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29 April 2011

Vale Hot Danish - a life in pictures

This is an obituary, and one that I am late posting.  There is no excuse for it, apart from exhaustion from going through so many photographs during a very busy period during April.  I counted I'd been home for only about 6 days in the month of April before I got home on Tuesday.  However, if I have to make an excuse, almost as if to apologise to the great mare for my lateness, my excuse is that I wanted to do her justice.

The reason for this posting is the death of one of my favourite racehorses.  Hot Danish.  She was foaled in 2003, sired by Nothin' Leica Dane and out of a mare called Hot n' Breezy.  Les Bridge bought her at the Inglis Scone Yearling Sale in 2005 for $32,000.  He'd liked her on paper, but wasn't so keen on seeing her.  Thank goodness his wife convinced him otherwise.  She will never have the esteemed place in the industry that the recently deceased stallion Sadler's Wells occupied.  That sort of standing is only reserved for a handful of mares if they become gems at stud.  Such mares would include among them luminaries like Fall Aspen, Eight Carat, Shantha's Choice.  Mares that were able to create their own sort of dynasty.  Sadly Hot Danish didn't ever make it to stud.  And she won't go down in the history books like the currently unbeaten champion Black Caviar.  But Hot Danish won 16 races in total, including 2 Group 1 races, and a string of Stakes races during her career.  And just for fun, along the way she also became the darling of the Sydney turf.  She didn't hurt her case by being jet black.  Who doesn't love a black pony!  And she sported a bright red bridle (the browband carrying a green stripe on it as well) and reins, to compliment her bright red and green silks.  I have a similar bridle at home here somewhere, and photographs of me working the lovely Freelance in it, when we were going through a 'red' phase (with red jodphurs, saddlecloth and probably bandages!).  She hasn't worn it in a while, perhaps I should dig it out though....

The first time I saw, and photographed Hot Danish was on 14 April 2007.  It was on Sydney Cup Day, and she won the Group 2 Emancipation Stakes.  I recall the day, because one of my Editors, Andrew Speedy, who does Racetrack Magazine, had that delighted grin on his face.  He explained how much he liked the filly, and that he thought she was a superstar.  She'd been on the recovery trail from injury, and I don't recall that she beat all that much, but ironically the date I first photograped her was almost 4 years to the day she was put down at the Randwick Equine Hospital.  And Andrew was right.  She was destined for great things.  

Hot Danish after winning the 2007 Emancipation Stakes on 14 April 2007. 

I'm struggling to recall the next time I photographed the black mare.  She was probably stranded in Sydney during the Spring of 2007, which was of course the year of Equine Influenza.  I think that it was during the 2008 Autumn Carnival.  The black mare was widely tipped to win the Coolmore Classic, which from memory, in a reshaped Autumn Carnival in the wake of EI and racing resuming again in Sydney, was run on Golden Slipper day.  She encountered a bog track though, and ran second to Eskimo Queen.  Wet tracks would bring Hot Danish undone on numerous occasions, she just couldn't quicken in the wet, and because of her record, she was by now asked to carry significant weights, and carried 57kg to the winner's 56kg.  On the wet track it proved enough, and she ran second.

Running second to Eskimo Queen on a heavy track on 2008 Golden Slipper Day, on 19 April.
So I think that the 2008 Salinger Stakes (pictured below) was the next occasion on which I was able to photograph her winning.  This was the first year I had my D3 camera, which was making an enormous difference to the quality of the images I was able to produce.  It was probably also the only time that I photographed a different jockey aboard the mare, as her regular rider throughout her career with Tim Clark.  On this occasion Danny Nikolic had the ride, and she won the sprint race coming down the outside. 

G2 Salinger Stakes - 2008.  Danny Nikolic had the ride.
Atta girl.  I actually really love this image.  Ears pinned back, goodness she meant business!

With the devoted Lenny.

The next win that Hot Danish and I recorded together was in the 2009 Breeders Classic.  It was run in driving rain, and was the first raceday I'd had my new 500mm lens.  I'd only picked it up the day before, and was my first Nikon lens that I'd owned which came in a metal case!  She didn't think much of the rain, but this mare was honest as the day is long, so despite turning her head in protest at the rain, she still had far too much for this field.

