The Harrovian, who will step out in the $5 million All-Star Mile at Moonee Valley on Saturday to face the biggest test of his already illustrious career, will have a huge groundswell of support from his home state willing him on to what would be a famous victory. The ‘Big H’ is Queensland’s sole representative in the race.
But it is no easy gig and Stephen Massingham, the former trainer of the son of Fastnet Rock who is still involved in the horse’s ownership, is well aware of that fact.
It was under Massingham’s care that The Harrovian first rose to prominence. Massingham’s superb management of The Harrovian saw the horse win no less than twelve times in fourteen starts for the stable … and he finished second on the other two occasions … as his popularity continued to climb.
That set of results included a winning sequence of nine straight wins before Massingham, who is based in Cairns, voluntarily handed The Harrovian’s reins over to the Toby and Trent Edmonds training partnership for them to oversee the next stage of The Harrovian’s career from their base in South East Queensland.
The Harrovian won his first two starts for the Edmonds team to take that winning sequence to eleven. He was then spelled and resumed in the Group 3 Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap at Flemington on February 27 where he had to settle for fifth placing after having absolutely no luck in the running.
It is true that The Harrovian has not won beyond Listed company, but the other side of that argument is that he hasn’t failed either.
The Group 3 Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap was The Harrovian’s only attempt at Group company to date and the result was entirely inconclusive.
“It’s very different now of course … not being his trainer …after spending so much time with him,” said Stephen Massingham.
“Even when he raced the other day at Flemington, we couldn’t get to see him beforehand at the track. It wasn’t like at home (in Cairns) where you can still go to the tie-ups. You just have to go to your zone … there were two zones … and you don’t get to see him.
“The Sunday morning, the day after he last raced, we went down to Caulfield to have a look at him and spend some time with him. That was great but, as I say, it’s not the same.
“I am regularly in contact with Toby (Edmonds). I normally talk to him once or twice a week. I talked to Toby on Saturday. He was happy with The Harrovian.
“I then rang him on Tuesday morning after The Harrovian worked at The Valley. We had a talk about the barriers. He said, we don’t want to draw in too close. I said, that’s up to you mate … Toby was going to do the draw for The Harrovian at the barrier draw. No pressure. He came up with barrier seven which is fine.
“I think Brad (Stewart) copped a bit of flak for his ride on The Harrovian the other day, but I told people … you know what, Brad won four races on him in Brisbane and they were all brilliant rides. Once he went to the fence and they went slow, it was sort of ‘game over’… so we were dictated to anyway … and then another horse laid all over him in the straight. Bred tried to push him out, but he kept laying all over him … but that’s life. That’s racing.
“Sometimes you have just got to take the good with the bad. We had no luck the other day and some people say … ah you got beaten … but we ran fifth in a Group 3! That’s the reality of it. The first time he has been beaten in a long while was in a Group 3.
“I’m just hoping that, on Saturday, they are going to get rolling from about the 800m. Drawn where we drew should help to get on the back of a nice horse. The likes of Arcadia Queen and Probabeel will be looking to get into clear air and probably get going early, so hopefully we can get on the back of one of them.
‘I’d like to see him a length and a half off them and coming. What I do know is that he won’t give up. He will fight all of the way to the line.
“I’m not certain what restrictions will apply to racegoers this Saturday. We landed in Melbourne on Thursday and we’ll go down to the stables to see him on Friday.
“It’s pretty exciting for all of us. Tom (Hedley – the majority owner) gave me a ring on Wednesday and we were having a yarn. He is pretty excited. Just to be part of this ride together is unbelievable.
“We’ve all got orange ‘Harrovian’ ties for the big day. If we could be wearing the Harrovian t-shirts at the track we would be, but we’ll be wearing those s-shirts and the caps around town on Friday and Saturday morning. There are forty-four of us here so they will know we are in town.
“For me it is a family thing. I’ve got two sisters. One works for Steven O’Dea and one works for Bevin Laming and they are coming down as well. The family is all on the ride together.
“Where-ever he runs … that’s where it will be. Given all of the Group 1 winning opposition, I think if he can run better than tenth it’s a bonus. That’s just being realistic with our expectations but, you know, we’ve got a ticket, so we’ve got a chance. You can’t win it sitting at home. As we’ve found out in big races in recent weeks, the favourites don’t always win.
“Of course, it will be nice if we can win The All-Star Mile … but it really is all about the journey for us. It’s been one hellava ride.
“‘People talk about living the dream. Well, for us, this really is living the dream. It’s a ride of a lifetime.
“We are going there to enjoy ourselves whatever the outcome. We can go to the All-Star Mile and run last, but the reality is we are never going to get another chance to have a runner in the All-Star Mile and we are going to make the most of the experience.
“I will say this. If The Harrovian is in contention in the home straight, I think you will be able to hear us back in Brisbane.”
Doubtless, should that happen, Massingham and The Harrovian contingent might well hear an echo coming back at them from Queensland as the state’s racing enthusiasts roar encouragement to their local hero.