There’s a once in the history of Brisbane thoroughbred racing, which is an event unfolding over the next three days when we see the Lightning Handicap and the Stradbroke Handicap being run just three days apart. The once great sprint race, the Lightning Handicap, historically run at break-neck speed over 1000 metres at Eagle Farm is today being run at Doomben. Sadly the Lightning Handicap was a late scratching, along with the rest of the meeting, when no one in the corridors of power had a contingency plan in place and the return to racing at Eagle Farm was called off last Saturday for a multiplicity of reasons from “ongoing inclement weather” to “visibility concerns” to “the ambulance can’t follow the track around”.

When lined up with some of the wonderful fields of the past, when the Lightning Handicap was used as a stepping stone race to the Stradbroke, today’s Lightning Handicap field is little more than a joke.

But the Lightning Handicap honour roll since the inception of the race in 1952 contains the names of many classy sprinters. Subsequent Stradbroke winners to win the race have been Wallgar, Mullala, Mister Hush and Daybreak Lover. Kilshery, which defeated two top horses in Samson and Fine And Dandy when he was victorious in the 1962 Stradbroke Handicap, ran second in two consecutive Lightning Handicaps – to Mullala and Scottish Crag. Fine And Dandy found Wallgar too slick for him in the Lightning Handicap of 1960 and then remarkably the pair finished in exactly the same order in the Stradbroke Handicap a few weeks later. Two of the top racehorses produced in Queensland in post World War 2 era – Eye Liner and Dalrello – both won a Lightning Handicap, 10 years apart, in 1967 and 1977 respectively. Top Australian sprinters of the ilk of River Ridge, Arbogast, Rancho Ruler, Tiny’s Finito and Cangronde all got home first in the Lightning Handicap.

Today let me concentrate this story of two of those aforesaid horses that both had the rare distinction of winning two Lightning Handicaps and at least one Stradbroke Handicap – Daybreak Lover and Mister Hush. Please note Mister Hush is spelt this way both on the Australian Stud Book website and in Millers’s Guide, but he’s spelt as Mr Hush in the 2010 published book Racing Through The Years – A guide to Queensland thoroughbred racing.

First seeing the light of day on 17 October 1980, after being bred by television personality Mike Willessee by his Trans Media Group in New South Wales, as the bay son of Namnan, a stallion that had won two races from eight starts at ages two and three in Great Britain and the non-winning Latin Lover mare Rising Sun, Daybreak Lover was destined to have about the strangest life of any equine athlete that I’ve ever seen.

Daybreak Lover’s career kicked off like most racehorses, as a 2YO and in his two-year-old year he had 10 starts for five wins, two seconds and two third placings. He won two-year-old races at three metropolitan tracks, namely Eagle Farm (Meynink Stakes), Doomben (Freshman Handicap) and Rosehill (Todman Slipper Trial). In his Todman Slipper Trial victory he relegated the top class New South Wales 2YO colt Sir Dapper to second placing. It’s history now that Sir Dapper went on to win the Golden Slipper a few weeks later and that Daybreak Lover ran unplaced – that unplaced Golden Slipper effort being the only time Daybreak Lover would miss a place in 10 starts as a 2YO.

In his 3YO year, Daybreak Lover started 12 times for three wins and he earned Group 1 glory one day in June of 1984 when under the guidance of the late multiple premiership winning apprentice jockey and later Racing Queensland steward Gary Palmer, carrying 51.5kgs, he defeated Prince Hervey and Final Affair to win the time-honoured Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm. In fact Gary Palmer certainly had a great affinity with Daybreak Lover as he was to partner the galloper in eight of his 11 career wins.

At age four, Daybreak Lover had 13 starts and won just the one race. With jockey Gavan Duffy employed for steering duties that day, the pair combined to win the 1985 Lightning Handicap at Eagle Farm defeating the speedy Sparkle Free and the classy Sydney conveyance – Manuan. The rescheduled Lightning Handicap which was supposed to be run last Saturday at Eagle Farm, is being run today on the Doomben card as Race 7 – and believe me none of those horses in the race today would keep up with Daybreak Lover.

