The last thoroughbred inductee into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame we will examine, of the four that gained admission in 2014, is Dulcify.
We mean last only in the sense that we arbitrarily, and not logically, decided to start with Lonrho, move on the Rain Lover, and then Surround. Our decision to do this was not an attempt at ranking according to merit.
Had we wanted to do something logical, a chronological approach perhaps, based upon year foaled, would have started with Rain Lover (1964), followed by Surround (1973), with Dulcify (1975) next, and Lonhro (1998) at the end.
And so, now that we have removed any suspicion of logic and merit, here is a closer look at Dulcify.
There have been several horses, six at any rate, named Dulcify. The dictionary defines dulcify as a verb, meaning, “to sweeten.” Another definition is “to calm, or soothe.” One incident in his life we examine further on suggests that his name was a true misnomer.
Our subject was the first Dulcify, foaled in 1975. The name was used the following year for a mare in Brazil. Another mare, this one un-raced, appeared in Ireland in 1981, and the Yanks used the name twice, in 1988 for a filly that managed three wins from 12 starts, and for a second time in 2011, for another filly that has one win and three placings from five jumps to her credit, with records that do not include 2014.
Our Dulcify, foaled in New Zealand in 1975, was a gelding sired by Decies, of Great Britain. Decies made 25 starts, winning three times, with the most significant of those being the Irish Two Thousand Guineas. He did alright as a sire, with 15 stakes winners to his credit. Sweet Candy of Australia was the dam. She was, mainly on the basis of having foaled Dulcify, named New Zealand Broodmare of the Year in 1979. Her sire was the eminently respectable Todman.
Dulify’s owner, breeder and trainer was himself a Hall of Fame inductee, in 2001, by the name of Colin Hayes, a man whose exploits as a trainer are well known, and more than sufficient to justify being treated in a separate essay.
He made 21 starts in total, winning 10 times and placing five times, running unplaced on just six occasions. All of his races took place when he was a three-year-old and a four-year old.
His first win came at Adelaide’s Morphettville track. It was a 1200 metre affair, when he went off at the astronomical odds of 330-1. His next race, and his next victory, was the Group 1 1978 Victoria Derby, although it would not be for two more years before the current classification system came into being. Perhaps the most remarkable facet of this win was that it was at a distance of 2500 metres, more than double what he had covered at Morphettville.
One would almost wonder if he ran that first race on two legs, because no matter how you parse it, going from sprinter to stayer in one race, or from Morphettville to Flemington for that matter, is cause for wonder. He then finished a respectable second behind Regal Jester in the South Australian Derby back at Morphettville. At that time, the race was 2400 metres in length, having been reduced by 100 metres from the previous year.
Things got interesting at that point. Plans were formulated to take Dulcify to compete in Perth, but he showed such extreme reluctance to air travel that he was banned from flying. The incident might have had an adverse effect on his performance, because his efforts in the West Australian and Australian Derbies could not be characterised as anything other than desultory.
Without the expedient of air travel, Dulcify was being driven back to his home base, the Hayes property at Angaston, when mechanical difficulties stranded him for two days at Ceduna. Hayes would later remark that Dulcify’s adaptation to the heat of the Nullarbor Plain, swimming in the Great Australian Bight, was the first and only time he had seen a horse willingly dive into water.
Dulicfy’s three-year-old campaign then, would have to be deemed as less than auspicious, unless you consider the discoveries of his Aviophobia and love of swimming worthy accomplishments.
Dulcify began to come into his own as a four-year-old. He began by taking the 1600 metre Craiglee Stakes at Flemington racecourse, the race that has since become the Makybe Diva Stakes. Moving up to 2000 metres, he was successful in besting the field in the Turnbull Stakes, a race that had been moved that year from its traditional Saturday to Tuesday as the result of the Maribyrnong River cresting its banks and flooding Flemington.
That early October victory set the stage for what was to be Dulcify’s zenith at the end of the month, the W. S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. He was the betting favourite for that race, carrying Brent Thompson, who along with having the superior mount, had a minor assist from Peter Cook when Cook, sensing that his horse, Ming Dynasty, was not capable of winning on that day, opened up a gap for Dulcify with 800 metres to go.
It took only a few strides for Dulcify to reel in the leaders, and then leave them with the appearance of being stationary whilst he put seven lengths on the second place finisher, Shivaree, a Cox Plate margin of victory that has never been exceeded.
Shivaree was again the victim of Dulcify in the Mackinnon Stakes the following week, but this time the margin of victory was a neck only.
The stage was set for the Melbourne Cup. He went in as the favourite, even though he drifted to 3-1.
During the race, he was run up on by Hyperno, damaging his hind legs severely and shattering his pelvic bone. Despite that severe injury, he ran for another 1000 metres, leading the chasers before faltering in the home turn. He had to be carted back to the stables, but it soon became apparent that there was no saving him, and he was put down. His jockey, Brent Thompson, rode until the end of the Flemington carnival, but he lost his keenness for racing and hung up his spurs soon thereafter.
Tragedy is an unfortunate aspect of the Sport of Kings. For every champion of Dulcify’s stature that has experienced a notorious demise, dozens more disappear without a whimper.
This is our final instalment on the horses that entered the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2014. No attempt has been made to rank them in stature. The edge would seem to go to Rain Lover by way of his two successive Melbourne Cup wins, but he could be considered lacking in total victories. Surround equaled Rain Lover for wins with far fewer starts, and won the Cox Plate, yet she had to wait the longest, with the exception of Rain Lover, to enter the Hall.
Lonhro would seem to be the top horse with 26 victories from 35 starts, and it is true that he waited for less time than the others before achieving the Hall, but he never won the marquee races and never won beyond 2000 metres, so attempting to compare him to the stayers is futile. Dulcify would seem to possess the thinnest resume, but his margin of victory in the Cox Plate, a race some consider to be the ultimate test of ability, coupled with his tragic demise, in the Melbourne Cup of all places, gives rise to speculation, without meaning to come off as unduly harsh, that his entry into the Hall was based somewhat on sentiment.
But then, an objective comparison betwixt these four horses is not truly possible due to the number of variables involved, so we’ll conclude by saying that each was worthy of respect and admiration, and when Lonhro joins the other three in that big racetrack in the sky, they can hold a four horse race to settle the issue.