At this week’s barrier draw for the Golden Slipper, one of Australia’s most influential horse races, table three stood out from the rest.
Men in suits accounted for most of the attendees at the draw, which would decide which position the star horses would start Saturday’s race in.
But at a table to the side of the stage, a group of women sat attentively.
Nervous owners traced their way through the tables one by one to draw a ball from a bolden box that would decide their runner’s gate.
One of the women from table 3 rose to draw the barrier for Sunlight, the horse tipped to win Saturday’s 2018 Golden Slipper.
“Barrier five!”, emcee Greg Radley exclaimed to the hundreds of spectators inside the spacious trackside pavilion at Rosehill Gardens, many of racing’s biggest names among them.
Racing scribes scribbled in trusty notebooks. The Slipper favourite had drawn well.
A class of her own
Sold by Widden Stud to trainer Tony McEvoy at the Magic Millions horse sale on January 12 last year, Sunlight has taken Australian racing by storm.
“She’s given us the best ride anyone could ever ask for,” says Katie Thompson, one of eight registered female owners of the filly.
“She just doesn’t give up.”
Sunlight with a good good win!
— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) March 17, 2018
Her win at the Magic Millions in January was backed up with a runaway performance in last week’s Magic Night Stakes in Sydney, which was her fifth win from six starts.
What’s just as rare as her racing, is her all-female ownership group.
The Australian Turf Club says the group will be the first all-female syndicate to race a horse in the prestigious race.
“She is a high-class filly and she’s got a really good group of ladies who own her, ” says trainer Tony McEvoy, who’s chasing history himself, having never won the race before.
“They are in it for all the right reasons.”
Thompson says the group knows how to celebrate and has fond memories of Sunlight’s victory at the Magic Millions Classic in January.
“At the Gold Coast we actually had a bit of a party the night before, just in case it didn’t go to plan.”
“But nothing will be the like the party on Saturday if she won.”
The Emerald connection
One of the filly’s owners, Rae Fletcher, has never seen her prized horse race in person. She’s making the trek from Emerald in central Queensland to Sydney this weekend to see her filly compete for the $2 million first prize.
Sunlight was bred by her husband Dan, a racing enthusiast, who gave Ms Fletcher her share.
“I just thought, that’s nice. That’s nice of him to do that,” she says.
“Then she got a third [place], and then five other first [places]. I think Dan will want to buy her back but I will have to tell him she’s gone up dramatically!”
Ms Fletcher can hardly wait to meet Sunlight for the first time.
“Normally I don’t like to be out in front of people and that sort of thing but I am so excited about it,” she says.
Ms Fletcher’s daughters Shannon and Jordan are also in the syndicate.
‘A bit of a diva’
Strapper Sarah Rutten is very much part of the team and has been spending the week in Sydney looking after and riding Sunlight, after her victory last week.
“She can be a bit of a diva at times, she likes things her own way and she lets you know if she doesn’t get them,” says Ms Rutten.
“But everything we ask of her she just does it. She is a pretty amazing horse.”
Ms Rutten says that, once it comes to crunch-time, the filly is “totally unflappable”.
“She doesn’t like to be brushed too much and likes to be left alone but she does fire up in the mounting yard, and I think she knows it’s game on.”
“When you have a lovely bunch of owners it does make it even more rewarding when they win.”
“We talk all the time and they ask how she is going, I tell them about her little quirks.”
“The ride hasn’t stopped.”