Morton family triumphs in Brisbane Cup with Prized Gem

The last day of the Ellerslie Summer Carnival is often the best, at least in my humble opinion. After the Derby and Cup Days the crowd is smaller and friendlier, and the focus shifts from fashion and frills back to horses and racing people.

People like Glenn and Lisa Morton. I met them in the Polo Bar at Ellerslie, one of my favourite places on any racecourse, perhaps tied with the committee room at Winton, where they serve a very mean gin in the middle of the day.

Their trainer Murray Baker introduced us and I chatted with this young couple from Queensland, enjoying a brief break from the kids to cheer on the Morton family's mare Prized Gem in the Queen Elizabeth Handicap and the Auckland Cup. She'd run close enough eighths in both races and the Mortons looked forward to better things as she matured and strengthened. In the meantime Glenn, with little knowledge of local form, enjoyed astounding good luck on the punt and generously shared champagne with his several new Kiwi friends.

He told me how his father Barry was a keen owner and breeder, with several mares at Fayette Park Stud near Matamata and horses in training on both sides of the Tasman. When Barry died suddenly in 2000 his estate was left with a large number of horses to manage. Inevitably, some were sold.

Fortunately, they chose to keep the daughter of Prized and Vaguely Attentive. Now four years old, she's not very big - actually, she's small - but she's got the heart of a lioness, stays all day and she's trained by one New Zealand's finest conditioners of stayers.

The courage and stamina can be explained by her pedigree. She's by Prized, a high-class winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf over 2400 metres and two other middle-distance Group One races in North America, and conqueror of Sunday Silence in the Hollywood Swaps S. G2 over 2000 metres. He's already sired a Group One winner, Sale Of Century and, in an era of hit-and-run stallions, has been brought to New Zealand by the Benjamin family at Fayette Park every year since 1996.

Prized is by the champion US sire (and recently dead) Kris S., a son of Roberto, rated 131 by Timeform after his courageous 1972 Derby victory under the strenuous ride of one L. Piggott, and his subsequent defeat of the champion Brigadier Gerard in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York.

Prized Gem's dam Vaguely Attentive is by White Robe Lodge's champion sire Noble Bijou from Treaura (by the fine stayer Trelay). Noble Bijou figures as the damsire of several other outstanding stayers, The Hind, Irish Chance, Ed, Tawriffic, and Aquidity, as well as the more brilliant Platonic, Merry Maiden and Fatal.

The female line of Prized Gem's pedigree is full of consistent winners beyond 2000 metres. Treaura was a half-sister to the good stakes-winning mare Auditory (13 wins including the Riverton Cup) whose daughter Auricle has left multiple South Island stakeswinner Perceptible to Personal Escort.

Prized Gem has improved faster than might have been predicted five months ago, and her autumn and winter form has been exceptionally consistent. She's finished either first or third at each of her six starts since January, winning her first Queensland start in the Prime Minister's Cup 2400m G2 on 11 May, and running third to Hey Pronto and Freemason in the P.J. O'Shea S. 2400m G2 nine days ago.

Today she took her Australian campaign earnings past $A500,000 with victory under 51 kg in the last Australasian Group One race for the season, the QTC Brisbane Cup over 3200 metres. That makes eighteen Group One wins in Australia for Kiwi-bred horses in 2001-02. That tally includes all four of Australia's Group One 3200-metre races: the Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane Cups.

It's odds-on there's a power of champagne going down at the Morton family party tonight. I hope there are also glasses raised to fathers with big dreams - and good New Zealand horses that make them come true!

Acknowledgements to the New Zealand Stud Book and Arion Pedigrees for pedigree and form information.

- Susan Archer