The G2 Breeders Classic - 14 February 2009

Her next start was a terrific effort.  It was on 7 March 2009, back at Royal Randwick, in the Wiggle Quality, which she'd won the year before.  She carried the grandstand, 61kg of it.  The Wiggle is named after another grand racemare, who raced in the late 1950s.  Wiggle's victories included the Caulfield Guineas, Stradbroke Handicap, Champagne Stakes, Linlithgow and Hobartville Stakes amoung many.  It was race 9, at 5.43pm, so the light was getting to that contrasty stage it does at Headquarters, but I travelled down the track to get her in full flight.  She didn't disappoint.  In full flight, she was a sight to behold.  Last spring, in November 2010, I realised how large the mare actually was.  She was deceptively tall, but you didn't realise this until you got up next to her. 

Heading to the barriers before the 2009 Breeders Classic

Full flight - the Listed Wiggle Stakes with 61kg on 7 March 2009.

Oh black pony, run... run... run...

She was saved for the Queen of the Turf Stakes but again struck a wet track, and ran second to Neroli.  Hot Danish then struggled during the Spring carnival of 2009.  She ran down the track behind Typhoon Tracy, and her trainer Les Bridge would say later that he just didn't have her right that Spring.  

In 2010, the bonny black mare showed all was well again though.  On 20th March 2010, which was Coolmore Classic Day, she won the G2 Canterbury Stakes.  In the bright sunshine, with her glossy black coat a tribute to the loving care her strapper and trackwork rider Lenny bestowed upon her, she strode over the Rosehill turf.

Hot Danish after winning the 2010 Canterbury Stakes (G2) at Rosehill Gardens on 20 March 2010.
Cantering to the barrier.  Canterbury Stakes.
Hot Danish winning the G2 Canterbury Stakes at Rosehill Gardens on 20 March 2010

It was during this autumn campaign that Hot Danish finally nailed that elusive Group 1 victory.  However before she did this, we were left wondering whether that the Group 1 win would ever come.  Hot Danish contested the G1 TJ Smith Stakes on 10 April 2010, and she loomed up to take the lead.  However there was a collective groan when the 3 year old Redoute's Choice filly Melito overpowered her to win.  Melito's a very good racehorse, she's been high class since she emerged as a 2 year old, and she carried only 54.5kg to Hot Danish's 56.5kg.  In fact Melito has been unfortunate herself, as she's been racing during the same time as other great mares like Hot Danish, More Joyous and Black Caviar.

But Hot Danish returned to Royal Randwick full of defiance a fortnight later.  She fronted up for the G1 All Aged Stakes (1400m) on 24 April 2010.  The light had grown oppressively dark, and not for first time was I cursing the programming decision to run a feature race like the All Aged Stakes as Race 7 (4.15pm) at the very end of April.  The light had been nice for the Sydney Cup, but the clouds suddenly loomed, and that last light of the day meant that I had to push my camera to it's absolute limit.  Not for the first time I found myself thanking Nikon silently for creating a camera like the D3.  Melito had no answer to the black mare's determined charge, as Hot Danish pinned her ears back and went straight past her.  The roar from the crowd was deafening, and the race caller was emotional as well.  When she crossed the line her jockey Tim Clark punched the air in triumph, and I wasn't the only one in tears.  There were joyous scenes in the mounting yard as she returned to scale, which will stay with me forever. 

Joy after the All Aged Stakes
Les Bridge after the All Aged Stakes on 24 April 2010
Les Bridge with jockey Tim Clarke following the All Aged Stakes on 24 April 2010
At last.  Hot Danish overpowers Melito to win the G1 All Aged Stakes.  Royal Randwick.  24 April 2010.  She was never going to lose this race.


The last time I photographed the great mare winning was once again at Rosehill Gardens, on Tea Rose Stakes Day, 19 September 2010.  She won the G2 Premiere Stakes, first up after having scored a second deserved Group 1 victory north of the border in the Doomben 10,000 in May 2010.  It was a good day's racing that also included Descarado (who went on to win the G1 Caulfield Cup) winning the Hill Stakes and More Strawberries the Tea Rose.  But it was Hot Danish whom the crowd reserved the biggest cheers for.

