The presentation ceremony after the Treasury Brisbane Queensland Oaks finished not a moment too soon for Garry Newham. The trainer of the winner Winning Ways had a lump in his throat big enough to choke an elephant, for clearly understandable reasons.
Firstly Garry was still reeling from the unexpected death of his long time owner and close friend Paul Makin (82), who had succumbed to a major stroke just a few days earlier.
He was deeply moved to be back in the Group 1 winner’s circle, fifteen years after the heady days of his champion Starcraft.
To add to his emotional state he’d already spotted the trickle of blood from both of the filly’s nostrils as Michael McGillivray brought her back to the enclosure - the ultimate bittersweet conclusion.
The rules clearly stipulate that Winning Ways can’t race for three months and a recurrence means a life ban. “Fortunately she was going straight to the paddock anyway”, explained Garry over the weekend. “It’s the first time she’s ever presented as a bleeder and the volume of blood was negligible. I’m confident it won’t be a problem down the track”.
The daughter of Coolmore shuttler Declaration Of War was ridden with aggression out of the gates, going forward from barrier 9, and slotting in behind the leader Rosendahl Red at the winning post the first time. Admittedly she had a cosy fence run from that point, but McGillivray signalled his intention to ride her like a real stayer when he took off four wide coming to the turn.
Winning Ways fairly and squarely outstayed them on the day and was able to hold off late challenges from Dawson Diva and Lady Cuvee. It was a huge relief for Michael McGillivray who expected to lose the ride after finding plenty of trouble on the filly in the Doomben Roses two weeks earlier. Newham was quick to reassure the young jockey he would be retaining the Oaks ride.
Winning Ways is out of the Galileo mare Skip Along who died shortly after giving birth to the chestnut filly in 2015. Saturday’s Group 1 win was her seventh in just thirteen starts, for a prize money tally of $479,000. Two of those wins were on exceedingly heavy tracks, in contrast to Doomben on Saturday which was about as quick as it gets.
Garry Newham (68) has been training for Paul Makin since 2000, when the Gold Coast businessman purchased the stables previously occupied by the late Howard Wilson. “He spent a lot more money improving facilities, including the installation of a treadmill and a set of horse scales”, recalled Garry.
“When it came to horses Paul was an absolute realist. He’d spend generously at yearling sales and all of his horses were by fashionable stallions from good families. We’d give every horse two or three preparations, but if I felt something wasn’t going to make the grade out the door it went. He’d sell the colts and geldings as tried horses, but would usually send the fillies to stud and sell them in foal to commercial stallions”.
Paul Makin’s trip to the Karaka Sales in 2002 was destined to change his life and that of his Gold Coast trainer. “He only bought two yearlings that year and couldn’t wait to get on the phone to tell me about them”, said Garry. “He told me he’d purchased the biggest filly and the biggest colt in the catalogue and he wasn’t kidding. They were big, gawky, gangly things, and when I finally got to see them I could see this was going to be a long job”.
The yearlings had a couple of things in common. Both were chestnuts and both were out of mares by Pompeii Court. The filly was by Generous (Ire) who’d been a top racehorse in the UK winning The Epsom and Irish Derbies and the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth by huge margins. The colt was by Soviet Star, a son of Nureyev who won eight races from fourteen starts and was a classy sprinter miler in Europe.
The filly was named We Can’t Say That. She won five races for Garry in Queensland, before going to Lee Freedman in Victoria, where she won another three. “She had terrible feet which troubled her from day one”, recalled the trainer. “Seven of her eight wins were on rain affected tracks. She couldn’t go one stride on hard tracks”.
Paul Makin named the big boy Starcraft, a classy name for a horse who was destined for stardom in two hemispheres. “He was an awkward big baby early on”, recalled Garry. “He did actually have three runs as a two year old for a couple of placings, hitting the line late each time. He was a November three year old when he won his first race at Doomben over 1650m with Scott Seamer up”.
The slowly maturing Starcraft then reeled off a hat trick of wins. He won a couple at Eagle Farm ridden by John Powell and Ken Pope respectively, before heading to Melbourne and a significant class rise.
Matt Pumpa was his jockey when he won the Group 3 The Debonair, but Scott Seamer returned for the Group 1 Australian Guineas in which Starcraft finished a strong second, only a neck behind Reset. Garry Newham couldn’t get him to Sydney quickly enough to test him against older horses in the Chipping Norton Stakes.
This is where Glen Boss came in. The jockey with the steely nerve had not long won the first of his three Melbourne Cups on Makybe Diva and was hungry for more Group 1’s during the Sydney Autumn. He “clicked” immediately with Starcraft reeling off victories in the Chipping Norton Stakes and Tulloch Stakes.
Boss is widely recognized as a brilliant race rider under pressure, never more obvious than it was when Makybe Diva won her third Melbourne Cup. The hype, the build up, the history making feat about to be undertaken, and the worldwide television audience would have tested the nerves of most jockeys. Many believe it was the best of his three epic rides.
The Boss composure was on display again in the 2004 Australian Derby on Starcraft. He put the big chestnut to sleep midfield on the fence and never thought about leaving the fence until he spotted a horse called Penitentiary starting to drop back suddenly at the 600m. He skilfully extricated the long striding Starcraft and angled four wide coming around the turn where he was balanced and travelling sweetly.
Bossy certainly wasn’t worried about the leader Braeloch, which had won only two races previously - a Class 1 at Canberra and a Class 2 at Kembla, ridden both times by Glen Boss himself. He was at the gigantic odds of $101 and the jockey expected Starcraft to pick him up quickly.
With Danny Beasley hard at work, Braeloch produced an effort he was never able to repeat. Starcraft nailed him right on the line - the margin a long head with Delzao (Steven King) three quarters of a length away third.
