Flashback - Waikato Draught Sprint (now BCD Group Sprint)
Te Rapa’s star-studded February raceday has become famous for showcasing some of New Zealand racing’s very best, including appearances in 2001 and 2002 by arguably our greatest of all.
Subsequent years have featured victories by the likes of multiple Group One winners Darci Brahma, Seachange, Mufhasa, Shez Sinsational, Xtravagant, Volkstok’n’barrell, Start Wondering and Lizzie L’Amour, but none of them came close to matching the extraordinary atmosphere generated by the legendary Sunline.
The daughter of Desert Sun was raced by Trevor McKee, Thayne Green and Helen Lusty, and she carried the light blue, yellow and red colours of trainers Trevor and Stephen McKee. She was bred by Susan Archer and Michael Martin.
Sunline was very special from the start, winning her first eight races in a row on both sides of the Tasman from 1998 into early 1999.
By the time of her two Te Rapa showstoppers in the Waikato Draught Sprint (now BCD Group Sprint) in the early 2000s, Sunline was a dual Cox Plate winner and a multiple Horse of the Year in both New Zealand and Australia. She had flown our flag on the world stage with an unforgettable Hong Kong Mile victory in late 2000.
Followed everywhere she went by Melbourne-based expat New Zealand jockey Greg Childs, Sunline led all the way in her first Waikato Draught Sprint victory and cruised away for a four-length victory over Fritz and Spring Rain.
Her follow-up performance the following February was even more special, sitting in second place early in the race before ambling to the lead 800 metres from home. She put her rivals to the sword in the straight, opening up by four and three-quarter lengths from the Group One winners Honor Bound and Vinaka.
Sunline received a tremendous ovation from the packed Te Rapa stands, and the Tina Turner hit Simply The Best played over the sound system. The scenes were unlike anything else seen on a New Zealand racetrack in the 17 years since.
But Sunline still wasn’t finished. Her next three starts produced Group One victories in the Coolmore Classic, Doncaster Handicap and All-Aged Stakes in the Sydney. Her second Doncaster was a particularly memorable win, carrying 58 kilograms (a metric record for a mare) to a desperate short-half-head win over Shogun Lodge.
In the spring she added the Gr. 2 (now Gr. 1) Mudgway Partsworld Stakes (now Tarzino Trophy) at Hastings, extending her record on New Zealand soil to 10 wins from 10 starts. She signed off her final campaign with Group One placings in the George Main Stakes and Caulfield Stakes, and a gallant fourth in the Cox Plate.
“Sunline was the best horse I ever rode,” Childs reflected when he retired from riding in 2008.
“Every jockey dreams of riding a great horse like Sunline, she gave me my greatest moments in racing. If I'm remembered for nothing else but being Sunline's jockey, then I'd regard that as a real honour.”
Sunline finished her astonishing career with a record of 48 starts for 32 wins, nine seconds and three thirds. She won 13 Group One races, along with 14 others at Group Two or Three level, and she earned $14.11 million in prize-money.
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