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Queensland flavour to Melbourne Cup favourite

By Andrew Adermann

There are number of similarities between last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Vow And Declare and this year’s current favourite, Russian Camelot.

Both are trained by the Geelong-based Danny O’Brien and both lap up the waves by enjoying a gallop along the beaches of the Bellarine Peninsula.

A little-known fact however is that both are part-owned by Queenslanders, with 15% of the new Cup favourite’s ownership here in the Sunshine State.   

Russian Camelot was launched into Cup contention on the back of an almighty South Australian Derby win at the weekend, where he travelled three-wide and near-last for the majority of the 2500 metre trip.

The youngest horse in the field drew to the extreme outside at the final turn and stormed home with ease past $2.90 race favourite Dalasan to score a comfortable two-length Group 1 victory.

We’re all country people and one of the things that is the fabric of smaller communities is horse racing, you grow up with it and you grow up around it so it stays in your blood.

Dan Fletcher, an Emerald local, operates the syndicate Qld Cup Colts who own 10% of the SA Derby champion.

Like many owners, he says that above all he just loves the experience of being involved in the industry.

“We’re all country people and one of the things that is the fabric of smaller communities is horse racing, you grow up with it and you grow up around it so it stays in your blood,” Fletcher said.

“All of the people in the syndicate were initially clients of mine (as a financial planner) who have a common interest in racing.

“There’s 10 couples in our syndicate, so it’s a pretty big, noisy group!

“We all went down and watched him in the Spring Carnival race at Flemington and we went out to Bowen Heads to see the O’Brien stable.

“That’s what we did it for – the experience and the journey that you can go through with all these people.”

Russian Camelot was bred abroard in the United Kingdom, and through two of his English friends, Fletcher came across two yearlings picked out by the astute bloodstock agent Jeremy Brummitt. 

“I specifically loved his breeding, and am familiar with Camelot and I rang Danny and said I’d be interested in taking 10% of the Camelot yearling,” Fletcher said.

“We’re just going off what someone else’s judgement says really, we hadn’t physically inspected the horse as it was all done through guys in the U.K.”

Russian Camelot had only been to the races four times prior to the weekend’s start, and a significantly interrupted preparation meant that his lead-up race for the Group 1 assignment was a Benchmark 64 at Packenham on a Thursday night.

Despite his age and build-up to the race, the support for the promising colt was there in droves, opening a $4.80 third-favourite mid-week before being smashed into near-equal favouritism come jump time.

“It was one of those days I guess – he’s just a baby and has had issues with barriers and a few problems behaviorally so when Saturday rolled around we were just watching everything so closely and he’s just become so much more relaxed,” Fletcher said.

“In the race everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but the funny thing is when you just focus on the horse you could tell he was just in second gear.

“I never felt defeated or thought that he wasn’t in the race but you’re always conscious of the task in front of him.

“When you hear an iconic sports commentator like Bruce McAvaney saying ‘we’ve just seen a champion’ you literally just cannot believe it.”

The three-year-old was subsequently crunched from $26 into $13 (now $11) for the 2020 Melbourne Cup futures market, and while Fletcher would love to see him on the first Tuesday in November, ultimately he hopes a different path awaits for the star.

“Absolutely we’d hope for that (to see him in a Melbourne Cup), and if he goes there that’s as big as it can be for a lot of people,” Fletcher said.

“In the bottom of my heart I’d probably hope that he can be a weight-for-age horse – the Melbourne Cup is obviously the public spectacle but the Cox Plate is the racing jewel.

“We’ll start to see reasonably early in the spring if he’s a handicapper and I think he’ll be a weight-for-age horse at some point but maybe not this year as he’s probably not going to get another chance to be that well-weighted in the Cup.”

Whilst stopping short of claiming the colt as a local, he’ll always have support from the maroon state going forward with hope that one day we could see him go around our tracks.

“If Danny had listened to me and sent him up here for a spell I’d be claiming him, but it would be very cheeky if I did that but we’ll claim him once I get some Queensland sunshine on his back,” Fletcher said.

“I was desperately hoping to get him up here for the winter carnival but unfortunately that’s not possible now.

“If you’re going by the raw number of owners then he’s absolutely one of us!”

Meanwhile, Fletcher also operates Telemon Stud, a 240-acre property located on the banks of the Logan River, which is starting to make a name for itself in breeding circles.

Over the years, the property has stood notable stallions including Success Express, Mossman, Written Tycoon and Bel Esprit, whilst producing superstars including Zoustar, Buffering and Gold Edition.

Earlier this week, Fletcher announced Sun City, a lightly raced Zoustar colt, had been retired and would stand his first season at Telemon Stud.

Having won the Group 3 BJ McLachlan for Tony McEvoy at Doomben, Sun City was installed at the top of betting for the 2019 Magic Millions 2YO Classic before he was struck down with a joint infection.

“We feel a certain type of horse suits Queensland and the incentive scheme we have here,” Fletcher said.

“They need to be early maturing and fast. SUN CITY has those qualities. To go with it he’s a genuine head turner with a great temperament.

“The issue that curtailed his career was not congenital which, for me as a breeder, is important.” 

A $525,000 yearling purchase from the 2018 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, Sun City is out of the listed-winning sprinter Roulettes and will stand for an introductory fee of $7,700 (all fees inclusive of GST).