Darby Racing Scaling Mountainous Heights

By Kelsey Riley

With the inaugural running of the A$10-million The Everest approaching at Randwick on Saturday, we look back at the story behind leading contender She Will Reign in Part 1 of this two-part installment.

This year’s G1 Golden Slipper was not spared from the relentless autumn downpours that had drenched Sydney for weeks on end, but no amount of rain at Rosehill Gardens on Mar. 18 could have dampened the Darby Racing parade. The syndication company, started by Scott Darby 10 years ago in his garage in Narellan in the western suburbs of Sydney, was bringing its best-ever chance to the world’s richest 2-year-old race in the 7-1 shot She Will Reign (Aus) (Manhattan Rain {Aus}). The A$20,000 bargain buy had sailed through her first three starts unbeaten, but had something to prove at Rosehill after suffering her first defeat at the hands of Frolic (Aus) (Redoute’s Choice {Aus}) in the G2 Reisling S. two weeks earlier when trying the Slipper trip of 1200 metres for the first time.

It turns out that defeat was but a minor blip on She Will Reign’s radar. The plucky filly rode the rails under an ultra-confident Ben Melham and hit the lead 300 metres out on her way to a commanding win, inspiring jubilant celebrations from her team of 19 mainly first-time owners that went viral online worldwide.

“The race club did a great job because they cordoned off a little section for the owners to allow more people to come in if we were to win,” Scott Darby recalled. “I thought that was huge, and it went viral.”

“To have us all together in a small section, you couldn’t describe the feeling,” he continued. “It was really weird because I was down near the fence and even at the 300 when she hit the front there was just that feeling that she’d won. We were all turned around high-fiving at the 200 and then you think, ‘there’s still 200 metres to go.’ She just gave you that feeling that she wasn’t going to get beat even that far out. I just kept looking back going, ‘hang on a minute.’ It was just a weird thing and something we’ll never forget.”

Victory in the Golden Slipper was the culmination of a dream for 43-year-old Scott Darby, who kick-started Darby Racing in 2007 with the purchase of a single horse, a Choisir (Aus) colt, at the 2007 New Zealand Ready To Run Sale. That horse, later named Elastane, went on to win eight races and more than A$100,000, and he was followed by Ellehro (Aus) (Lonhro {Aus}), a filly who went on to win three times. Darby Racing, which now syndicates around 30 yearlings a year, has developed a reputation for unearthing top-class runners at bargain-basement prices, with the recently retired dual Group 1 winner and A$10,000 yearling Yankee Rose (Aus) (All American {Aus}) also on its books. Darby Racing also bought dual Group 2-winning juvenile Time For War (Aus) (Snitzel {Aus}) for A$56,000 as a yearling before selling him to Kitchwin Hills as a stallion prospect.

The dream of winning a Golden Slipper, however, was one Darby feared may have slipped through his fingers five years ago after he parted ways with a filly he had purchased for A$125,000 at the Inglis Premier sale as a yearling.

“We were involved in the purchase of a horse called Snitzerland,” Darby said. “[Trainer] Gerald Ryan played a big part in buying the filly and it was the dearest horse I’d ever purchased. I got a bit worried about the price and she was very offset in the knees. I rang Gerald and I said, ‘we’ve overpaid,’ and we sold her on. She ran second in the Slipper and was a Group 1 winner. I was thinking at that stage, some people go their whole lives and don’t win Group 1s. That could be our one and only chance of running in the Slipper and winning a Group 1. Those things happen and make you more determined.”

Three years after Snitzerland’s near-miss behind Pierro (Aus) (Lonhro {Aus}) at Rosehill, the Darby team found the filly that would take them one step closer to the Golden Slipper winner’s enclosure before going on to hand the team its first Group 1. Darby and Racing Manager Mark Holland-a longtime friend who came onboard with the company in 2008-gave high marks to a filly by All American from the Widden Stud draft at the 2015 Inglis Classic sale but, discouraged by the record of the sire, they didn’t hurry to the sale to bid on her when she went through the ring as lot 17. Trainer Clarry Conners, who had given Darby his first job in racing as a stable hand at Warwick Farm, later called Darby to tell him the filly had passed in. He recalled, “Clarry rang me that afternoon and said, ‘did you look at lot 17?’ I said, ‘yeah we did, we really liked her, why is that?’ He said, ‘she passed in.’ So I jumped off the phone and said ‘guys, what do you reckon, they want A$15,000, we’ll offer A$10,000.’ I rang up Widden Stud and offered A$10,000 and they took it, and the rest is history.”

