It was love at first sight when I “fluked” seeing I Am A Star win the Group 3 Quezette Stakes at Caulfield on August 13th 2016.

Nowadays the bonny mare invariably races near the lead, but in the Quezette jockey Steven King elected to take her right back from a wide gate. She was a long way off the leader Athena Lass turning for home, where Steve eased her to the outside.

This was the moment I first saw that sweet action, her natural instinct to flatten out and extend, and her unmistakable desire to win.

Admittedly, the runner up Leotie went almost as well as I Am A Star, but I only had eyes for the winner. A quick check revealed that she’d won two year old races at Flemington and Morphettville, and that the Quezette was her initial three year old outing.

I immediately appointed myself President of the filly’s fan club, and haven’t taken my eyes off her since. Three weeks later trainer Shane Nichols sent her to Sydney for a Group 2 fillies race at Randwick, where she struck a “heavy 8”. Her aversion to rain affected ground was obvious that day, and still applies.

Image courtesy News Limited - Shane Nichols with I Am A Star at Cranbourne trials

Image courtesy News Limited - Shane Nichols with I Am A Star at Cranbourne trials

Back in Melbourne she ran a luckless fourth in the Gr 2 Tranquil Star Stakes, losing a plate and being held up at the four hundred metres. She followed that with a good second to the rampaging Global Glamour in the Thousand Guineas, before a close third to Nurse Kitchen on a “soft 5” in a Gr 2 Fillies Classic at Moonee Valley.

She was a very fit filly when, with only 49 kgs she took on older mares in the Gr 1 Myer Classic (1600m). Jockey Dean Yendall rode her positively, and she raced most of the way outside the heels of the leader Whispering Brook. Several good mares had their chance to reel her in down that torturous Flemington straight, but she just kept poking out that little head with plenty of encouragement from Yendall, and her most devoted Sydney fan.

What a win! What a day for owner Matthew Sandblom, for Dean Yendall (his second Gr 1 in three weeks) and for trainer Shane Nichols who had posted his first Gr 1 success.

The following autumn the little mare won two Gr 2 races (Kewney Stakes and Sunline Stakes). She ran respectably in the Oakleigh Plate (unplaced but only 3.8 lens from winner), and the Doncaster (beaten eight lengths into eighth place), but on a “heavy 8” which put her out of business.

Last Spring she managed to win the Gr 2 Stocks Stakes, but disappointed in three other races. Trainer Shane Nichols believes she was feeling the onset of niggling issues, which kept her off the track this autumn.

She was in full work when the problems started to surface. She developed ‘shelly” feet for the first time, and a troublesome splint appeared on the inside of the near foreleg. “But the most worrying issue of all was high suspensory soreness in both forelegs”, said Shane over the weekend. “It’s not the end of the world, but you’d rather not see it in one of your horses. At the same time she developed back soreness, which was probably related to the other problems”.

Shane made the immediate decision to abort her autumn campaign, and get her straight into the paddock.

She resumed in the Aurie’s Star on August 11th, nine months after her unplaced effort in the 2017 Myer Classic. A fourth in the Aurie’s Star and a third in the Cockram Stakes, brought her on considerably, and her subsequent wins in the Let’s Elope, and last Friday’s Stocks Stakes, have given her an impressive tally of five Gr 2 successes.

Image courtesy of News Limited - I Am A Star wins her second Stocks Stakes and her fifth Group 2 race

Image courtesy of News Limited - I Am A Star wins her second Stocks Stakes and her fifth Group 2 race

Shane Nichols has a fit little mare coming into the main part of the Victorian Spring Carnival, with the Ladies Day Vase at Moonee Valley her most likely immediate project.

Shane has been around thoroughbreds all his life. He learned the fundamentals from his late father John, who trained successfully at Yarra Glen for many years. Early in his life Shane preferred to run his two businesses (stock feed and grain, and garden supplies) and train a few horses on a hobby basis.

Life at the Glen took a bizarre twist in 2009, when the Black Saturday bushfires ravaged Victoria, destroying 450,000 hectares of property and claiming many lives. The disaster altered the catchment profile of the Yarra Valley, and heavy rain thereafter would wash half the racecourse away.