Back to the score at the Test and as a 5YO Daybreak Lover only started twice and he won both starts with jockey Michael Kerr in the saddle. He won the 1986 Lightning Handicap at Eagle Farm over 1000 metres when he beat Steal A Tequila and Raffellini – and then a few weeks later he won his second Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap, defeating Goldorme and Paris Beau. As if winning his second Stradbroke after a year away at stud wasn’t amazing enough, Daybreak Lover had the audacity to run a race record on that day in June 2005 – an extraordinary feat, given the Stradbroke Handicap was first run over 1400 metres way back in 1953. In fact when he stopped the clock at 1.21.00 he smashed the previous race record, which was held by the 1982 winner Grey Receiver – by .60 of a second, or a bit over three-and-a-half lengths.

Some of Daybreak Lover’s black type placings were also very meritorious and included seconds in the 1983 Champagne Stakes over 1600 metres at Randwick to Lady Eclipse, the 1986 Doomben 10,000 to Between Ourselves and to Sir Pellinore in the 1984 Lightning Handicap. Had he beaten Sir Pellinore that day instead of running second he would have had the distinction of winning three consecutive Lightning Handicaps. He also ran third at Moonee Valley in the 1983 Group 2 Moir Stakes behind Bold Jet and River Rough and third in the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill in 1985 behind Hula Drum and Royal Troubador.

Interestingly Daybreak Lover is one of only three horses that have won two consecutive Lightning Handicaps since the race was first run in 1953. The other three were Mister Hush (1969/70) and Pittance (2000/1). River Ridge also won two Lightning Handicaps but not in consecutive years (1975/78).

So at the end of his racing career Daybreak Lover had started 40 times for 11 wins, six seconds and six thirds and he’d earned $542,600 in prizemoney.

To capitalise on the Group 1 success of Daybreak Lover in the 1984 Stradbroke and his win in the Lightning Handicap of 1985, the decision was made to retire the horse to stud. Broodmare owners supported the stallion and in his first year he served 59 mares, not a bad number back in that era when it was considered you could ruin a stallion from overuse, albeit Daybreak Lover’s 59 mares is certainly a far cry from the say 273 that leading stallion Fastnet Rock served in Australia in the 2009 season.

After Daybreak Lover had served his initial stud season – and owing to the fact that he was bucking his brand off and was still only a young horse, the decision was made to put him back into work with trainer Danny Duke in Brisbane to have a second tilt at the Stradbroke Handicap. As alluded to earlier, most people thought that everyone connected with the horse had gone stark raving mad, myself included, but everyone connected with the stallion had the last laugh when he indeed did win a second Stradbroke, in what ranks to this day as one of the greatest training performances I have ever seen. In fact in post World War 2 Australian thoroughbred racing history, Daybreak Lover is probably the only stallion who was retired to stud – and then came back from the stallion barn to win a Group 1 race.

After achieving his marvellous feat of a second Stradbroke, this time everyone was happy to pull up stumps, as he’d had 40 starts. Official Stud Book records show that he stood for 21 consecutive seasons, from 1985 to 2005, during which time he served 841 mares in total. The highest number of mares he looked after in a single season was 84 in 1986, the year of his second Stradbroke win, whilst the lowest number of mares he courted in his stallion barn was just one in 2004. Official Stud Book records state he produced 435 live foals from those 841 matings.

Additionally, Daybreak Lover’s stud career was no doubt assisted by the racetrack feats of his two-year younger half brother. Born as the son of the stallion Unaware, which had won the 1976 VRC Derby – and Daybreak Lover’s dam Rising Sun – a foal that grew up to be named Rising Fear, was owned in partnership by advertising guru John Singleton and revered cartoonist Larry Pickering, who trained the galloper during his racing career.

Rising Fear won three black type races, headed by the 1986 Group 2 P. J. O’Shea Stakes at Eagle Farm when he defeated South of Belmont and Foxseal. He also won the Listed (now Group 3) Colin Stephen Quality Cup at Rosehill over 2400 metres in a stellar year. However the best effort of Rising Fear was arguably a defeat, as he clocked in second in the 1986 Melbourne Cup to the talented Colin Hayes trained import – At Talaq. Rising Fear had also run second to Handy Proverb in the Queensland Derby earlier that same year. Other Group 1 placings that Rising Fear achieved were his third to Born To Be Queen and Indian Raj in The Metropolitan of 1986 and his third to Marlon and Foxseal in the 1986 Brisbane Cup (now Group 2).

In his somewhat ordinary stud career, Daybreak Lover managed to throw only three black type performers and they were Morning Lover (Listed 1991 BATC QBBS Stakes), Fast Talker (Listed 1992 QTC Meynink Stakes) and ‘Tis Love (Listed 2001 QTC Easter Cup and Listed 2001 Toowoomba Cup). No broodmares by Daybreak Lover have produced any racehorse of note.

Naturally, as happens with the progeny of current stallion Foreplay, the owners of progeny born to Daybreak Lover had some fun naming them. Some of the best names attributed to Daybreak Lover’s stock may have been Dawn Buster, Morning Lover, Tip O’ The Day, Darn That Alarm, Rising Gun, Let’s Go Jo, Glorious and Nostringsattached.

In the earliest stallion publication that I have with his name in it, Daybreak Lover was advertised as standing for $5,500 on a 45-day positive pregnancy test at John and Jan Dean’s Springfields Stud at Stanthorpe. Nine years later in the “Queensland Thoroughbred Stallions of 1998” publication, Daybreak Lover’s service fee had been dropped to “$2,200 with a 10% reduction for metropolitan winners and for the dams of metropolitan winners.” He was still standing at Springfields Stud in 1998.

Both man and horse have sadly departed this life – Danny Duke in July of 2008 and Daybreak Lover in November of 2006 – but not before they left an indelible mark in the memory of those of us in the racing fraternity who were honoured to witness their feat.

It would be a million-to-one and drifting that a stallion could win the Stradbroke next Saturday, go off to stud for a season, then return and win the following year’s Stradbroke. Quite frankly, I doubt any modern day molly-coddled, sooky thoroughbred would be up to the challenge. They even have to water the track these days so the modern day thoroughbreds don’t hurt their little footsies. Great horses of the past like Daybreak Lover copped whatever you threw at them – whether that was a rock hard track or another mare to serve – then seemingly overcame any other obstacle that was thrown at them.

For his part Mister Hush was born in 1963 as the son of imported French born stallion Rush and the Passing Glance mare Winya. Mr Hush was very stoutly bred as his father Rush was the 1948 foaled son of 1942 French l’Arc de Triomphe (2400 metres) winner Djebel. Mister Hush’s dam Winya’s sire, Passing Glance, was the son of Italian Derby winner (2400 metres) Nearco and Nearco has even won what is now a Group race at 3000 metres.

Mister Hush was gelded, so his life story pales into insignificance when compared to that of Daybreak Lover.

Mister Hush was trained throughout his career by Con Doyle, who incidentally my headmaster grandfather Frank Purser, taught at school. And my late grandmother who lived with my late grandfather for about 20 years in Stewart Place at Ashgrove, in Brisbane, about 30 metres from where the Ashgrove TAB was situated then, regularly spoke to Con Doyle about his horses and she would have a very small wager on Mister Hush when he raced and “Mr Doyle” had advised her to back him, along with other stable runners.

Mr Hush won 17 races and whilst he’s best remembered for his success in the 1967 Stradbroke at Eagle Farm, he also ventured to Melbourne and won the Lightning Handicap up the Flemington straight in 1969 defeating Magic Ruler and Crown Lad. He also won the Hawsburn Handicap at Caulfield in a visit to Melbourne.

The 2010 published book Racing Through The Years – A guide to Queensland thoroughbred racing – noted of Mr Hush’s Stradbroke win, “His Stradbroke win was one for the record books. He was an emergency for the race but got a start when Just Quietly was scratched. However the meeting was washed out and transferred to the following Thursday and Just Quietly was reinstated into the field. Luckily Mr Hush got a start and with Lyle Rowe riding an inspired race he bolted in”.

Con Doyle and Mister Hush have long departed this life but every year when Lightning Handicap and the Stradbroke Handicap come around it’s wonderful to reflect on their memorable racetrack feats at Eagle Farm between 1967 and 1971 when Mister Hush won a Stradbroke Handicap (1967), two consecutive Lightning Handicaps (1969 and 1970) and ran second (1971) and third (1967) in two other Lightning Handicaps.

To show how thoroughbred racing is in decline from a class perspective, imagine any of that crew in the Lightning Handicap at Doomben today winning two Stradbroke Handicaps? They’d cumulatively never get to start in one – let alone win two.

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s a story on the passing of a harness racing industry stalwart at age 94 – and another story on how one man’s loss is another man’s gain.

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