By Ray Hickson
Exciting, sexy, tough to win – the $3.5m Longines Golden Slipper is 1200m of pure adrenaline.
It’s the signature race for the best young horses in Australia as they chase the richest prize in the world for two-year-olds.
Gai Waterhouse has won six Golden Slippers - equal with her legendary father TJ Smith - and she’ll be striving for a record seventh at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
And Racing’s First Lady makes no secret of her desire to win the race that can be career defining for a horse, an owner and a trainer.
“It’s all about youth. That’s what makes it so exciting,’’ Waterhouse said.
“It is a sexy race and it really gets people excited and wanting to have a Slipper runner and winner.
“I always say a woman can never have enough diamonds and you can never have enough Slippers.’’
What is the Golden Slipper and why is it special?
As a race day it’s sleek, stylish and classy but the Australian Turf Club also embraces the fact it’s in the heart of Western Sydney.
And racing is a great leveller. Just ask last year’s winning trainer Gary Portelli.
The Slipper is an aspirational race, like the Melbourne Cup, that since Todman won the first running in 1957 all trainers have wanted to win. And you don’t need a sheikh’s budget to win it.
Portelli, from Orange in central western NSW, won it with a filly called She Will Reign that came with a raft of owners, just a $20,000 price tag and a dynamic turn of foot.
“It was a dream come true. Now looking back at it the achievement has set in,’’ Portelli said.
“Always in the back of my mind I thought I’d win one, I don’t know what it was, and last year I felt if I couldn’t win with that horse I probably never would.
“I was so lucky to get the horse. It’s a great story of luck, hard work and achievement. It was a big job by all my staff, they were on tenterhooks the whole time, to have her ready on the day.’’
The mounting yard swarmed with She Will Reign’s owners in the seconds after she crossed the line first in 2017, with the cheers, pandemonium and sheer joy evidence this was a fairy tale story.
“You may not see scenes like that ever again because it is so hard for smaller syndicates to own a horse that is as good,’’ Portelli said.
“They were blessed as well to have a horse worth $20,000 come along and win a Golden Slipper.’’
If a colt wins the Slipper, regardless of how much they cost, they’re instantly worth millions and their future secured at stud.
Waterhouse has trained three Slipper winning colts – Pierro, Sebring and Vancouver - and she’s hoping to add the talented Santos to that roster in 2018.
“This decides what will be the stallion that will shape Australian breeding. Invariably, Slipper winners become successful stallions,’’ she said.
“It’s won by the horse that’s toughest mentally and physically, it’s a high cruising speed race and often for a horse that can run further than 1200m.’’
But it’s not over after the Slipper – if the horse is good enough there’s the two-year-old Triple Crown to chase. And it takes a special youngster to pull it off, as Pierro did in 2012.
Two weeks after the Slipper is the $1m Inglis Sires Produce, run over 1400m, then on April 21 the tough Randwick mile comes into play in the $500,000 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes.