Royal Ascot: Archie an Aussie fairytale hero
Outcast from the bush ready for famous tilt at bluebloods and aristocrats
Try number-crunching this week at Royal Ascot. Bill for the new space-age grandstand: £200 million. Prize money for the week: £3.665m. Value of the week's richest purse: £350,000. A table for 10 in the swish panoramic restaurant: £2,000. A pair of weekly Royal Enclosure badges: £600. Cost of the favourite for Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes: £400.
In a season of fairytale horses, Takeover Target, the Australian sprinter who has captured hearts and minds back home, beats Speciosa and Sir Percy into a corked hat. His story is beyond Perrault, the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen rolled into one.
Like most of its kind, it begins once upon a time. Three years ago, in this case, when trainer Joe Janiak, a sometime construction worker, bakery hand and cabbie, paid A$1,250 for an unraced three-year-old at the sales. That was his way, tried and tested for 30 years; he would buy cheap no-hopers, take them back to his base at Queanbeyan, near Canberra, and try to patch them up to win races at country tracks.
Takeover Target, known as Archie at home, had bad knees, a bad action and a bad attitude. But he also had speed. Janiak threw him out into a paddock for six months, let his body and mind heal and mature. The bay gelding began to come round, started to acknowledge his master, get to like him.
To call Janiak's place at Queanbeyan low-key is to call the Pacific slightly wet. The trainer's house is a caravan on the edge of the racetrack, surrounded by half-a-dozen stables. It could be called ramshackle, but it was an ambience that suited Takeover Target. Of an evening, Janiak would have a beer, the horse would amble over, share a slurp and have a piece of liquorice.
Just over two years ago, Takeover Target took to the track and - wow - payback time started, big-time. He won his first six races, first at his home track, then at Wagga Wagga, Rosehill, Kensington, Gosford and Grafton. He became Country Horse of the Year, and then it was time to take on the city slickers.
No sweat, mate. He went to Melbourne and blazed home in the Salinger Stakes, one of Australia's top sprints. The education of Archie was complete.
He has raced 11 times since, and won four more, including two more Flemington Group One races this year, the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Stakes. His earnings are now £785,000, Janiak has turned down an offer of a million for him, wears a baseball cap emblazoned The Queanbeyan Conqueror and drives a burgundy Ford Falcon with the numberplate TARGET. He still lives in the caravan, though, and has renewed his taxi-driver's licence, just in case.
Janiak, the hands-on horseman, is disarmingly honest about his gold strike. "It was his price that attracted me," he said. "In fact, I was going to get him for A$800, then the auctioneer said he'd won a barrier trial, and someone else started bidding. I mightn't have gone on, but Ben, my older son, said he might be OK. And I liked his conformation, so I thought if he's no good I can always sell him as a hack.
"He was a bit of a mongrel when we got him, but he's a happy horse now. Basically, we kill 'em with kindness." Takeover Target, a son of Celtic Swing, and his back-up team have been lodging in Newmarket for two weeks and the white-faced gelding, whose muscular backside and generous heart are in direct proportion, has taken the experience in his considerable stride.
The road from Australia to Royal Ascot was paved by Choisir, who notched the Kings Stand-Golden Jubilee Stakes double three years ago, and reinforced by the lure of the Global Sprint Challenge and its $1m bonus. Takeover Target is not the only one to tread it this time; three Aussies are hoping to rule. The raiding party is completed by the high-class mare Glamour Puss, trained by Danny O'Brien, and the colt Falkirk, from the mighty Lee Freedman stable.
Both Takeover Target and Glamour Puss, who has beaten our hero twice back home, will be ridden by their regular Australian pilots, Jay Ford and Steven King respectively. Johnny Murtagh, who steered Choisir to his historic victories, has been booked for Falkirk.
If all goes well this week, Takeover Target will stay on for the July Cup in Newmarket, but the final page of his tale will be turned sooner rather than later, for Janiak knows his dicky-kneed star's mileage is limited. "He's been like winning the lottery," he said, "and I'd rather stop racing him than see him break down." Takeover Target has bought the farm; Janiak is soon to move to flash new premises at Coff's Harbour, on the coast between Sydney and Brisbane. "He'll be a great attraction at country race meetings," he added, "and I'll ride him on the beach."
A BET A DAY
TUESDAY: Deadshot Keen (2.35). Named after an old-time footballer in a children's comic, he can open the scoring for Brian Meehan's Manton team.
WEDNESDAY: Makderah (5.30). Has reportedly progressed since her run at Newbury last month.
THURSDAY: Novellara (3.10). Beautifully bred, she can give the leading Royal Ascot trainer Henry Cecil his 71st win at the meeting, and his first for four years.
FRIDAY: Race For The Stars (3.50). Back on her favoured fast ground, she can progress from her Irish Guineas fourth.
SATURDAY: Shawanda (3.05). One of Godolphin's close-season recruits, she can become the first distaffer since Stanerra 23 years ago to take the 12-furlong feature.
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