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Fields Of Omagh makes Cox Plate history

Nine-year-old gelding starts in his fifth Cox Plate, after winning it three years ago. His owners announce it will be his final raceday appearance and he's given the honour of leading out the field, but hardly anyone expects him to lead it back. Paying $19 on the tote, he misses the start and sweeps home from the back to win the race by a nose.

Yeah, right.
Yesterday it all happened at Moonee Valley.

FIELDS OF OMAGH (No. 2) defeats El Segundo & Pompeii Ruler in the 2006 Cox Plate.
Managing owner of Fields Of Omagh, and Moonee Valley racecaller, BRYAN MARTIN & wife JILL, at the course yesterday.
PHOTOS: By kind courtesy of Racing and Sports, and their excellent Cox Plate website.

Managing owner Bryan Martin and his wife Jill could hardly hear me above the noise of a huge party last night at the track, but they got my message of delight and congratulations after Fields Of Omagh (Rubiton-Finneto by Cerreto), the great warhorse of modern Australian racing, won his second MVRC W.S. Cox Plate 2040m G1.

He defeated the New Zealand-bred El Segundo (Pins-Palos Verdes by Oak Ridge) who put up an outstanding performance for his owners, and his breeders, including Philip & Catherine Brown of Ancroft Stud. They were on-course to cheer him home and, I'm sure, raised a glass or several to him afterwards. He and jockey Darren Gauci could not have done more to try and win the race. Of course, as a proud New Zealander, I had hoped that either El Segundo, or Lad of the Manor (NZ) would win, or Miss Finland, ridden by our champion jockey Lisa Cropp.

But the Cox Plate is a race that demands enormous strength and spirit, as well as speed and class. At the age of nine, with four Cox Plate starts, including a previous victory in 2003 behind him, Fields Of Omagh came into the race with history on his side, not against him, despite winning only once in his last 12 starts and suffering two serious injuries as a younger horse.

He and his owners epitomise what racing is about, the desire to keep hold of an outrageous dream, and the willingness to put that dream to the test, one last time. So it's easy for me to set aside trans-Tasman rivalries and congratulate FOO, as he is affectionately known, and his wonderful owners, who include his breeder Martin O'Connor, trainer David Hayes, Tony McEvoy who looked after the horse so well through all his difficulties, and jockey Craig Williams for an inspired ride.

I first met Bryan Martin more than a decade ago when I was living in Tasmania and he was a guest speaker for a racing function in Launceston. He was already a well-known Victorian race-caller, broadcaster and form analyst, but also a passionate enthusiast about the sport of racing, and its history. We got on well then, but I don't think either of us imagined we'd have anything more to do with each other after that meeting.

At the end of 1996 I returned to New Zealand with my husband Michael Martin to work for the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Association. I established the New Zealand Thoroughbred Update to highlight the success of New Zealand-breds around the world, and generally dived into the business of promoting and celebrating Kiwi horses and their breeders.

In early 1998 we attended a breeders' conference in Melbourne and met up again with Bryan who took us to dinner. I must have talked a lot about New Zealand racing and breeding, because at the end of the evening Bryan asked me if I'd be willing to join him each week on Raceday, the popular daily racing show on Radio Sport 927, as its New Zealand correspondent. Of course I said yes, but didn't think much more about it, as so many of these ideas come to nothing.

About three months later Bryan followed up on his offer and so began our weekly on-air conversations, heard by the station's large audience of racing fans and industry people in Melbourne and other parts of Australia. Almost every Tuesday for four years, for up to ten or 15 minutes at a time, we talked about New Zealand-bred horses in Australia, as well as New Zealand studs, stallions, breeders, owners, trainers, and our stakes racing. I was never paid to do it, as I considered it part of my role as the NZTBA's media officer, although it wasn't part of my formal job description.

Bryan's incredible racing knowledge, profound love of the sport and high standards of professionalism made our sessions an absolute joy, and a big commitment, because I had to make sure I could deliver the up-to-date news, well-informed comment and accurate information he required.

We had a good thing going and it was a lot of fun, as well as work. But something else happened during those four years we talked with each other on Sport 927. My Melbourne radio spot co-incided almost exactly with the racing career of Sunline, which began in May 1998 and ended in the 2002 Cox Plate, three months after my final on-air chat with Bryan. (That took place in the Sport 927 studio, on the morning after Sunline's induction to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, of which Bryan is chairman). As Sunline's co-breeder, I could offer a fresh dimension to the ongoing analyses of her champion qualities, and naturally, missed no opportunity to promote the (NZ) brand!

During this period Bryan also began to enjoy success as syndicate manager for Fields Of Omagh. The horse won a Listed Race on Melbourne Cup day in 2001, and a year later was second in the Caulfield Cup G1 and fifth in Sunline's fourth and final Cox Plate, won by Northerly. FOO returned in 2003 to defeat Defier and Lonhro in the Cox Plate, was a dashing second to Savabeel in 2004 and third to Makybe Diva and Lotteria last year. He's also competed in Dubai, Hong Kong and Japan, in a 45-start, 13-win, $A6.45 million career, spanning six years.
It seems that Bryan and I were destined not only to work together, but also to be part of Cox Plate history, through our repsective links with two dual winners of the race.
FOO's owners had announced on Thursday that the Cox Plate would be his last start, but even they could not have believed he would bow out so perfectly, at the top of his game, in Australia's championship race, coming from off the pace to out-finish the five-year-old El Segundo and four-year-old Pompeii Ruler.

I salute and thank him, and wish him a long, indulgent retirement at the new Living Legends farm near Melbourne, and lots of visitors who say "Look, there's Fields Of Omagh, the champion of the Cox Plate." He joins the champion mare of the 1940s Tranquil Star, who also won the race twice, as the only horses to start in five Cox Plates.

And may his owners, breeder, trainer and jockey all enjoy many future Cox Plate days, and glass-raisings to the day their horse made turf history.

- Susan Archer


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