Hot Danish and Tim Clark return triumphant in the G2 Premiere Stakes, first up after their second Group 1 triumph in the Doomben 10,000.  Oh how they cheered the black horse.

Affection.  Timmy Clark pats the great mare between the ears after her 15th victory.  She won the AJC The Shorts after this.

Victory in the AJC The Shorts followed, in driving rain, on Epsom Day.  I didn't go that day, and of course I regret it now, although the weather was appalling.  There are times when Royal Randwick just can't take a trick, and the frequency that they receive rain on their big days is indeed unfortunate.

She then met Black Caviar on Cox Plate Day, in the G2 Moir Stakes and ran second.  Black Caviar of course has proved herself to be a sensation, and it was no disgrace to be beaten, albeit it well beaten, by the horse who's recently been rated the very best racehorse in the world. 

I'd arrived in Melbourne, following a long drive with Jessica with me, on Thursday 28th October, for Melbourne Cup week.  On the Friday I spent some time at Flemington Racecourse, just getting some casual images of the bigger names in racing before Derby Day.  First I went up to Saintly Place, naturally to do So You Think having a walk and a pick.  By the time I got to the pool, I was pretty sure  I'd missed all the action.  Imagine my delight when into the pool came the familiar black horse with the red and green headcollar on, with Lenny at her side.  It was warm and sunny that day, and I was beginning to wonder whether the Bureau of Meteorology's grim forecast of torrential rain on Saturday, which was VRC Derby Day, which had prompted me to spend $400 on rain covers for my expensive equipment, was going to eventuate.  Sigh, how right they were!

Hot Danish has a swim in the pool at Flemington Racecourse on Friday 29th October 2010. 


Hot Danish finished sore and sorry in the terrible conditions on VRC Derby Day in the Group 1 Myer Classic behind the mudlark Sacred Choice and Typoon Tracy.  The heavens opened after race 3, I've never photographed in worse conditions.  The rain was heavy, and relentless.  I think Flemington recorded about 50mm of rain between races 5 and 8, it was just appalling.  The track which had been so pristine disintegrated in front of us, and the race results, with the exception of the champion So You Think, reflected the heavy track.  I was cold, wet and miserable by the end of the day, and looked like a drowned rat.  

Oh pony...  She hated every moment of it, but didn't shirk her task.  Here she is running third to Sacred Choice and Typhoon Tracy in the Myer Classic.  It should have been hers, this race.  Wretched, wretched, utterly bloody weather and Weather God.  He was mean this day....

On the Monday before the running of the 150th Melbourne Cup I spent quite a bit of time again at Flemington.  I went to trackwork early and got So You Think, and then in the afternoon I headed back to the pool to see who was swimming.  It was a good little session, with Shoot Out and Shocking making appearances.  The images of Shocking were terrific, because he has a terrific splash before getting into the water.  However these photographs of Hot Danish will always be the treasures from the afternoon.  Sadly, these turned out to be the the last images that I ever took of the mare.  I chatted with Lenny, asking how she was, and whether she was ok after Saturday.  He explained she was stiff and sore, but otherwise ok.  He later called out asking whether I wanted to come back to the stables and get a photo with the mare.  "Oh yes please!!".

Posing for the camera.  Today it was cold.  I took these images on 1 November 2010, the day before the Melbourne Cup.  It was cold, and bleak, and I didn't envy her having a swim.  


Thanx Lenny for trusting me with your pony that day.  She was far more valuable, in any terms, than my camera and lens (we had a little joke about swapping jobs).  I fed her carrots, led her out of her box, led her around, and we posed for the camera in the cold afternoon before the 150th Melbourne Cup. 

And a series of photos I'll now always treasure. 

So farewell pony.  You were great....  I wish John Singleton had gotten his dream and bought you as a broodmare.  You'd have been perfect for More Than Ready.  I could have photographed you in the Hunter, and your babies as tiny things, and then later one day hopefully if they inherited one iota of your courage and brilliance, on the racetrack.