Part-owners Kevin Morris and Barney McCahill follow Castletown and Noel Harris, as the horse is led back to scale by a youthful Trent Busuttin.   Photo: Race Images

Looking back at Castletown’s Auckland Cup

Mary Burgess for LOVERACING.NZ
8 March 2023

Hang around racing circles long enough and you will hear tales of that one magical campaign where everything went right.

Reminisce with former Foxton trainer Paddy Busuttin about his former charge, the incomparable Castletown, and he will tell you the lead up to the 1992 Auckland Cup was that campaign.

“Everything went a hundred percent, we went down by a nose in the Queen Elizabeth to Just A Dancer, but everything was spot on,” he recalled. “We were as confident as we could be, because it is still racing so probably more hopeful than confident.”

The previous year, off the back of a solid second in the Avondale Cup behind stablemate Coconut Ice and then turning the tables, downing him by a length in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Castletown went into the 1991 Auckland Cup as favourite. On that occasion he finished fourth, before heading back to the Central Districts and taking out the Trentham Stakes enroute to his first Wellington Cup win.

In 1992, his two lead up races prior to the Queen Elizabeth were in his home province, with an unplaced run over a mile at Otaki and, five days out from the Queen Elizabeth, a second over 2200m at Awapuni.

Busuttin recalled his pre-race optimism waning just a little as the Auckland Cup progressed with Castletown settling back while Melco and David Peake shot away to a big lead.

“I was getting a bit anxious but then he and Noel started to make their run, I do remember Pauline Deacon was standing behind us and she was so excited, you’d think they’d won it themselves,” he said.

Castletown and Noel Harris prevailed by half a length over Lurestina and Lance O’Sullivan, with Cool Reception and Vinnie Colgan a further three and half lengths back in third.

“Once he got to the front he could’ve gone another lap,” Noel Harris recalled earlier this week. “He was just one out of the box, horses like that don’t come around every day.”

Busuttin is missing from the return to scale photo at the top of this story and I relay to him that his fellow part-owners Kevin Morris and Barney McCahill are walking behind Castletown and Harris, as an extremely youthful Trent Busuttin leads the horse. Busuttin, oddly I think, queries whether Barney is wearing a blue suit.

“I once asked him if that was his lucky suit, he said – Paddy, it’s my only suit! The day before the race, the club had put a function on for all the connections and Barney asked the kids who was going to lead Castletown in when he won the Cup. Trent was the quickest to volunteer, so that’s why he is leading him,” Busuttin said.

The team around Castletown weren’t scared to party – the celebrations which followed his Derby win were legendary – and Busuttin described the Auckland Cup festivities as some of the best.

“There was an Italian restaurant in Epsom, the bloke was a mad racegoer, and the place was always packed,” he said.

“On New Year’s eve Mum and Dad came through and I took them into the restaurant for dinner and said to the bloke that if we won the Cup, we would be back the following night with around 12 to 20 people. Well, I think there were about 60 of us in the end and he emptied the place out so we could party all night.”

The Auckland Cup win was the first in a scintillating run of three, with the Trentham Stakes leading into Castletown’s second Wellington Cup win, this one by a commanding five lengths.

Looking back at Castletown’s race record, it is no wonder he promptly found his way into the Hall of Fame. What was it like to live through the experience of a horse whose career included a Derby; Group One weight-for-age success on both sides of the Tasman; and multiple Group One placings; and who is etched in popular memory thanks to his staying prowess?

“You think you really appreciate what they are doing at the time, but you probably don’t realise just how good it was, and he was, until you look back on it,” Busuttin said.

You might also like