wasn’t developing her bones through work which left her a casualty of shin soreness.
“When we started to get her back into work, I got over being paralysed with fear over whether I race her or not because she is nicely bred and I thought I could breed from her without racing her.
“But I have a few mares I breed from and she was sitting in the paddock and I thought I’d give her a burl and she went into Symon’s and we got her to the track she did have shin soreness but she won her first race and then had another run on heavy track which didn’t entirely suit her.”
Lucas said the colic operation and shin soreness combined to give Duchess of Dorset a late start to her career.
“You learn something,” she said.
“I have been around horses all my life.
“But she has just turned out to be a lovely horse and if she was a person you would want her to be your best friend. You get those horses that are saying what do you want me to do next and she sort of races a bit like that.”
And Lucas finds it interesting that five-year progeny by Canford Cliffs are starting to pop up and be successful.
It wasn’t a hard choice for her to send Commands Gold to Canford Cliffs when he served his biggest book – 136 – at Blue Gum in 2015. As well as Duchess of Dorset, that crop included the talented Wicklow Town and Paul’s Regret.
“When he came upon the thoroughbred booklet, I loved the look of him and his pedigree and away we went,” Lucas said.
“All these things are good luck aren’t they?”
After serving only 30 mares in 2016, the Coolmore owned stallion didn’t have enough support to shuttle back to Australia.
Commands Gold started her racing career with David Hayes and had her first three starts in South Australia and then raced in Victoria before transferring to Charlie Goggin in Tasmania. The mare, which won six races and had eight minor placings from 36 starts, finished her career at Geelong with Nicholas Roe.
Lucas paid $9000 for the mare at the 2011 Inglis August Thoroughbred Sale.
She bred a Domesday colt – Bill The Conqueror – a winner of three races out of the mare, followed by Duchess of Dorset. The mare died in 2019, a year after producing a colt by Fiorente.
“The mare got travel sickness and died very quickly, and so for this little possum (Duchess of Dorset) we are just astounded with what we have achieved,” she said.
“We are very grateful for it, but she deserves it as well.
“I had been looking for a Commands mare for some time because I thought they were good. With her pedigree, she could run and I was hoping for something to happen.
“Her younger brother is by Fiorente and has just gone into work.”
Lucas has pushed for prizemoney for maiden winners to be increased in country races to a level of $45,000 as she believes there should be a bigger financial reward for that first win to compensate the high costs of breeding and just getting a horse to the races.
She was disappointed to be told by racing chiefs that her plan would cost $10 million, only to see a few weeks later three new pop races announced that would cost that amount.
“I have been breeding horses, and my mother bred horses before me and my father before me, it doesn’t make any sense not to be supporting that end of it,” she said.
“I won three races in a year and pocketed $36,000, but if I went and home and said I’ve won three races and have got $75,000 in the kit, I’d been feeling a lot better about myself and reinvesting.”
Lucas, who was on the Warrnambool Racing Club committee for 21 years and served as chairman from 2000 to 2009, has six active broodmares and several younger ones that have yet to be sent to stud.
One of her mares is the former Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott trained Diamonds and Rust (Medaglia x Gabbidon), a Sydney city winner which Lucas bought online for $27,000 and planned to send to stud this year.
Instead she gave the five-year-old mare to Wilde to train and he had success with her, winning at Geelong earlier this month.
The mares race under Lucas’ family syndicate -Looks Great Racing. She adopted the name from the horse – Looks Great – her brother James Nicol raced to 14 victories, including city wins and Group placings.
A former trainer, Lucas was one of the first females to be licensed in the 1960s and bred Looks Great (Nisku) from the mare Mirontina which she trained.
“I have had a few good horses and they have all been homebreds and mare called Russian Bond (Special Bond x Borodina) which I raced was very handy,” Lucas said.
She also breeds Welsh Mountain ponies and the family also have Poll Hereford cattle on their 400 acre farm, north of Warrnambool. Her daughter Phoebe Farrel runs a bigger, adjoining farm.
And Wilde described Duchess of Dorset’s win as “pretty painless.”
“I said this morning and even post-race, she’s such a reliable horse.” he said in his postrace interview.
“She’s bombproof in everything she does.
“She conserves her energy travelling up here and is a lovely quiet horse. She’s got good gate speed, settles well and she’s just a really good racehorse.
“I think she’s stakes quality. Her run at Flemington and probably highlighted that. A listed race or a Group 3 mare’s race is definitely not beyond her.
“And the way she races, putting herself in great positions, she’ll get her chance. It might be over in Adelaide, I’m not sure, but she’s definitely stakes quality.
“This horse had colic surgery which is why she hasn’t done a lot of racing and thankfully she did get that done because she’s got a really nice mare on her hands.”
Wilde described Lucas as a great racing person from the local area and said he was so pleased that she’s got a nice horse.