The same care and attention given to Bonecrusher throughout his life has marked the champion racehorse’s final journey.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the families of his owners Peter and Shirley Mitchell and trainer Frank Ritchie gathered to farewell Bonecrusher as he was euthanised due to effects of the hoof disease laminitis.
The group then made its way to Auckland’s Ellerslie Racecourse where Bonecrusher was buried at dawn at the track where he won his first Group One race, the 1985 New Zealand Derby.
“We decided a week ago this needed to be done and we planned how we wanted to do it,” Frank Ritchie said.
“We wanted to get him to Ellerslie and interred in his permanent spot without too many people around.
“We have struggled through this week and we have all shed a tear.
“He was so well cared for, especially by Shirley Mitchell with no expense spared.
“I don’t know of many horses to have lived to 32.”
Bonecrusher came to Sydney in the autumn of 1986 when he beat the older horses in the Tancred Stakes before winning the AJC Derby.
But it was the following spring that heralded him as a true champion.
Bonecrusher won the Caulfield and Underwood Stakes before heading to the Cox Plate and his famous duel with another kiwi, Our Waverley Star.
His win has become a defining moment in the history of the Cox Plate, a battle that cemented the race as Australia’s weight-for-age championship.
The two horses went stride for stride down the straight with no indication of the outcome until the final couple of metres.
Bonecrusher prevailed and the words of racecaller Bill Collins are replayed over and over – “Bonecrusher races into equine immortality”.
He was not immortal but Ritchie firmly believes the key to his racing record and longevity in retirement was simple.
“With the great horses it is their physiology – their hearts,” Ritchie said.
“His heart won him races, his heart gave him a long life.”
Bonecrusher’s heart was tested when Ritchie took him overseas after the Cox Plate to show him to the world in the Japan Cup.
Bonecrusher never made it to the race. Instead, the trip turned into a life and death battle with Ritchie and his son Shaune, Bonecrusher’s constant companion, keeping vigil as the horse fought a virus.
Once again Bonecrusher would not be beaten and he recovered so well he was soon back in training.
The following autumn he staged another epic battle to beat the Melbourne Cup winner At Talaq by a whisker in the Australian Cup.
He continued to race for the next couple of years but was obviously short of his best.
“The Australian Cup was the race that stopped Bonecrusher,” Ritchie said.
“He was never the same after he beat At Talaq, but he kept trying.”
While Ritchie accepted many accolades on behalf of Bonecrusher, to the trainer he was simply his mate Red.
It’s a shortened version of Big Red, a nickname given to only the best of the chestnuts who came before – Man O’ War, Secretariat and, of course, Phar Lap.
Bonecrusher earned it.
Pag Asa- Imitation
44 starts: 18 wins, 16 placings.
Prize money: $2,175,692.
Major wins: Cox Plate, Australian Cup, AJC Derby, Tancred Stakes, Caulfield Stakes, Underwood Stakes, New Zealand Derby, Air New Zealand Stakes (twice).