Australian Oaks: Cuban in big smoke

HORSE RACING

In a week when NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell fell on his sword, you could forgive one of his cabinet ministers Stuart Ayres for finding a quiet corner away from the spotlight at Randwick on Saturday.

The Member for Penrith's chaotic week isn't going to slow down on the second day of The Championships, where he'll cheer on Cuban Star, the $201 rank outsider in the Australian Oaks he hand picked at the sales himself.

"I always feel at home at the racetrack," Ayres said. "All the different types of society will be there, but I'm sure Marise [Ayres' partner and senator Marise Payne, another part-owner] and I will find a bit of quiet time somewhere down at the stalls to have a chat to her and whisper in her ear. I'm sure she'll do us proud."

The sight of some of the world's richest businessman, racing royalty and even royalty itself at yearling sales is not uncommon, but a politician? And inspecting them himself?

"He [Ayres] found this horse at the sales and said to me, 'what about this Teofilo filly?' He'd already had a look at it before I had," Cuban Star's trainer Kerry Parker said.

"We walked around and probably looked at around 20 and out of them all we thought she was the best."

Ayres has raced gallopers with the Kembla Grange trainer, known for turning cheap buys into capable stayers, for almost a decade.

But their association came completely out of the blue when the rising star in political circles picked up the phone in search of a bush trainer to look after a horse for him and a couple of footy mates.

"Most of those guys fell away, but I stayed in and I've always liked it as [horses] have always been floating around the family," Ayres said.

"We found Kerry to be one of the good guys in racing. And he's turned a few dollars [from Nextanix] for a horse that didn't cost a lot of money."

Cuban Star didn't cost much either, knocked down to Parker and Ayres for $16,000.

They knew she wouldn't exactly be in high demand and was never going to an early-running two-year-old.

So they waited for her to mature and hatched a long range plan to reach the Oaks. And it's proven just the one win, a six-length romp in a low-key Nowra Class 1, has been enough to vault her into a $1 million Group 1 race.

"It's probably above her grade - there's no doubt about that," said Ayres, who was a driving force behind establishing the Fernhill picnic races in Sydney's west. "If you've got a three-year-old filly that can stay you've got to have a throw at the stumps.

"It's probably the biggest day in Sydney racing now so to have a runner on that day is pretty extraordinary. I'd hardly say she's a genuine winning chance, but there'll be a few horses in that last 400 that will be sucking in the big ones and she'll still be having those big, long lopey strides."

Parker's affinity with the Australian Oaks stretches back to 2012, when his former staying filly Aliyana Tilde finished a close second to Streama in the three-year-old classic.

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