The following March Yankee Rose lined up for the Golden Slipper as a 20-1 shot off a pair of minor wins, and thrilled her team when coming home second to Capitalist (Aus) (Written Tycoon {Aus}). She won the G1 Sires’ Produce S. at The Championships two weeks later and, in the spring, became the first filly to take the Spring Champion S. before finishing third behind Winx (Aus) (Street Cry {Ire}) and Hartnell (GB) (Authorized {Ire}) in the G1 Cox Plate.

“The year Yankee ran second in the Slipper you would have thought we’d won it, we went off like lunatics,” Darby said. “We’d had horses in Group 1s, but they’d run back in the field, and you’d think, ‘how do you get that horse to go to the next level? Not only to get into the field but compete and do well?’ She was the first one that did that for us and went on and won the Sires’ and is the only filly to win the Spring Champion S.”

“Quite interesting, at the end of her campaign last year–the [G1 Crown] Oaks where she came out with a chip in the knee–it had become so intense with the owners and the media, it came as a bit of a relief in November that she was going to the paddock so things could quiet down,” Darby added. “It was just something we weren’t used to. And in a matter of about four weeks She Will Reign came on to the scene with a bang, and it was like, ‘here we go again.’ It just went to a whole other level.”

Returning to the Classic sale last January, the Darby team were able to agree on another filly in the mould of their superstar Yankee Rose: a bay filly light on pedigree but with the physique to excel in the juvenile features. Plus, they had some intel on the filly’s dam, Courgette (Aus) (Charge Forward {Aus}).

“We had a bit of background on the mother,” Darby explained. “We actually bought Courgette off Gerald Ryan as a tried, city-winning mare. At the time we had a trainer up in North Queensland that was winning a lot of races for us and we decided to buy her and [send her there] but she just ran into problem after problem after problem after we bought her. One of my good clients had 40% and he said, ‘what do you reckon about breeding with her?’ We thought why not, she’s tough. He bred with her and did a foal share with Manhattan Rain, which I thought was crazy at the time.”

“So we had a bit of knowledge about the filly and we quite liked her,” Darby added of She Will Reign, who is the first foal from her dam. “She was very athletic and very much fit the mould of what we’ve had success with–early, sharp and athletic. She wasn’t bred in the purple but we’ve come to realise that stallions like Manhattan Rain that may not be at the top of the tree certainly can produce one, like All American with Yankee Rose.”

Darby Racing had to spend double what it had paid for Yankee Rose on She Will Reign, A$20,000, but they soon realised it was money well spent.

“She developed into a really nice 2-year-old,” Darby said. “She really came on from what she was as a yearling. She looked tough and it worked out that way, but did we ever think she could win a Slipper? You hope you’ll win good races, but no.”

Darby said his team began to believe she could be something good, however, when she won her first trial by open lengths for trainer Gary Portelli and followed up with an 8 1/4-length maiden score at Kembla Grange on Dec. 10.

“Gary started talking her up a fair bit but I don’t think it was until her first trial, when she won by panels, [that we realised what she could be],” Darby said. “Even then you’re excited, but you thought, geez, is she one of those speedy speeds that’s going to go to the bend in the race? I think that’s what everyone was thinking. She turned up at Kembla and we were quite confident she could win, but the way she won, nearly breaking the track record, I remember walking up the stairs thinking, ‘here we go again. This can’t be for real.’ You’re always a cynic in racing. You think, maybe she beat nothing. I know she won by more than eight lengths, and once they get into the bigger time they may get found out, but when they nearly break the track record at their first start, you actually have to go, ‘I think we might have something pretty special here.’”

Read tomorrow’s TDN for Part 2 of this story, detailing She Will Reign’s run to the Golden Slipper and now, The Everest.

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