By Brad Gray
It has been 10 years since Samantha Miss took all before her in the 2008 spring carnival.
Hugh Bowman remembers her as the horse that launched his career while Lees still regards her as the best he has ever trained.
Bowman partnered with the daughter of Redoute’s Choice, who was bought for $1.5 million as a yearling in 2007, in 11 of her 12 career runs. The only one he missed was when she carried the featherweight of 47.5kg in a Cox Plate, with Glenn Boss guiding her into third behind Maldivian.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Kris Lees and have had for many years and he said to me one day that I’ve got a good one here so you better come up so I trialled her at Gosford. We always had a high opinion of her. She was ahead of her time physically and mentally,” recalls Bowman.
“She was the springboard for me to get to where I am now. She was the start.
“I was often asked when she was racing if she was the best I had ever ridden and I said no at the time, having ridden horses like Defier and Racing To Win who were genuine Group One weight for age horses but with the benefit of experience and hindsight, I can now say she was the best horse I had ridden at that time.”
Legendary mare Winx now comfortably holds that mantle for Bowman but Samantha Miss is still in illustrious company on a second tier with So You Think, who Bowman rode on debut at Rosehill and then in the G3 Gloaming Stakes, and Reliable Man, who blew his rivals away in the 2013 Queen Elizabeth Stakes before breaking down soon after the line.
In that imperious 2008 spring, Samantha Miss swept the Princess Series, taking out the Silver Shadow Stakes, Furious Stakes and Flight Stakes before heading to Melbourne to run third in the Cox Plate and then dominate the Crown Oaks. The latter was Bowman’s first Group One win in Melbourne. She was only sighted once as an autumn three-year-old with a tendon injury prematurely ending her career.
“I’ve got no doubt that Samantha Miss would have got to that level (So You Think and Reliable Man) if she was given the chance,” Bowman said.
“They are the horses you dream of coming across in your career. I’ve been lucky enough to ride all over the world but I still know these types of horses don’t come around very often.
“The Flight Stakes was the first time in my career I have gone into a race knowing that I couldn’t be beaten. I rode a very arrogant race. She was simply better than them.”
Talking to Kris Lees, his recollection of not just Samantha Miss’s racetrack deeds but also the details about her pre-training and preparation, is incredible. It’s evident there is special place reserved in his mind for the filly. It’s not the same for all horses he assures.
Let’s not forget how good Samantha Miss was at two as well, taking out the Champagne Stakes to deny Sebring the coveted triple crown.
“I’ve had some good ones since but not one I feel I can compare to her yet,” Lees said.
Three-time Group One winner Lucia Valentina came close according to Lees but having described Samantha Miss as a “once in a lifetime” horse after she had won the Crown Oaks, there’s a possibility that Lees’ Broadmeadow base won’t ever be home to a more naturally gifted race horse.
“She only raced for a fleeting moment, about a 12 month period, so I’m sure we didn’t see the best of her. She was so dominant at three against her age, still, I would have liked to have had her for another 12 months I know that,” continued Lees.
“She was off the back of the Equine Influenza which saw a lot of yearlings held up. In that preparation it was the first time she had done any fast work and by the end of the preparation she won the Champagne Stakes. I look back now and I don’t know if I would have pushed her as much as I did but she handled everything so well and kept bouncing back.
“Her (late) owner Ron Croghan really wanted me to try to get her to the Golden Slipper if possible but she was showing she wasn’t really a 1200m horse. She ran in a couple of lead ups, running third and fourth, and then she ran a good second to Sebring who was so dominant at two in the Sires before beating him on the line in the Champagne Stakes.”
Sometimes in life you’ve got to be lucky and that was the case for Lees who recalls Croghan being the under bidder on another Redoute’s Choice filly earlier in the Inglis Easter Yearling sale, which made him more determined to buy the next one, out of Zabeel mare Milliyet.
“It’s funny how things work out, the sliding doors moments, he went to $1.5m for one earlier in the day and it was just how the catalogue fell, but he wasn’t going to miss the next one,” said Lees.
The hammer fell for $1.8m on the other filly which was subsequently named Mozambique. She went on to claim a Gosford maiden. Samantha Miss, on the other hand, was bought by Croghan for $1.5m, amassed $1,763,260 in prize money, claimed three Group Ones and was then sold as a broodmare for a then record figure of $3.85m.
“I hadn’t been training long so to be given a million dollar filly from the sale, I was quite fortunate but Ron was wonderful to train for,” Lees said.
“She had a break after the Oaks, came back in the Light Fingers and we were still undecided whether we were going to head towards another Oaks or the Doncaster. She charged home and just got beat first up at 1200m but in her next gallop she strained a tendon.
“We had hoped to get her back to the races but Ron decoded to put her through the broodmare sale which was probably about eight weeks later. John Singleton bought her and considered a comeback but decided to get her covered. If she didn’t get in foal they said they might give her another go but she did and that was it.
“Tendon injuries are buggers, they don’t cause the horse too much discomfort but they often don’t come back the horse that they went out.”
A decade on, Lees will give a daughter of Samantha Miss, named Miss Fabulass, the chance to replicate the deeds of her champion mother, at least as far as the Princess Series goes.
“Whether she’ll stay is the question, she has the pedigree to suggest she should but she is so brilliant it’s whether she gets out to a trip. Time will tell but there are some similarities I must say that,” said Lees, before noting the presence Miss Fabulass has.
“She is in at the right time of year if she is good enough but she is showing all of the right signs so far.”
Samantha Miss recently headed back to the UK to again be served by Frankel, the sire of Miss Fabulass.
*This article originally appeared in the September edition of the Racing NSW magazine.