“This will have to fall over to get beaten”, said the punter to his mate as they watched the horses parade at a recent meeting.

How often have you heard hackneyed clichés like “this is unbeatable” or “this is a good thing”, being bandied about at the track or the TAB outlet.

We can’t include Winx or Black Caviar in this exercise, but I’m referring to horses who look near certainties, provided everything goes right in the run.

One sprang instantly to mind, and that was an imported English horse called Marooned in 1986. He was a neat chestnut entire by the celebrated Mill Reef, from a mare called Short Rations (by Lorenzaccio).

He raced in the ownership of Robert Sangster’s Swettenham Stud Syndicate, and was one of several Sangster horses in Brian Mayfield-Smith’s Nebo Lodge complex at Rosehill.

Marooned arrived in Sydney in the Spring of 1985, after winning a couple of ordinary races from a handful of race starts in Great Britain. He was trained by Michael Stoute who was still some twelve years away from attaining his knighthood. Stoute, ten times champion British trainer, had arranged to sell a number of horses which, he believed wouldn’t measure up at the major venues.

Whether Robert Sangster was acting on professional advice, or simply took a liking to Marooned is unclear, but he decided to buy the horse from the Stoute draft, and get him straight to Sydney.

Mayfield-Smith quickly discovered why Sir Michael was happy to let the horse go.

“Had Marooned been completely sound, we would never have seen him in Australia”, recalled Brian Mayfield-Smith a few days ago.

“He scared the hell out of me one day, when his action got very rough at a working gallop. He looked like he was galloping on three legs”, said Brian. “He used to swing his near foreleg out at an acute angle, and there was no way he was hitting the ground flush. Sometimes his action would cause a jarring in the near knee, and he would be clearly lame during the gallop and immediately after. I would swim him for 3 or 4 days, and he would throw the lameness off. This happened three or four times, and each time he came right”.

Mayfield-Smith began to see something very special in the horse.

“With the left leg “swinging”, he would reel off amazing sectionals at the end of his work. He could run sectionals you would expect from a top grade sprinter, rather than a horse who made his name as a stayer”, recalled Brian.

Marooned made his Aussie debut in a 1550 metres Welter at Canterbury on Feb 8th,1986 with Jim Cassidy up. Because of his intermittent “scratchiness”, Brian had opted not to trial, and go straight to the races. Punters had little to guide them, and they sent him out at the liberal odds of $21.

The chestnut was a shade tardy to leave the gates, and settled last of 10, around a circuit, tighter than anything he’d seen in England. He was just getting warmed up as he zoomed home into third place, only 2 lengths from the winner Feeling Fit.

Marooned thrived on plenty of swimming, and a minimum of fast work before his next run, and was pleasing in his action as he trotted to the barrier for the 1900 metres Canterbury Cup.

He didn’t have the best of luck, and went under by only a short head to the Paul Perry trained Nimble Touch.

Marooned was right on track, and Brian was now thinking only of the Sydney Cup, which was still five weeks away. He had discovered, to his delight, that the stallion’s next two lead up races were penalty free from a Sydney Cup viewpoint.

Two weeks later he easily accounted for the talented Silver Award in the Group 3 Manion Cup at Rosehill, after which the established training regime was followed. Brian couldn’t get that “swinging leg” out of his mind.

The five year old was getting fitter every day, and he absolutely “destroyed” the opposition in the 2600 metres Chairman’s Hcp on March 29th, 1986.

Image Courtesy of Steve Hart Photographics. Note the angle of his near foreleg. 

Image Courtesy of Steve Hart Photographics. Note the angle of his near foreleg. 

He was to drop 3.5 kgs in the Sydney Cup, which meant Jim Cassidy had a tough week ahead.

“I lived on water, carrots, lettuce leaves and beetroot for a few weeks leading up to the Cup”, Cassidy told Andrew Webster in his autobiography “Pumper”.

