CHIPPING NORTON STAKES
After all these years, Tony Hartnell still doesn't expect it to happen.
Not with Sydney Cup winner Mahtoum or with millionaire sprinter Mr Innocent.
Ditto champion two-year-old Victory Vein. And definitely not with the best rags-to-riches tale Australian racing has produced in Takeover Target.
"I never believe that," Hartnell responds when quizzed on whether a breeder's instinct can identify a good'un.
"I've bred a few Group 1 horses and I haven't known any of them would measure up to Group 1 until they actually did it."
Call it a fair dose of caution, but it takes a lot to convince Hartnell, the former chairman of Racing NSW and head of the Australian Securities Commission, he has a Group 1 horse ready to be added to the list of Meringo Stud graduates.
And so it is with Alma's Fury, the latest flagbearer for the closest horse farm to the Pacific Ocean.
Perched on a ridge running down to the beach at Bergalia on the outskirts of Moruya, Meringo Stud has developed a reputation for continuing to surprise, even if on many occasions it's nearly been "washed away" as Hartnell likes to describe it.
Take Mr Innocent, for example. He went under the hammer for just $5000 at a Brisbane yearling sale and Victory Vein would have been lucky to fetch much more if she went through a ring.
Her half-relations sold for just $15,000 and $16,000.
But Takeover Target's story is better: he was knocked down for just $1250 to Queanbeyan taxi driver Joe Janiak at a Sydney dispersal sale before ever facing the starter. More than $6 million in earnings later, he's now found a home in the Australian Racing Hall Of Fame.
So there's never been much expected of the Kembla Grange-trained Alma's Fury either - even if he has arrived at today's Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600 metres) almost by accident.
"He was a nice-looking foal," Hartnell said. "He's got a good rump, good legs and the bit about him as a foal that's the most noticeable is his back end is very strong.
"I own 50 per cent and I had some friends buy the other 50 per cent and one of those is a guy called Roy Lavis.
"They bought into it when it was a yearling so we always wanted to race it.
"His [Lavis'] wife is named Alma and she was very skeptical about Roy buying into this horse and that's why we named the horse Alma's Fury."
The skeptics also said Alma's Fury wouldn't win a stakes race - let alone be competitive at the top level - after 18 attempts at black type without winning.
And even his trainer admitted he thought the horse was no hope on the Warwick Farm bog that the Apollo Stakes was run on a fortnight ago, until Alma's Fury was the first horse to emerge from the gloom.
Which has Hartnell expecting a similar reaction if another unlikely storyline unfolds in the Chipping Norton, a race the horse was never supposed to contest.
"I have to tell you I believe he'll be competitive, but I will be shocked if he wins," Hartnell admitted.
"He [Alma's Fury] has been knocking on the door and he won't know it's a Group 1.
"We do, but it's just another race for him and hopefully he can put his best foot forward."