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As trainer Frank Ritchie takes part in this week’s 25th anniversary celebrations of the 1986 Cox Plate, the star of the show is relaxing in a paddock across the Tasman.

Every time Ritchie travels north from his Cambridge home he makes a detour before he reaches Auckland to visit his old mate Red.

Known to the rest of us as Bonecrusher, Red is a sprightly 29-year-old who is blissfully unaware of his place in Australasian racing history.

But his former trainer’s memories are filled with Bonecrusher’s remarkable feats, most notably his triumph in that famous Cox Plate over fellow New Zealand warrior Waverley Star 25 years ago.

The race has become a defining moment in the history of the Cox Plate, a duel that cemented the Moonee Valley race as the weight-for-age championship.

The two horses went stride for stride down the straight with no indication of the outcome until the final two strides.

Bonecrusher prevailed over a gallant opponent with the pair lengths ahead of The Filbert, another New Zealander with an imposing record.

The victory is being remembered in 2011 as the one that truly embodies what the Cox Plate is all about.

Of course Bonecrusher was already a multiple Group One winner and his feats had earned Ritchie the respect he deserved on both sides of Tasman.

His own respect and admiration for the big chestnut knows no bounds.

“Whenever I take horses to Auckland to race I go and see Red and I like to think he knows who I am,” Ritchie said.

“I don’t know how old 29 is in human years but I should look so good at that age.

“He still has the temerity to put in a buck every now and then.

“He’s in great shape and lives in a five-acre paddock at his owner Peter Mitchell’s place.

“They put dry or retired mares in with him to keep him company and so far he’s outlived four of them.”

Many say the Cox Plate was the race that broke Waverley Star’s heart but Ritchie does not subscribe to the theory.
“It’s absolute nonsense,” he said.

“Waverley Star won a race before the Japan Cup just a couple of weeks later and ran a great fifth in the Cup itself.

“He was a great horse in his own right.”

The Japan Cup was supposed to the race that showed off Bonecrusher to the rest of the world.

Instead the trip to Japan turned into a life and death battle with Ritchie and his son Shaune keeping vigil as Bonecrusher fought a virus.

Once again the horse would not be beaten and he recovered so well he was soon back in training and was back on Australian soil the following autumn where he staged another epic battle to beat the Melbourne Cup winner At Talaq by a whisker.

He continued to race for the next couple of years and claimed a Group One race at home but was obviously a length 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.”

Ritchie said it was Bonecrusher’s natural athleticism that set him apart, then and now.

“He was a natural athlete and that’s why he is still so healthy today,” he said.


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