Let me ask you this – which horse, when you were first introduced to thoroughbred horse racing, got you hooked, or at the very least, massively interested in this great sport?
Was it perhaps Secretariat after his Belmont Stakes win of unrivalled proportions; or did it occur in England watching the unbeaten exploits of Frankel who was the mightiest that part of the world has ever seem, or like many, as late and recent as Winx doing what no other equine in history has done before?
Maybe it wasn’t anything as lofty as that. Could have been one your parents owned, or one you scored a huge windfall on. It’s not important that I know, but you need to take a moment, pause from reading this yarn and put that horse in your mind.
Because it feels good to reflect on that horse, and you know what, no matter how detailed the historical accounts are, no matter how many eyewitnesses saw it too, no matter how complete the statistics, and no matter how vivid the film….that horse is your personal superstar and you just had to be there.
That was the way it was for me that day I saw my life-altering racehorse.
She was with legendary Aussie horse trainer Tommy Smith, who back in 1975 was in the prime of his life, when he seemingly could train a draft horse to win a Gr 1 race. TJ, as he was known, trained his squad out of Tulloch Lodge in suburban Sydney so proficiently that he changed the game and a city and brought masses to the sport. TJ Smith was an Australian original, a piece of work like none other.
But it was not TJ the trainer that got me hooked back in 1975.
It was a 2YO filly he put-the-polish on named TOY SHOW. She was a feminine looking, leggy thing by the imported stallion Showdown from the mare Toyland. And after I saw her win her maiden I felt a kinship with her.
But, when she went on and claimed the biggest juvenile race in the world, the G1 Golden Slipper Stakes at just her 2nd race start, I knew I’d found my calling in life.
Part of the magic for me was that she came out of nowhere, like Athena springing forth full-grown from the brow of Zeus, or like Kawai Leonard this year, magically joining the Raptors, compliments of a trade no one wanted at the time.
Maybe that was perhaps fiction re the trade, but that was fact re Kawai. What he did to get them the Championship was very real, and done before our eyes.
Nowadays, of course, yearling sales and ready-to-run sales are done before our eyes too and help identify the best 2YO athletes when they are still wet behind the ears. Everyone knows if one will be good.
Today, real talents like Toy Show are not allowed to sneak up on us.
But back then, in 1975, when we were loving songs like Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell; Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain and Tennille, and for me the very appropriately titled My Eyes Adored You by Frankie Valli, it was a quaint time when we still could be pleasantly surprised.
Toy Show just surfaced there on the race track, showing up one day after a series of work outs that nobody knew anything about. She stood out to me for many reasons, one of them being the colours her rider wore. They were owned by Ken Cox and were hot pink jacket and sleeves, with a deep yellow, almost fluorescent cap.
Such beauty I’d not seen before.
But this soon-to-be new number 1 filly of the day, ridden by Kevin Langby, popped up somewhere between obscurity and anonymity as part of a long line of TJ babies headed to the Golden Slipper.
When she won the coveted race, hers was a story out of legend, if not, indeed, out of religious tradition: the unlikely savior for me come out of nowhere and that was one of the things that resonated with me.
And she has stayed with me ever since.
You see, when you start off life in a single parent home, like I did, with no money and only a dream to raise yourself from your horrid surroundings by hook or by crook, it isn’t hard to latch onto horse racing gambling.
Even back then, I had developed a keen sense for things larger than life. Toy Show, when she won the Golden Slipper, with me perched high in the grandstand at the track that day – my first Golden Slipper ever – looked immortal to me.
The sport of horse racing and all things found within it, just grew more and more fascinating from that day. Gambling, I’m proud to say, took a back seat as my love for the athlete itself stormed to the front. It seems, looking back, that I was just waiting for something to come along and mould my future.
Toy Show did that. She was the catalyst.
Later in life she went on to win the biggest sprint race in Australia, the Gr 1 Newmarket Hcp with me cheering.
I never went off to war nor have I seen it first hand. But to me, this filly on Golden Slipper day 1975 was, my vision of a warrior: striding to the front from gate-rise staying courageously out there, facing the breeze on her own, turning for home with an advantage and steadfastly refusing to let any other of her kind go past her.
She was a Goddess down amidst the mortals. Lock and load, baby.
And as I grew more and more into the sport, finally settling on a career writing stories like this about it after anatomically failing at being an apprentice rider, despite two years of instruction and box mucking and hot-walking and strapping et al, I vowed that when writing yarns about horses and the folks with them paid me enough, I’d own a horse one day.
Many years passed before I did….30 in fact.
When I did eventually buy my first one, a 3YO cast-off which had ironically been trained by TJ’s daughter Gai, I wanted to name her Toy Show.
But in Australia you can’t do that. The name of legendary racehorses are protected, kinda retired like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky’s jerseys are.
In fact, you can’t use the name Toy Show until 2074 in Australia.
However, in Canada you can.
So….when I moved to Toronto in 2018, then bought a yearling, now a 2YO, I went and named her…..Toy Show!
It’s my homage to what the original one did for me, to me, and continues to do to this day.
This Canadian version of Toy Show, also a filly, who races for the very first time at Woodbine tomorrow in the 2nd race on the card, is by Kentucky Derby runner-up Bodemeister from the Tapit mare Dance America.
Local trainer Ross Armata Jnr, a gifted horseman with a real Aussie mentality about getting horses fit, has been preparing her for a career in Canadian racing and yes, this Toy Show is a bay also.
Her work outs have been useful although she is showing a tendency to be tardy out of the gates.
But you wont miss her in the run because jockey Leo Salles will wear – all hot pink silks with a fluorescent yellow cap.
Looking back right now, and this whole story about this filly is so emotive for me, I realised I never wrote a story about the original Toy Show as a journo, until this one.
Over the years, of course, she aged. She even went to stud and produced some handy types.
I never wrote about them either, but I followed them closely and I surely never forgot her as you can see.
I will, and have always answered the question: ‘so what got you into racing’ by saying a filly named Toy Show did after seeing her with the Gr 1 1975 Golden Slipper.
But I never had anything to do with her professionally.
And that was good.
I have kept my boyhood memories unsullied.
*The race goes on Wednesday night Canadian time at 7:18pm, while in Australia it can be seen live on Sky Racing at 9:18am on Thursday morning!