Celebrating 20 years since Schillaci's big autumn

22nd February, 2012

By Brad Bishop from Racing Victoria

A good line on how Black Caviar stacks up against the sprinting greats of yesteryear can be measured through how insignificant their career records can appear in comparison to the unbeaten mare.

Miss Andretti boasts the best strike rate of the horses previously considered modern day short-course stars, yet she took 31 starts to win 19 races, while Takeover Target, who won his first seven starts, finished at a tick over 50 percent with 21 wins from 41 starts.

Mahogany and Apache Cat won 19 races apiece - the same number as Black Caviar – and they both also went to the races 43 times, albeit they were both tried over middle distances at various stages of their careers.

But one sprinter who can lay claim to holding some sort of achievement over the champion mare is former Lee Freedman-trained gelding Schillaci.

Where it took Black Caviar eight races to claim her first Group 1, Schillaci had four Group 1 trophies in the cabinet by that stage of his career.

At just his fourth start the son of Salieri won the Lightning Stakes (1000m), backed up a week later to win the 1100m Oakleigh Plate, which will be run this Saturday at Caulfield, before following up with victory in the Newmarket Handicap (1200m) at start No 6.

That made him only the second horse to win Australia's famed sprint treble, five years after Placid Ark first achieved it, and no horse has since been able to replicate it.

But that wasn't it for the big grey, who then progressed to Sydney where he was controversially beaten into second place on protest in the Group 2 Canterbury Stakes before bouncing back to claim what was then Sydney's premier autumn sprint, The Galaxy at Group 1 level, at his eighth outing.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of what remains the unique sprinting feat.

"He was an extremely talented horse," Freedman said this week when reflecting on Schillaci's career. "He won the Lightning at about his fourth run, his fifth run he won the Oakleigh Plate and his sixth run the Newmarket. I don't think many horses could have done that.

"You talk about good sprinters these days coming up through the ranks winning Listed races, but he won three Group 1s in a row at his fourth, fifth and sixth start. He was very gifted."

It was obvious that Freedman had a massive opinion of Schillaci, who was named after the superstar Italian soccer player Salvatore Schillaci, when he opted to start him first-up in the Lightning.

After debuting with a comfortable win over the speedy Mavournae, who would go on to win at Group 3 level, over 1100m at Kyneton on 22 October 1991, Schillaci ran sixth in a 1400m Listed event at Flemington on Oaks Day before a devastating performance at Sandown.

The three-year-old sizzled over the 1000m course in 55.5 seconds to set a new track record.

While that made the racing world sit up and take notice, it was a long way from Australia's premier speed test of the Lightning Stakes. But Schillaci proved he was up to it when he defeated Umatilla and Wrap Around in 55.9 seconds, a time that remained the second fastest Lightning ever until Black Caviar got within 0.03secs of Special's 24-year-old track record in this year's renewal.

He then backed up a week later, carrying 54.5kg, to defeat Dark Beau and Dapper's Hope in the 1100m Oakleigh Plate before carrying 55.5kg to victory over Storaia and Umatilla in the Newmarket.

Racing history might not have even eventuated had Schillaci's co-owner Alan Bell, who raced the grey with David Christensen, not planted the seed of a Lightning start in Freedman's mind.

"After the horse had just set the record at Sandown in a midweeker, Alan said to me, 'he's just got such natural ability, why don't we test him, we can always go back (in class)'," Freedman said. "I thought, 'yeah that's probably a good idea'.

"He had had a lot of grounding as a younger horse. He'd been in and out of the stables three or four times and had trials, but he'd been shin sore on about four occasions, so it was one of those situations where he'd had good grounding and education but he just hadn't had the racing.

"He'd always been pretty foolproof, so there was never any real concern about running him in higher grade against those horses because he was so tractable and was such an easy to get along with horse.

"Once he won the Lightning it was just onwards and upwards from there. He won the Oakleigh Plate and I think it (a Newmarket start) was just a natural progression.

"By then he'd established himself as the gun sprinter, even as a three year old, so it was just natural to go to the Newmarket and he kept winning after that."

Schillaci's stunning summer/autumn of 1992, when he was partnered by then rising star jockey Damien Oliver, produced the first four Group 1s in a career that finished with eight elite-level triumphs, every one of them coming in either February, March or April.

Only a short half head defeat in the Group 1 William Reid Stakes denied him a run of six straight wins in early 1993, which included victories in the Lightning Stakes, Caulfield's Futurity Stakes (1400m) and George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill.

After almost two years in the Group 1 wilderness, he produced one last hurrah at the top level in the 1995 Futurity Stakes, which, like the Oakleigh Plate, will be run at Caulfield this Saturday.

The then six-year-old surprised many with his win over reigning Melbourne Cup winner Jeune and star stablemate Mahogany (fourth) that day, but Freedman never doubted him.

"I haven't got great recollections of that day now because it's so long ago, but I do know that he hadn't won at the highest level for a little while, but he came out and won," the Hall of Fame trainer said.

"Horses like him have always got the ability, it's just a matter of whether you can get them fully sound and you can get them right on the day, which he was that day."

Schillaci had five more runs after that Futurity success, but was retired after one of the runs of his career when half-length second to Rouslan (51.5kg) under 58kg in the Stradbroke Handicap on 10 June 1995. He retired a winner of 16 of his 36 starts and $2,319,128.

Sadly, he battled degenerative hoof problems and cancerous tumours for a few years before having to be euthanized on 15 November 2001. He is buried at Anthony Freedman's property, St Ives, on the Mornington Peninsula, next to another great Freedman warrior, Mummify.

Other Stories

Results 1 - 5 of 5 documents

Article Date Title
22nd February, 2012 Celebrating 20 years since Schillaci's big autumn
14th October, 2011 Mike Sheahan talks to Lee Freedman
5th September, 2011 The Anthony Freedman interview
13th August, 2009 Badger discusses Breeding
5th February, 2008 LEE discusses yearling selection

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