Shane had taken over his father’s training operation, and made a fresh start at Mornington, where he’s based on a twenty five acre property 8 kms from the racecourse.

“We kicked off in 2011, and it’s been a long, hard road”, says Shane. “We’ve been fortunate to have a handful of horses who’ve been able to kick us along. Wordsmith won four races including The Debonair (Gr 3), Anyways won thirteen races and $437,000, Caveat Emptor, the last yearling my father ever bought won nine for us. I Am A General and Streets Of Babylon have been good, and I like Tahitian Dancer who’s currently racing and has a two year old win at Moonee Valley to her credit”.

Shane usually has thirty horses in work, and speaks highly of his staff. This year he signed off on twenty six yearlings from sales all around Australia, and is excited about the early promise some of them are showing.

Image courtesy of News Limited - I Am A Star noses out Bella Martini in the Let’s Elope Stakes

Image courtesy of News Limited - I Am A Star noses out Bella Martini in the Let’s Elope Stakes

An amazing chapter of incidents brought I Am A Star into his life. The story began when Laurie Eales went on a broodmare buying spree to give his Melbourne Cup winner Shocking a good start to his career as a commercial stallion. He purchased a mare called Star Band from Yarraman Park, in foal to I Am Invincible, an unknown quantity at this time. The American bred mare was quickly despatched to Rich Hill Stud in NZ, home of Shocking.

Many months later Star Band’s weanling I Am Invincible filly made just $12,000 at a Karaka Mixed Sale. At the very same sale Star Band herself brought $2,000 with a positive test to Shocking. She’s now the property of NZ breeders Christine and Craig Grey, who are keen watchers of I Am A Star’s progress in Australia.

By an amazing twist of fate, Shane had previously trained I Am A Star’s full sister, who, as Band On The Run won only one race in thirteen starts, but was twice placed in Listed races in Tasmania. “I had an owner to buy her at the 2014 Inglis Easter Sale, but I got left high and dry when the money wasn’t forthcoming”, recalled the trainer. “I later put her in a ready to run sale, and she was purchased by Matthew Sandblom. When Matthew heard my tale of woe, he was kind enough to let me train her, and so our association began”.

Band On The Run developed soreness in a front joint, and had to be turned out. During that period she became ill and passed away. “When her yearling sister was catalogued at the 2015 Inglis Classic Sale, I told Matthew that if he didn’t want her, I would be grabbing her”, said Shane.

It’s now history that Matthew purchased the future Gr 1 performer for $40,000.

Until recent times Matthew Sandblom had been a fringe player in the thoroughbred industry. A successful “float” of one of his companies, saw him invest heavily in the recently developed Newgate Farm, and it’s imposing stallion line up.

Matthew has also embarked on an individual project Kingston Farm at Denman where he’s standing three impressive young stallions Bull Point, Monaco Consul and Salade.

The Sandblom name has been a very prominent one, in the Sydney harness racing industry for well over twenty years. Matthew purchased many horses from NZ, some of them well credentialed mares for whom he envisaged a future in the breeding barn.

Under the expert training of multi premiership winner Paul Fitzpatrick, many of the Sandblom horses repaid their purchase prices. The following names will be familiar to harness enthusiasts of the last twenty years. It’s Only Money, Lou’s Lad, Dance Of Life, Elrama, Art Princess, Cruiser Franco, Estella Rose, and Lord Maximus just to name a few. Matthew was an avid breeder of harness horses, and is responsible for the million dollar winner For A Reason, now a successful stallion.

He retains a handful of standardbred mares, but his main focus will be on his thoroughbred interests into the long term future. Both Paul Fitzpatrick and Shane Nichols paid Matthew the ultimate compliment, when they described him as the model owner.

“He gives the trainer total support in the management of the horse, and is intensely loyal”, said Paul.

“His loyalty is beyond question, and our association has been a very pleasant one”, said Shane.

In the meantime I Am A Star is gearing up for what will probably be her last Spring Carnival. She appears to be free of niggling issues, and her attitude is professional as always. There’s probably a Gr 1 left in the tank, but she’ll need a few favours to make it happen.

Give her the right race, a decent draw and a trouble free run, and this little tiger will pounce on the opportunity.