Mick Dittman would have been highly offended had he been able to hear the utterances of trainer Clarry Conners as the AJC Derby field of 1989 went past the post the first time.
Clarry was heard to cast serious doubts on Mick’s parentage, as the champion jockey elected to hold the lead on his pride and joy Research.
The trainer was still giving Mick a “spray” as the field neared the home turn, even though Research had been largely left alone and appeared to travel generously.
The tough as teak filly was never in danger of being run down, and had two lengths to spare on the line from Royal Pardon, with Power Of Destiny third, and the talented New Zealander Our Krona in fourth spot.
The lean, mean Research was the seventh filly to win the Derby since its inception in 1861, and twenty two years passed before Shamrocker became the eighth.
Those who watched Research return to scale after the Derby will probably recall her antics when a garland of roses was thrown around her neck. She almost unseated Dittman as she charged back into the enclosure, with Clarry hanging on for dear life. Somebody had the presence of mind to snatch the roses away from the filly and she settled down immediately.
The trainer had marked the filly in the 1987 Inglis yearling sale catalogue, but gave himself little hope of meeting the predicted reserve. She was by Newhaven Park’s Imperial Prince (Ire), sire of Victory Prince who’d given Clarry his maiden group 1 success in the 1984 Sires Produce Stakes.
He had actually trained her dam Outing, a very slow daughter of Boucher (Fr). The closest she got to the winner in five race starts was eleven lengths. “Outing was stoutly bred, and as sound as a bell”, recalled the trainer. “I was prepared to give her at least one chance as a broodmare”.
The Imperial Prince filly was passed in by Newhaven Park when she failed to meet her $20,000 reserve. “I waited a few days before calling John Kelly to ask if he would consider leasing her to me and I was tickled pink when he agreed”, said the four time Golden Slipper winning trainer.
Clarry decided to retain a quarter share, while friends Trevor Lind, John Woodley and Robert Hagan each snapped up a 25% option. “From the day she arrived at the stables, I could see she was a downright ornery filly” recalled Clarry. “She wouldn’t deliberately line up a human, but she would run sideways or backwards to kick another horse”.
Her nasty streak got worse as she got older. At Warwick Farm track sessions other riders would give her a wide berth when they saw her approaching. “Look out here comes Research!” was a common catchcry. On race day her strappers would make sure she stayed clear of other runners in the parade ring.
Clarry was horrified one morning to find the cantankerous filly with a huge haematoma low down on her chest. Unsure of the cause he decided to float her straight to the University of Sydney’s Rural Vet Centre at Cobbitty. “It took them several days to determine the type of haematoma and the appropriate course of action”, recalled the trainer.
When Clarry finally picked her up one of the vets commented that he and his colleagues had done quite a bit of research in diagnosing her problem.
“Driving back to the stables it struck me that “Research” would be as good a name as any for the filly”, recalled the trainer.
A look at her record immediately tells you she was one tough cookie. She showed enough natural brilliance for Clarry to have her at the races in December of 1987. She actually won her first two races at Rosehill over 1100 metres with Ron Quinton up.
Research had five runs in her 1988 Autumn campaign, for a ninth in the Sweet Embrace, second in the Magic Night, fourteenth in the Golden Slipper, a respectable fourth in the Sires Produce and fifth in the Champagne Stakes - then to the paddock with a three year old campaign ahead, which was to stamp her as the best three year old filly in the country.
Rod Quinn rode Research first up in the Silver Shadow Stakes for a handy fifth, but Mick Dittman took over for the rest of her Spring campaign “Mick really understood that filly”, said Clarry. “He had the knack of keeping her happy and that was half the battle’.
She rampaged through the spring winning the Furious Stakes, finishing second in the Tea Rose and winning the Gr 1 Flight Stakes before heading to Melbourne. She was a desperately unlucky second when held up in the Thousand Guineas, but followed with spectacular wins in the Wakeful Stakes and VRC Oaks. She won the coveted Oaks by almost four lengths.
The Imperial Prince filly resumed in late Jan 1989 with an unplaced effort in the Light Fingers, before finishing second in the Hobartville, third in the Chipping Norton and third in the Segenhoe Stakes. She then completed a spectacular treble in the space of eleven days.
Research won the Storm Queen Stakes (then a Gr 2) followed a week later by the Derby. She had only a four day break to the AJC Oaks, which she won convincingly, becoming the first and only filly to win the Derby-Oaks double in Sydney. “She loved the quick back up”, recalled Clarry. “God she was a tough filly, with the constitution of a stallion. She was a massive eater, and could easily get away on her trainer”.
In her spring campaign of 1989, the mare’s appetite presented problems for Clarry. She was now a four year old and eating everything but her bedding. She was unplaced in her first four runs after resuming, but improved sharply for a second in the Turnbull stakes. “I was stabled at Caulfield where I struggled to get galloping companions for Research”, reflected Clarry. “With the Caulfield Cup coming up, I needed to give her a very strong gallop over 2000 metres with a mate. I floated her to Flemington where Gary Fennessy was kind enough to work a Colin Hayes horse with the mare”.
Harry White rode her in that gallop and Clarry decided to retain the champion jockey in the Caulfield Cup. “We’ll never know where she would have finished in that Cup, because she got absolutely flattened at a crucial stage”, said the trainer.
Harry White was again in the saddle when Research finished seventh in the McKinnon Stakes and seventh in the Melbourne Cup won by Tawrrific.
“She “blew” for twenty minutes after the Cup and I realized she wasn’t as fit as I thought she was”, lamented the trainer.
The bonny mare had only two more runs in the autumn of 1990 and was unplaced in both. Her last hurrah was the Chipping Norton Stakes in which she was ridden by the late Ken Russell.
The irascible Research exited the racetrack with the wonderful record of 31 starts, for 9 wins and 7 placings. The dual Oaks winning mare bagged 4 Group 1’s and $1,880,845. “Her achievements belied her looks”, said Clarry Conners. “She was just the plainest of plain bays with not a single white hair on her body”.
Despite the fact that she visited some of the most prominent stallions of the day, her record in the breeding barn was unimpressive. She got three to the races from six foals in Australia, for the sum total of one win - a gelding called Chemistry (by Personal Hope) won a Maiden at Wagga in 1999.
Surprisingly she was shipped to the USA at thirteen years of age and didn’t fare much better there. She produced two very ordinary winners in America and another who won three races in Mexico.
Outing, the dam of Research left a total of seven winners, but none of the others were on the same page as their multiple Group 1 winning sibling. “She was simply a freak”, said Clarry over the weekend. “The more she raced and the harder you worked her the more she’d eat. An unbelievable constitution. She was an unpleasant thing to be around, but I’d give anything to have another one like her”.
Goodness knows what sort of pomp and pageantry the Australian Turf Club is planning for this year’s Derby winner, but they might be well advised to give the garland of roses a miss.
Research proved thirty years ago, that with the post-race adrenaline flowing freely, horses don’t want this frightening adornment hanging around their neck.
A Derby winner is entitled to a little more respect.