Often with the Melbourne Cup, people talk about fashion, betting, indulging, and animal activists will come out to attack racing itself as cruel.
But when a chestnut mare goes racing in the Cup with the hopes of Harden and the nation’s capital behind her, there will be a group of breeders, handlers and horse admirers who only think of one thing: how much they love the running mare Single Gaze.
Single Gaze was born and bred on the green rolling hills between Harden and Jugiong on Redbank North, a broodmare and spelling operation run by James and Fiona Middleton.
When she enters the gates among the staying big guns of Europe on Tuesday for the gruelling 3200m contest, she will fly a flag for Australian staying breeds, a flag for her doting owners and breeders and be under the command of her grateful rider, Kathy O’Hara, a Dubbo girl who often points down to her horse as the one who does all the work.
It will be a statement of female power too! The female manager at Redbank North, Dim Middleton, the Middleton’s eldest daughter, adores her, has been with her since her birth, worked with her to recover from the terrible fall in the Australia Oaks last year when her career seemed all but over. O’Hara herself has been a trailblazer for female riders. And don’t forget Single Gaze’s mum, Redalucas Gaze, who gave birth last night (late Thursday) to a little filly by Hinchinbrook on the Harden property.
Single Gaze ran the race of her life in last Saturday week’s Caulfield Cup, having to take the field up to a tearway leader, she stuck on like a bulldog, and at one point, with 100 metres to go, leading, Kathy O’Hara thought, “we’ve won this”. Then a bolter came through and won the race. Second was a fantastic effort in a Group 1 2400m race for a horse they thought might not stay. She was the best Aussie bred horse by far in the race. She keeps proving the pundits wrong, gets put up at incredible big odds for a CV that includes Group 1 wins. She’s been forgotten again in the Melbourne Cup, at 40-1.
Dim Middleton will have her heart in her mouth when Single Gaze runs in the Cup. She’s not sure if she will make Flemington on the day, being on stud duties with Single Gaze’s new half-sister.
She remembers all too vividly the terrible day last year when Single Gaze fell at Randwick in the Oaks. The horse rolled on Kathy, who lay prone on the ground.
“I was at the fence, and wanted to get down the track but security wouldn’t let me through, only Nick (Nick Olive, the trainer),” says Dim. Single Gaze had just lengthened out on the home turn as Kathy brought her to the outside. The mare clipped the heels of another horse and tumbled. “I had to race around to the vets area.” Of course all thoughts were for Kathy too who was concussed, put on a stretcher and taken to hospital. She suffered a dislocated sternoclavicular joint, and was hospitalised for weeks and spent several months recuperating. Single Gaze suffered deep bruising to her shoulder and she was sent back to Redbank North to recover. People doubted she would race again. After the fall, people wondered if Kathy would ride again. Kathy’s close friend Gabrielle Englebrecht said at the time about Kathy: “She’ll be all right, she’s as tough as nails”. It was a big stint out of riding for Kathy and a long 12 months for Single Gaze to return to fitness. To think the Single Gaze team is now looking at a Melbourne Cup finish line is amazing.
Dim calls Single Gaze “Gaga”, after the pop queen Lady Gaga, and Gaga was back in her element when she returned to the farm on MacMahons Reef Road. She has a favourite paddock and a favourite tree she likes to stand under. “When we let her go she races up the paddock as happy as larry and goes and stands under that tree,” Dimity says. The mare has her quirks too and a mind of her own.
“We learnt not to disturb her when she’s feeding, as she’ll kick you out of the stalls. She loves her tucker and won’t let anyone around when she’s feeding.” Kathy agrees Single Gaze has her own little lady character with “a mind of her own”. “She’s really dour and has just one engine when she’s racing. The fact she stuck on in the Caulfield Cup shows how tough she is. She always seems to be flying under everyone’s radar.” O’Hara said it was awesome to be in a Melbourne Cup with the horse. Nick Olive has been loyal to Kathy all the way through. “We’ve been through a lot together, it’s pretty special.” If Kathy and Single Gaze win, Kathy will be only the second female jockey to win the Cup after Michelle Payne, two years ago.
The whole of Canberra has got behind the mare with banners and badges and Canberra’s racetrack Thoroughbred Park is making the mare the centrepiece of Cup day events at Canberra races, celebrating her Canberra trainer Nick Olive as well. If Single Gaze wins, there will be a 40 per cent reduction in the price of drinks for one hour at the races at Canberra. The race club will also build a Single Gaze style arbour at the backing wall. If Single Gaze wins they will play the song “Celebration” by Dragon.
No doubt the Middletons will be celebrating too and all those people who have seen the remarkable rise of a stoic mare, back from a terrible fall, and taking on the best stayers in the world in the Melbourne Cup.