Braeloch didn’t run a single placing in fourteen more starts, but managed to earn a lifetime total of $404,000, $380,000 coming from his Derby placing. Starcraft was to win another three Gr 1’s in three different countries. Horses like Braeloch are the reason people keep turning up at horse sales.
Starcraft wasn’t seen again for twenty weeks. When he returned Garry sent him on an unusual mission devised by Paul Makin. Because he’d been born, reared and sold in NZ, the delighted owner wanted to give the Kiwis a chance to enjoy the giant striding chestnut.
Newham aimed him at the famous Hawke’s Bay Spring treble - the Gr 1 Mudgway Stakes (1400m), the Gr2 Stony Bridge Stakes (1600m) and the Gr 1 Kelt Capital Stakes (2040m). Glen Boss couldn’t make the first leg, leaving the mount open to respected Kiwi jockey Leith Innes.
“To this day I believe this was his best ever performance”, says Garry Newham. “I’ll swear he was twenty lengths off them in the middle stages. His finishing burst was extraordinary”.
Bossy was there to steer Starcraft to a comfortable win in the middle leg, by which time a clever publicity campaign by the Hawke’s Bay Racing Club was starting to bite. “In the days leading up to the Kelt Capital the horse was bigger than Winx. He was never out of the newspapers and there seemed to be a TV camera pointing at him every five minutes”.
Garry doesn’t mind admitting that owner Paul Makin probably cost him the Kelt Capital Stakes. “On the Friday afternoon Paul turned up with an entourage of press and TV journalists. They even brought a couple of glamorous models to have endless photos taken with Starcraft”, said Garry a few days ago. “It went on forever and I could see the horse getting more stirred up than I’d ever seen him before. After a couple of hours I simply called a halt to the onslaught and put the big fella away”.
When Garry arrived at the track with the stallion the following day, he feared the worst. “He was off his face all day and we could hardly control him in the parade ring”, reflected the trainer. “He even unseated Glen in the raceway leading onto the track, and then ‘bolted” all the way to the barrier. By the time he lined up he had just about run his race”.
Starcraft struck some interference soon after the start, before finishing second a little over two lengths behind Balmuse whose connections received an unexpected surprise.
There was little time to reflect on what might have been, because the big boy had pressing commitments in Melbourne. He ran solid thirds in the Caulfield Stakes and the W.S.Cox Plate, bringing the curtain down on an unforgettable journey for Garry Newham. “Plans had been in place for some time that he would finish his career in England under the expert guidance of the great Luca Cumani”, said Garry.
Almost eight months passed before the imposing Starcraft made his UK debut. He ran third first up in the Gr 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot, followed by a sixth in the Gr 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes. Following a “freshen” he won consecutive Gr 1’s in England and France, before crossing the Atlantic to finish out of a place in the Gr1 Breeders Cup at Belmont NY - his final run.
Paul Makin was to greatly expand his overseas racing operation, enjoying many great moments including an Irish Oaks win with Chicquita. He dispersed all of his overseas horses at the 2013 Goff’s Sale in Ireland, with Chicquita making a record six million pounds.
With no Starcraft in his life, Garry continued to train from the Gold Coast but reconsidered his options when a surprise offer came from trainer Graeme Rogerson, then operating stables at Randwick and in NZ.
Rogerson was looking for the right man to run his NZ stables following the resignation of his partner Steve Autridge. Arrangements were swiftly finalised and Garry was soon installed at Rogerson’s Hamilton stables.
The partnership was to last only twelve months. Garry was all but on a plane home when another offer came out of the blue.
Australian trainer Russell Cameron had just returned to Australia after a stint as co-trainer at Eric Watson’s Westbury Stud. Watson had set up a new training complex at Pukekohe and was looking for a co trainer to work with Gareth McRae. “I accepted the offer and it resulted in a happy four year experience, during which time Gareth and I never exchanged a harsh word”.
Suddenly five years had evaporated in Garry Newham’s life. It was time to return to the Gold Coast and pick up the threads. “I started to go to the track again and I could see many trainers were disillusioned about certain aspects of Queensland racing”, he said. “I couldn’t get a decent vibe and it was probably time I had a change of direction”.
It wasn’t a complete change because the experienced horseman still spent most days with horses. He drove a truck for Sydney Horse Transport for three years and enjoyed the experience. “The depot was a five minute walk from home and apart from the odd trip to the NSW Northern Rivers I never left Queensland”.
Garry would probably still be driving the horse transport had he not received a surprise phone call from Paul Makin just over a year ago. “He asked me would I be interested in training a few horses for him again and something told me it was time to get back into business”, said the trainer.
Garry had been singing the praises of Winning Ways to Paul for several months. “I told him the filly was a pure stayer and needed to be ridden as Michael rode her in the Oaks on Saturday”, explained Garry. “What a pity he wasn’t there to see a win that trebles her value”.
Image 8 - Garry with an elated Michael McGilivray at Doomben - courtesy Trackside Photography
The trainer still has six horses in the stable owned by Paulyn Investments Pty Ltd. “Paul’s wife Lyndal has told me to carry on until we sort them out. If they’re good enough Lyndal will race them - if they’re not we’ll move them on just as Paul would have done”, said Garry.
The very fact that the discerning Makin never lost faith in the veteran trainer can possibly be traced to the very first conversation they had. “He told me he could be a tough taskmaster and would probably appear harsh at times” reflected Newham. “I told him I could handle any situation, as long as he never told me to do something that might be detrimental to a horse”.
And that was the basis around which one of racing’s greatest partnerships was built. Paul Makin and Garry Newham had great respect for one another and even more for their horses.
(Banner image courtesy Trackside Photography - Garry with Winning Ways after the Queensland Oaks)