Robert Sangster spent several weeks in Sydney during the Autumn Carnival, and had enjoyed a lucky run on the punt. On Golden Slipper day, Brian won 3 stakes races, and Robert was on them all, betting as he always did with Sydney’s glamour fielder Dominic Beirne.

The stable’s winners were English Mint - Storm Queen Stakes Gr. 2, Periscope- Tulloch Stakes Gr 2 and Sea Pictures- Diners Club Cup Gr 3. Another runner Dance Hall Girl was beaten a nose by Harbour Flo in the Queen Of The Turf, and Imperial Baron finished third in the Golden Slipper.

Beirne was a devoted Marooned fan, and had been very impressed with some of the horse’s rapid closing sectionals. He was keen to buy a share in the horse, but Robert respectfully declined. It was rumoured he had won about $130,000 from Beirne over the carnival, and told the bookmaker he would put the lot on Marooned in the Sydney Cup, provided he would bet him “evens”. Whether Beirne accommodated Sangster or not is pure speculation, but the grin on the Englishman's face after the race told the story.

“Everything was on target, and then the day before the Cup, the AJC Stewards threw a spanner in the works”, reflected Brian Mayfield-Smith. “Media channels had hinted that all was not well with the short priced Cup favourite, and next thing there were two vets crawling all over him. I was adamant the horse was fine, and thankfully the vets agreed”.

Not for one stride was Marooned going to lose the 1986 Sydney Cup. He travelled 6th or 7th in the 18 horse field, before exploding to the front as they topped the rise.

Spectators were distracted in the closing stages, when Amloch crossed his legs and crashed to the turf, giving Grant Cooksley a heavy tumble. Happily horse and rider were not seriously injured, and thirty two years later the resilient Grant Cooksley is still race riding in NZ.

The fall took a little gloss from the dominant win by Marooned, but not from Robert Sangster who had enjoyed a massive carnival. He flew out for London the same night.

Brian Mayfield-Smith contacted Robert a few days later, and respectfully suggested that Marooned should be retired immediately.

“I emphasised the very real possibility that the horse could break down badly if he was kept in work. I convinced him that Marooned had nothing to prove as a racehorse, and had everything going for him as a stud proposition”, said Brian.

The lovely chestnut stallion went to stud in Western Australia, and from relatively small foal numbers achieved impressive results.

Wayne Massingham, Sales Entries Coordinator for William Inglis and Son furnished me with these statistics. Marooned produced 179 winners from 256 runners, and got 19 stakes winners, including 7 at Group level. His two Group 1 winners were Island Morn ($648,000), and Hardrada ($841,000).

His most notable achievement came as a broodmare sire. His daughter Peggie’s Bid produced the celebrated mare Miss Andretti ($2.8 million), winner of a Group 1 Lightning Stakes, a Group 1 Newmarket Hcp, and the famous King’s Stand Stakes Group 2 at Royal Ascot.

Another of his daughters Marooned Lady, produced Special Harmony who won 10 races for $1.9 million including a VRC Oaks and a 1000 Guineas.

Marooned had to be put down in 2006 at the Peppermint Stud in WA. He suffered irreparable damage in a paddock accident, to the near foreleg - the leg his former trainer believed, would one day prove to be his nemesis.  

The final tribute rests with Brian Mayfield-Smith. When I asked him if he placed Marooned among the best horses he’d trained, his answer was emphatic. “Marooned was the best horse I ever trained”, said the man who had removed Tommy Smith from premiership honours in 3 consecutive seasons.

With only 49.5 kgs Marooned was a handicapping certainty in that Sydney Cup of 1986. With that near front leg swinging like it didn’t belong to him, the English horse provided a massive thrill for his countryman Robert Sangster, for Brian Mayfield-Smith who managed the horse expertly, and Jim Cassidy who had punished his body for weeks.

The famous German astrologer Eleanora Kimmel had this to say about the famous tenor Mario Lanza who died at age 38, after a short but spectacular career.

She wrote ”He blazed like a meteor whose light lasts only a brief moment in time”.

The same could be said of the English racehorse Marooned.