Champion racehorses can produce remarkable feats of athleticism and nobody who saw Chautauqua nail his third successive T J Smith Stakes at Randwick last weekend will ever forget the thrill, or dispute that “The Grey Flash” is also the real deal in the champion business.
But when commentators get over-excited they can sometimes go over the top. One gentleman was moved to say that the T J Smith run was “better than Bernborough”.
Let’s have a think about that.
Given that Bernborough had his last race in the 1946 L K S McKinnon Stakes – 71 years ago, there would be very few people around who would have first-hand memories of seeing him, so direct comparisons with Chautauqua are a bit difficult. But it is interesting to look at comparisons of their racing records.
Bernborough was foaled at Rosalie Plains, near Oakey on the Darling Downs in Queensland in 1939. He was a bay colt by the English sire Emborough out of a home-bred mare called Bern Maid and spent his early years in racing competing only at Clifford Park in Toowoomba. That wasn’t by choice. Bernborough was barred from metropolitan racing due to doubts over his ownership. In fact, he didn’t make it to a metropolitan track until he was sold to Azzalin Romano - ownership doubts disappeared and Bernborough moved to Sydney as a 6-year-old.
That was the trigger for a sequence of fifteen wins in a row, all of them characterised by a terrific turn of foot. But that is only half the story. Those fifteen wins covered distances from 1200 metres to 2420 metres and he carried weights of 58 kg or higher in all except one of those fifteen wins, and weights greater 62 kg in six, than peaking at hefting 68 kg to win the Doomben Cup over 2420 metres at his last start as a 6-year-old. He won twice over 1200 metres, three times over 1400 metres, four times over 1600 metres, four times over 2000 metres, once over 2200 metres and once over 2420 metres.
Bernborough’s overall racing record stands at 40 starts for 26 wins (65%) with 2 seconds, no thirds – a place strike rate of 70% - and 12 unplaced runs:
Bernborough struggled with soundness in his 4YO and 5YO seasons and really only came good physically when he transferred to Sydney.
Challenging for the lead in the 1946 L K S McKinnon Stakes at Flemington, Bernborough suffered torn sesamoid ligaments, was pulled up, and never raced again. He recovered from the injuries, was sold to Louis B Mayer, of Metro Goldwyn Mayer fame, and went to stud in the USA, where he had moderate success standing as a stallion at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. He sired the winners of more than $4,500,00 in prize money, back in the 1950’s.
Now, let’s look at Chautauqua.
Chautauqua is by Encosta De Lago out of Lovely Jubly and is a 6YO gelding.
He has had 28 starts for 13 wins (46%), 7 seconds, 4 thirds – a place strike rate of 85% - and 4 unplaced runs.
So, we are looking at races over distances ranging from 1000 metres to 1500 metres. In terms of weights carried, Chautauqua has carried between 54 kg and 59.5 kg, with the 59.5 kg happening only once. He has carried 58 kg or higher 16 times.
The comparison between champions is difficult, given the changing eras and different ways of training and racing horses, but it’s a bit more difficult to believe that Chautauqua is “better than Bernborough”, simply in terms of versatility and weights carried successfully.
Then again, racing is full of “colourful racing personalities”, or maybe our over-excited commentator was talking through his pocket, or from the bar!