26yo b m Habituate (IRE) ex Sal II (IRE)
She’s the 26 year old matriarch of the Arrowfield paddocks, her back swayed, and her dark muzzle now streaked with grey. You’ll most likely find the multiple G1 winner dozing quietly in the afternoon sunshine, or grazing the lush hill pastures as she keeps a watchful eye on the group of young weanling fillies she nannies. And don’t be diverted by her age – Special typically leads ‘her’ babies at a gallop when they race and play as dusk falls across the farm.
On the racetrack Special was a phenomenon. The winner of 10 races and more than $1m, her G1 victories includes the VRC Lightning S, the Newmarket H. and the Gadsen S. She also won the G2 MVRC AJ Moir S and the G3 Boobie Lewis H plus saluted twice at Listed level.
It is common to hear people discount a champion racemare as a would-be failure at stud but Special turned that theory on its head by not only producing 2 stakeswinners in her own right – STAVKA and SPECIALIZE – but 3 of her daughters have gone on to produce black type runners including Lady Special whose progeny include 3-time G1 winner BOMBER BILL , G3 winner CAMARGUE and SPECIAL SONG.
Special’s last foal was a colt by Not A Single Doubt. Named Dashing Dunlop in honour of a close friend of John and Kris Messara he is currently in training at the Arrowfield Training Centre.
She’s still Special
When world champion sprinter Black Caviar set a new course record of 55.42 seconds for 1000 metres in Saturday’s VRC Lightning S. G1, a shaft of spotlight also fell on the previous record-holder.
She is the daughter of Habituate and Sal II, presciently named Special, and still alive and well at Arrowfield Stud.
Pictured: The brilliant racemare Special, now 29, seen at left with her latest group of weanling charges at Arrowfield Stud. At right is the half-brother to US Graded Stakes winners Winding Way and Kauai Katie, by champion US sire Tapit. (PHOTO: Arrowfield Stud)
Special’s record time of 55.50 was also set in the Lightning Stakes, where she defeated the outstanding sprinters Snippets and Redelva.
That was 25 years ago, and until Saturday, Special’s time was the second-oldest course record at Flemington. Special, Snippets and Redelva were all triple Group 1 winners, but 1988 was Special’s year of glory at Headquarters.
Watch TVN’s feature on Special, on Thoroughbreds with Caroline Searcy & Tara Madgwick, tonight at 7.30 pm.
She triumphed in the Lightning and the Newmarket, then returned as a 5YO in the spring to defeat Prismatic Star and multiple Group 1 winner Our Westminster in the Gadsden S. G1, now registered as the Victoria Racing Club Handicap.
That was the final success in Special’s exceptional 10-win, million-dollar career for the famous partnership of trainer Colin Hayes and owner Robert Sangster. She subsequently ran third in the 1989 MVRC William Reid S. G1 behind Zeditave and Vo Rogue (11 Group 1 wins between them), and split Zeditave and Oakleigh Plate G1 winner Clay Hero in her third Lightning Stakes.
Special’s transition to motherhood was almost seamless. She was in foal during her last two campaigns and delivered a colt by Bluebird (USA) in August 1989.
Named Strong, he was the first of Special’s nine winners, which included the stakeswinners Specialize (also by Bluebird) & Stavka (by Xaar), as well as Lady Special (dam of G1 winner Bomber Bill and two other stakeswinners). Another daughter, Special Sal left the G3 winner Demographic.
In 18 years at stud, twelve of them in Arrowfield’s ownership, Special missed only three times, and her final foaling in 2007 at the age of 24 was straightforward. That foal, Dashing Dunlop (by Not A Single Doubt), is a three-time winner still racing in Queensland.
Though her racing and breeding days are over, Special is still living up to her name. At the grand age of 29 she is a enjoying a third career as a cherished nanny mare at Arrowfield, where she has just taken charge of a new group of weanlings.
Sam Fairgray, Arrowfield’s Operations Manager, says “During the season she was mum to three nurse mare foals that were reared on the bucket. She is now in with a group of 10 weanlings that were separated from their mothers last week.
“She’s the kindest natured horse you can find, but she doesn’t take any bad behaviour from her kids, she keeps them in line and is a great nanny mare. She is Special by name and nature.”
A quarter-century after her performance at Flemington, with only the rarest of champions able to break her record, it’s clear how special she really was.