Australia celebrates a Champion racehorse and Champion stallion

Right from the very moment he was born, it was clear that Lonhro was something special.

Lonhro, a son of the outstanding racehorse Octagonal from the well-credentialled mare Shadea, grew from the colt described on his foaling slip as “small but perfect” to become one of Australia’s greatest and best-loved racehorses.

He is also a rare example of a son of a Champion becoming a Champion himself and then going on to be a Champion sire.

Lonhro raced 35 times for 26 wins, with no fewer than 11 of them at G1 level. His longest losing streak was two and he built his record in a period when Australian racing boasted a galaxy of stars.

His most memorable victory was possibly the 2004 G1 Australian Cup, where he had the likes of Makybe Diva, Elvstroem and Mummify behind him. Other great days include when he ran down Sunline to win the G1 Caulfield Stakes in 2001, and in the G1 Caulfield Guineas of the same year, when he accounted for such horses as Ustinov, Magic Albert, Dash For Cash and Viscount. But his race record reflects only a part of his legacy.

In many ways it is the admiration he inspired in those around him that tells his story best.

Among those at Woodlands Stud that December morning in 1998 was Nickie Cramsie, the stud secretary and one of the first few people to see Lonhro.

“He was absolutely beautiful. It’s often said that he was small, but that was only in comparison to the other foals because he was born quite late,” Cramsie said.

“He was such a lovely handsome colt with such personality that we decided there and then that he’d be on our Woodlands Christmas cards that year,” she said.

“I used up an entire roll of film taking photos of him.”

“From day one he was a showman. I wrote on his foaling slip that he was perfect, and he knew he was.”

Woodlands’ stallion master at the time, Darrell Atkins, recalls a colt of “tremendous character.”

“I’d sometimes go with the boys doing the feeds and this little black colt would meet us at the gate and walk through the paddock beside our ute. When we stopped, he’d put his head in the window,” Atkins said.

“Then he’d go around all the feed bins and inspect them before he’d go to his mother.

“Without a doubt, he was the nicest foal you’d ever want to see. And he had brains.”

The man who was instrumental in Lonhro’s very existence was Trevor Lobb, former Woodlands General Manager who had for Lonhro’s sire Octagonal as a yearling. He describes Lonhro’s arrival as a crowning moment in the farm’s history, and in that of its owners, Jack and Bob Ingham.

“He was everything we could have wished for,” said Lobb, who later took up a senior management position with Darley when Sheikh Mohammed purchased the Ingham brothers’ racing and breeding interests in 2008.

“I’d bought Octagonal as a yearling for Jack and Bob, and I used to arrange the matings for the mares. Being from Octagonal’s first crop, Lonhro was very special.

“The great thing about both horses was that everyone loved them. They had huge crowds who’d come and stand around their stalls on racedays and it was the same after they retired from racing, people would drive from everywhere to come to the farm and see them.”

Similar sentiment comes from his trainer John Hawkes and his jockey Darren Beadman, both of whom happily admit to a touch of hero worship. To Hawkes, who also trained Octagonal, Lonhro was the perfect horse.

“All he wanted to do was please you,” Hawkes said.

“Horses like him are born good, all I did was try to mould him.”

Hawkes names two races, the 2004 Australian Cup at Flemington, and Lonhro’s next race, the G1 George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill, as his former charge’s most memorable performances.

“The Australian Cup was to be his last race in Melbourne, so it was special,” he said.

“As it happened, Darren got into a bit of hot water for a couple of strides and it didn’t look too promising. But being the jockey he was, and Lonhro being the horse he was, they stayed balanced and didn’t get uptight.

“In the Ryder, no horse in the world could have beaten him that day. He was as fit and as good as we could possibly get him.

“I’ve trained a lot of good horses, but him and his father, they were the best.”

Now in charge of raceday preparations for Godolphin in Sydney, Darren Beadman steered Lonhro to 16 of his wins. He also rode Octagonal to five victories and trained one of Lonhro’s best sons, Impending, to G1 success.

“Lonhro was a jockey’s dream,” Beadman said.

“He had so much power and acceleration, he was a superb athlete and could get you out of a difficult situation in a race in the blink of an eye.

“As soon as you started to pick him up, he knew what was required. I was just a passenger most of the time.”

Lonhro came into Beadman’s life soon after the seven-time Champion jockey returned from a two-year break from the saddle, and he took an already stellar career to new heights.

“Lonhro means the world to me. He changed my life, I owe him,” Beadman said.

Lonhro ran his last race in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the autumn of 2004, finishing second to Grand Armee before commencing stud duties at Woodlands the following spring.

In the eyes of Darley stallions Head of Sales in Australia, Alastair Pulford, the end of one era for Lonhro marked the beginning of another exciting chapter.

As of his 21st birthday, he has produced 891 winners, 88 stakes winners and 12 Group 1 winners.

“Lonhro went to stud with a huge reputation,” Pulford said.

“He stood for $60,000 in his first season, he got some elite mares and he delivered.”

Pulford describes Lonhro as “the ultimate horse.”

“He’s exactly what you want to achieve in this game – a Horse of the Year who becomes Champion stallion,” Pulford said.

“Godolphin has raced more than half of Lonhro’s Stakes winners and for Sheikh Mohammed, he’s been his next most successful sire behind Dubawi.”

Just as he did as a racehorse, Lonhro is still touching the lives of generations of admirers. And he will continue to be a household name long after he celebrates his latest birthday.