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From Group 1 glory to red outback sands

December 14, 2011

It takes a special horse to win a Group 1, and a remarkable horse to continue to perform at the highest level season in, season out, but what happens when a Group 1 performer loses any semblance of form?

For most, it would spell immediate retirement, but for Reigning to Win, it has meant banishment to the dirt tracks of Queensland; the tremendous grandstands of Randwick and Rosehill replaced by the dusty courses of Jundah, Longreach and Barcaldine.

The King of Kings gelding was considered by jockey Chris Munce to be a better horse than Doncaster Mile winner Racing To Win, who was raced by the same owners early in his career.

He defeated some of Australia’s best gallopers of the last five years, including Group 1 winners Danleigh, Gold Edition, Sirmione, Takeover Target, Magnus, Xcellent and Gee I Jane.

And yet, at Rockhampton on Thursday, he lines up hopelessly out of form, a long way from the galloper who was competitive in some of our best Group 1 races.

Reigning to Win was a Group 1 winner at two, accounting for a good field in what was one of the better editions of the T J Smith Quality over 1600m.

At three, he was a Group 2 winner, while he started favourite in the 2007 Doomben Cup and third favourite in the 2007 Stradbroke Handicap.

The following season, much was expected of the gelding but the equine influenza outbreak brought plans tumbling down.

The 2008 autumn saw him produce undoubtedly his best run when second to Apache Cat in the T J Smith Stakes at Randwick, when at the time, Apache Cat was in the middle of a Group 1 sprinting rampage, which would see him pick up the Lightning Stakes, William Reid Stakes, BTC Cup and Doomben 10000 in addition to the T J Smith.

But it was those that finished behind him that define the strength of that performance.

Third was Takeover Target, who would win the T J Smith in an epic performance twelve months later, while fourth was Galaxy winner Magnus.

Those horses, at their next start, would run 1-2 in the Krisflyer Sprint in Singapore.

However his subsequent efforts seemed to suggest that EI had a greater effect on Reigning To Win than first thought, and after a number of dismal displays the horse was sold to clients of Mudgee trainer Tracy Bartley.

Best known as the trainer of Stradbroke winner Sniper’s Bullet, Bartley was expected to reinvigorate the galloper but after two further disappointing runs, Bartley conceded defeat and Reigning to Win changed trainers again – this time joining Tom Mulholland at Dubbo.

Mulholland told AAP in February 2010 that he believed the horse would find his best form given he was treated the same as every other horse in the stable.

The New South Wales benchmark system saw his rating drop very slowly, meaning he was carrying weights in excess of 64 kilograms whenever he raced in country NSW.

As a result, Mulholland took the gelding to northern Queensland for their series of carnivals over the winter of 2010.

While he came close to victory, running placings in both the Mackay and Cairns Newmarkets, victory continued to elude him.

After four more runs back in central western NSW, Mulholland also gave up, sending the horse to Chris Englebrecht at Tamworth.

Once again, Englebrecht struggled with the horse, and after five runs he dismissed the horse.

Hence Reigning to Win was bought for a bargain price by amateur trainer Wes Irwin, who hails from the small town of Ilfracombe.

It had been nearly 1600 days since Reigning To Win’s last victory, the Group 3 Doomben Classic (1615m) on May 12, 2007 when the horse made its debut for Irwin and remarkably the bush battler was able to achieve what John O’Shea, Tracey Bartley, Tom Mulholland and Chris Englebrecht were unable to do.

After a debut win for the stable the galloper made it two wins on end with a two and a quarter length victory in the Jundah Cup. The gelding was just nosed out at Emerald before he recorded his third victory from four starts on Melbourne Cup day at Longreach.

With Reigning to Win once again finding form, albeit in much weaker races than he had previously contested, hopes were high for a strong showing in the Roma Cup.

But an eleventh of twelve, beaten seventeen lengths, saw the former Group 1 winner enter another period of poor performances.

Reigning to Win returns to the TAB circuit on Thursday afternoon, in an open handicap at Rockhampton and there is little doubt that if the real Reigning to Win was to appear, he would win this race comfortably.

But the real Reigning to Win looks to be long gone, replaced by a shadow of his former self.

Such are the vagaries of racing, and such is life for a once bright star.

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