Living Legends, a place where champions could enjoy the retirement.

Where OLD Champions GO

Author: Shane McNally Photo: Bronwyn Healy

Aptly named, Victoria’s Living Legends honours and rewards past champions of the turf in retirement. For those who were there when Might And Power streaked away to a record-breaking 1997 Caulfield Cup win, or backed Efficient, Rogan Josh, Brew or the great Saintly to win the Melbourne Cup or watched in awe the deeds of Hong Kong superstars Silent Witness and Good Ba Ba, Living Legends is a place where memories can be relived and we all get to feel very good about the racing game.

Might and Power.
Might and Power.
Part of the much larger Woodlands thoroughbred property established in the 1840s, Living Legends is located about 30 kilometres north-west of the Melbourne CBD. The 56-hectare property is currently home to 19 past champions of the Australian and Hong Kong turf.

Living Legends is a place where memories can be relived and we all get to feel very good about the racing game.
Living Legends is a place where memories can be relived and we all get to feel very good about the racing game.

Silent Witness saunters around one paddock at 16 years of age, no longer trying to break records at Sha Tin. In another paddock, dual Cox Plate winner Fields Of Omagh is still a picture of health at 18. Son of the mighty Japan Cup winning Kiwi mare Horlicks, Brew is taking things easy at the age of 22, but there’s still plenty of spring in his step. The old champs are enjoying their later years, but they can also rise to a gallop.

“Might And Power will run so fast around the paddock, he scares you”

They were recently joined by a spritely nine-year-old who has done Australia proud at home and abroad. Exceptional sprinter Buffering, who overcame racing in the shadow of the immortal Black Caviar to win seven  Group 1 races including the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan, was retired in October and settled at Living Legends before the week was out. Former Tasmanian champion The Cleaner had arrived a couple of weeks earlier.

Living Legends at Woodlands Historic Park came out of an idea from the owners of dual Cox Plate winner, Fields of Omagh, who wanted to know their champion would have a comfortable retirement.

Horses grazing in pastures at Living Legends
Horses grazing in pastures at Living Legends.

Founding chairperson of Living Legends and part of owner of Fields of Omagh, Martin O’Connor pursued Dr Andrew Clarke, then working in veterinary studies at Melbourne University with a PhD funded by the Home for Horses in the UK, to become the establishment’s chief executive. Despite the occasional setback and the need to overcome a few financial issues in maintaining the establishment, Living Legends or the International Home of Rest for Champion Horses has now been running 10 years and welcomed up to 100,000 visitors.

Efficient and Zipping.
Efficient and Zipping.

”We wanted to create a place where champions could enjoy the retirement they deserve and people had a chance to see them,” Dr Clarke says. ”There’s only so much room so the one criteria is that they must have at least two Group 1 wins.”

Dr Clarke says horses usually adjust straight away to their new surrounds, whether they’ve just run their last race or been retired for some time: ”Fields of Omagh won his second Cox Plate on the Saturday and was here on the Monday morning. Over the years, we saw horses with great followings retire and were never heard of again. The idea was that people would want to see their stars in retirement, it’s good for racing and very good for the horse.

Apache Cat and Rogan Josh.
Apache Cat and Rogan Josh.

”The Chinese visitors will have tears running down their cheeks when they get close to Silent Witness. The average person in Hong Kong or China can’t get near horses and he was a super hero to them, their version of Phar Lap. Quite a few of the Hong Kong visitors don’t want to see Bullish Luck because he ended Silent Witness’s unbeaten run. I even pointed him out to one fellow and he didn’t want to look at him. That’s how passionate they are about their racing.

Mr and Mrs Cruz with Silent Witness.
Mr and Mrs Cruz with Silent Witness.

”Apache Cat is probably the favourite horse here because of his striking looks and the fact people can easily recognise him, but then Might And Power is hugely popular and the four Melbourne Cup horses always attract plenty of interest. Might And Power will run so fast around the paddock, he scares you. He’s a maniac. Some of them might have been retired for years but they still have a bit of a sprint around their paddocks.”

Visitors line the fence to see the great Might And Power, who followed his Caulfield Cup cakewalk with a narrow Melbourne Cup victory, then went on the following season to win a Cox Plate before smashing all sorts of records winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick by over 10 lengths.

He’s one of the great favourites, but there’s perhaps no bigger drawcard than Apache Cat. The champion sprinter won eight Group 1 races, but the striking chestnut captures the attention with his all white blaze and four white socks.

Along with Silent Witness, fellow HK champions Good Ba Ba, Lucky Nine, and Bullish Luck have found a home at Living Legends. Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate winner Saintly and international sprinter Takeover Target once lived there, while champions Better Loosen Up and Northerly saw out their final years there before passing away in recent years.

Living Legends is every bit as popular with the rank and file as it is with racing enthusiasts, with two guided tours every day. It also hosts a wide range of events including weddings, functions, promotions, club and business meetings, and seminars, all against the backdrop of a racing and breeding ground that houses some of the world’s best retired racehorses.

This story was published in Gallop Magazine, Winter/2016.


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