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Sunline - Profile of a Champion
Sunline then headed to Sydney as it was confirmed that she would be lining up in the Dubai Duty Free in Dubai in late March and not racing through the Sydney carnival. First though she was due to line up in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes against a host of Group 1 performers. Sunline led from El Mirada then Pasta Express and Landsighting followed by Celestial Choir and Tie The Knot. By the 800m Sunline led from Celestial Choir and Landsighting then Pasta Express followed by Tie The Knot and Referral. On straightening Sunline raced clear of Celestial Choir with Tie The Knot running on near the rails then Landsighting. In the final 200m Sunline cruised away to win by two lengths from Celestial Choir with two lengths to Referral third and Tie The Knot fourth. In winning the Apollo Stakes she became the first mare to win the race twice and equalled the 25 victories of Wakeful with only Gladsome and Wenona Girl on 27 and Desert Gold on 36 ahead of her of the notable great mores to have raced in Australia.
Sunline’s race in Dubai was covered live on Pay TV in Australia and while reports said she was very calm in the pre race parade this did worry her fans as the mare was known to be on the toe in the mounting yard and in her first few strides heading up to the start. From the start Sunline led under pressure from Slickly then Happy Diamond. By the 800m Sunline led clearly from Slickly and this pair kicked clear well into the straight. With 250m left Sunline was alone in front as Jim and Tonic tried to make ground and Fairy King Prawn started to fly home down the outside. With 100m left Jim and Tonic and Fairy King Prawn joined Sunline who fought back valiantly but the early breakneck speed had taken its toll with Jim and Tonic too strong to win by a head from Fairy King Prawn with a neck to Sunline in third place. The horse that had pressured Sunline throughout Slickly finished well back.
Sunline was expected to go for a spell and prepare for the spring after being in quarantine in Melbourne but a late decision had her travelling to Sydney for the All Aged Stakes at Randwick.
In the race only four weeks after her effort in Dubai Sunline jumped slowly as Go Flash Go led Sunline with Adam between them with a break to El Mirada then Dotteressa and Final Fantasy. By the 1000m Go Flash Go led Sunline with Adam next with a gap to El Mirada. The field packed to the turn but soon Sunline ranged alongside Go Flash Go as El Mirada moved up from Adam then Final Fantasy. By the 200m Sunline led but El Mirada was closing fast as Dotteressa and Final Fantasy made ground in the heavy conditions. With less than 100m left Sunline was still in front but El Mirada joined her from Final Fantasy. Inside the final 50m El Mirada hit the front to slowly draw away winning by a head from Final Fantasy with a neck to Sunline third.
Sunline was then spelled. In the previous 6 months she had not had two consecutive starts in the same country starting in Australia (Cox Plate – Oct), New Zealand (Breeders Stakes – Nov), Hong Kong (Mile – Dec), New Zealand (Waikato Sprint – Feb), Australia (Apollo Stakes - Mar), Dubai (Duty Free – Mar) and finally Australia (All Aged – Apr).
During her break Sunline was named Australian Horse of the Year for the second year in a row plus Champion Middle Distance horse and Champion Mare while In New Zealand she won her third NZ Horse of the Year. When she returned to Australia in mid August Sunline was greeted with a large group of cameras and reporters as she travelled to her Melbourne base.
Sunline returned to racing in the Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley a few days later. Despite running first up on a slow track she was sent out as 10/9 favourite and was expected to return to the winners list. On jumping though the now 6yo mare didn’t take up her usual front running position as Desert Sky led Sunline and Sports then Miss Powerbird followed by Sir Boom with Falvelon and honour the Name next followed by Piavonic. Around the turn Desert Sky led but wide on the track from Sports and Sunline then Falvelon and Sir Boom. Turning for home Sunline sprinted to the front from Miss Powerbird then Falvelon as Piavonic started to run on. On straightening Piavonic drew level with Sunline with Miss Powerbird next as Falvelon made ground with a gap to Marstic and Weasel Will. In the run to the line Piavonic to the shock of race fans raced clear to win by two lengths from Sunline with Falvelon third and Marstic fourth.
