Bonecrusher - a true champion

Tim Barton
12 March 2021

It is 35 years since the great Bonecrusher won his first New Zealand Stakes, the race now named in his honour, which will be run at Ellerslie on Saturday.

Bonecrusher was a three-year-old when he comfortably defeated Abit Leica and Lacka Reason in 1986 and returned to win the race again, two years later, beating Horlicks and Sounds Like Fun.

Bonecrusher’s 1986 victory was part of a spectacular three-year-old campaign which gave the champion chestnut a huge profile in both New Zealand and Australia.

He was placed but unable to win in his first four starts that season, including a third in the Two Thousand Guineas, but was not beaten again as a three-year-old.

An emphatic Bayer (Levin) Classic victory began a run of seven successive wins and by the end of his campaign he had won two Derbies and beaten the older horses at weight-for-age three times, with Group I weight-for-age wins on both sides of the Tasman.

Four of those wins came at Group I level but a similar campaign in 2020-21 would have netted him six Group I wins, as both the Levin Classic and Waikato International (Herbie Dyke Stakes) were then Group II races.

Melody Belle and Avantage, who headline this week’s Bonecrusher Stakes field, are outstanding racemares but will never match Bonecrusher for brand recognition.

Racing in general had a much higher profile in the 1980s and Bonecrusher, with his catchy name, a fierce determination to win and an articulate and co-operative trainer in Frank Ritchie, was a marketing dream.

He made a huge impact in NZ and Australia as a three and four-year-old. His stirring Cox Plate clash with Waverley Star is probably the race he is best remembered for, but he was no one-hit wonder.

By the end of his three-year-old campaign he had become the first NZ-trained galloper to top $1 million in earnings and by the end of the following season had become the biggest stake-earner in Australasia, topping the famed Australian galloper Kingston Town.

His career earnings of $2.89 million might look comparatively modest now – Probabeel is racing for a first prize of A$2.25 million this weekend – but was a huge amount at the time and by any standards a good return on his yearling purchase price of $3,250.

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