Despite the shock of her first up race Sunline was sent out 4/5 favourite in the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield two weeks later on a heavy track. Sunline jumped to the front as Desert Sky again took over from Brave Chief then Sir Boom with Sunline fourth on the rails followed by Piavonic then Marstic and Weasel Will. Little changed to the turn where Desert Sky led Sunline then Brave Chief and Sir Boom followed by Piavonic and Marstic. On straightening it was shades of the Sunline of old as she bounded clear from Desert Sky as Piavonic ran on out wide from Rum. Despite being on the worst section of track Sunline easily held Piavonic by two lengths with Rum third and a gap to the others headed by Marstic. The fans cheered as she sprinted and continued to applaud her to the post delighted to see the champion back to winning form.
Two weeks later Sunline was back at Moonee Valley for a clash with the new but erratic superstar from WA in Northerly. The 5yo had taken Melbourne racing by storm the previous autumn and was now at his peak to challenge her Cox Plate stranglehold. The Feehan Stakes was over 1600m on a Dead track and Sunline was sent out as the 8/11 favourite in the Group 2 weight for age event. Walk On Ice led Sunline then Brave Chief followed by Northerly. By the 1200m Walk On Ice led Brave Chief then Sunline with a break to Northerly followed by Matriculate. By the 600m in a fast run race Walk on Ice led from Sunline with Northerly wider around Brave Chief and Sir Clive. Around the turn Sunline dashed to the front from Sir Clive as Northerly became momentarily unbalanced and lost ground with Weasel Will next. On straightening Sunline led Northerly then Sir Clive and Weasel Will. In the straight Sunline was in front but started to shorten stride as Northerly made his charge with daylight to the others. Sunline tried to rally but Northerly edged in front to win by a head with five lengths back to Sir Clive third.
It was then onto the Cox Plate where the debate raged who was better Sunline or Northerly? It was thought that the race would decide once and for all but all the race did was raise more questions. Sunline settled in front from Viscount then Northerly followed by Referral with Silvano next from Caitano and King Keitel with Universal Prince at the rear. Little changed to the 700m where Sunline led with Viscount on her tail as Northerly made ground in third from Silvano who went for an inside run from Referral. Around the turn Sunline couldn’t shake Viscount then Northerly as Universal Prince made ground around Silvano who was on the worse part of the track. On straightening Sunline led as Silvano continued along the inside with Viscount started his finishing burst with Northerly grinding home on the outside. It was looking to be a great three way photo finish but then Northerly ducked in despite Damien Oliver trying to keep him straight and contacted Viscount. Viscount tried to hold his ground but was taken onto Sunline’s hindquarters as she drifted out slightly stopping her momentum as she became unbalanced with her front end lurching outwards. Viscount was lucky to remain standing while Sunline threw here head into the air as Northerly was the least affected keeping his rhythm to pass the post half a length in front from Sunline with the gallant Viscount a head away in third after looking like he would record an upset win.
The crowd roared as Sunline’s head went up and in unprecedented scenes Northerly returned to the winners circles as booing from the huge crowd overwhelmed any cheers for the winner. Such was the public outrage over the finish and sentiment for the mare that when the protests from Kerrin McEvoy on Viscount against both first and second and Greg Childs against the winner cheers rang out in the stands. Further roars followed as the race finished was shown from every angle on the giant Prostar screen. The crowd did applaud the winner during the presentation after all protests were dismissed by stewards but the atmosphere on course was very anticlimactic as the question of ‘what if’ was left in the minds of the crowds as they left the course. Would Viscount have got through to win with a clear run? Would Sunline have beaten Northerly home regardless of where Viscount was? Would Northerly have won anyway if he’d gone straight? Questions no one will ever be able to answer. Viscount went on to spell and won in Sydney before injury sent him to stud, Northerly returned to Perth to defeat in being unplaced the Railway Stakes under handicap conditions and Sunline returned to New Zealand for a spell.