YEAR: 2007


Flashing Red had to run a NZ record over 3200m to win the $750,000 2007 Christchurch Casino NZ Cup last Tuesday.

Written off as a pale portrait of the horse he was when he carried all before him last spring, Flashing Red overcame a 15m handicap and 14 others in a punishing, grinding, desparate drive to the finish. He was beaten at the 100m; had seen young star Monkey King go past, and then, briefly his stablemate Tribute. This was as near as Flashing Red was going to get and everyone was proud of him. But old horses just don't go away, not when they're great and have done it before, and not when their name is Flashing Red.

With more determination than most have ever seen, Flashing Red must have sensed that Monkey King hadn't finished with the king-hit he needed. Not even gradually, he closed up again, and 20 metres from the finish he was slowly widening the margin to win a magnificent race.

Was there disbelief? Almost. Was there astonishment? Yes. Was there acknowledgement for the greatest staying effort ever seen in the Cup? Yes, yes.

Flashing Red got there the hard way. He made a fair beginning, passing the breakers Foreal, Awesome Armbro and It's Ella. Changeover had made a fast start, and led until David Butcher gave way to Classic Cullen two laps out. This left Baileys Dream parked out, Roman Gladiator inside him, and Sly Flyin on his back. For the first mile, Anthony Butt sat at the back with Tribute and Monkey King. It was quick enough, so there was no hurry to get moving. Just before the 100m, he knew it was time to go. He rattled up Flashing Red. They set off, and Tribute followed, and Monkey King followed Tribute.

They made good, steady progress, and Flashing Red was as strong of any of them on the corner, outside Baileys Dream and Classic Cullen, who were both spent or getting near it, and look! Monkey King has joined in and looking sharp. Sly Flyin is also in the picture, and so is Changeover but he's in a spot of bother behind the tiring Classic Cullen.

With 25,000 people makng noises of some sorts, Monkey King appeared at the 100m as if he had the race by the collar. Stephen Reid, his driver, must have thought so. Had it been anything other than Flashing Red, he certainly would have got away with it. But no-one tangles with Flashing Red at the end of 3200 metres in a record 3:57.8 and has his nose in front at the end of it. Ask Monkey King. He Knows.


The Cup Flashing Red won as an old horse last year will stay where it is. As an older horse this year, he bucked the odds, silenced the young pretenders, and produced what must be the greatest staying performance seen anywhere, anytime. Could any horse have climbed the harness racing mountain from ground-zero that Flashing Red faced this season, as a 10-year-old? And when his campaign seemed as good as gone, could Tim Butt and Phil Anderson and Anthony Butt then pick him up from the canvas and turn him into the 4:00.3 two-mile mauler he was a year ago? When everything said they couldn't, they did.

His win over Monkey King at Addington last Tuesday was certainly a five-star, must-see wonderment. The old dog-over the hill, a handicap to overcome, no longer the mighty marathon cruiser he used to be; little leg ailments - much to much on his plate really. Tim Butt never dropped his guard that far. He was keener on his stablemate Tribute, never on Foreal, but he kept safe and coy with Flashing Red, saying there might be one big race in him somewhere. He never said it would be the $750,000 2007 Christchurch Casino NZ Cup, and only 50 metres from the finish did he know for sure that it was.

Unlike last year, when Flashing Red was more or less invincible and went into the Cup with three successive wins, this campaign and build-up had never reached any glitzy heights. Tim said it was almost as if there were two different horses. He was thrilled when he started his build-up to the Cup again, pretty much quickly on target with his second in the Avon City Ford Cup to Baileys Dream, but the run took the edge off him. He had three further races, and appeared to slip with each of them. Not only was the prospect of winning a second Cup fading by the week, but there was the daunting challenge after his fading sixth at Ashburton of not knowing for sure what was needed to turn him round, if indeed it could be done.

Butt could see it wasn't the same as what it was the previous year. He knew they had to do something different when it was taking him so long to recover from his races. "He was fit enough, we knew that, so we focused on eliminating anything that might have worried him. We took him to the beach for his training. We'd had a little problem with a front joint, we thought he might have had ulcers. We were really going into unchartered territory with him, but we've always had faith." With a new battle plan underway, and deciding that going into the Cup fresh was the only chance they had, they anxiously monitored his revitalisation programme. "In the last seven days, you could see the change," he said. "And for his last hopple, he worked super. I still thought we might have been coming a week too late."

When he assessed the race, Butt saw a few pluses. "He was off fifteen metres, but that didn't worry me. I thought that two miles might negate that handicap. He has shown before that he rises to the occasion in these big races. And I thought he was old last year at nine, and here he is at ten. I wasn't as confident as I was last year, but I felt he'd still go a cheeky race." Deep down, he suspected Flashing Red might prove him wrong, as he had done before. "I could see Ants was very patient with him over that final mile, and then he had to go when he did. In the end, you've just got to do it. You still know that when they get older, you can't go to the well every week." This was a day in the week when the well was full. "I was yelling for him; I knew Monkey King might come to the end of it."

While Anderson and the Butts will see the end of Flashing Red's NZ racing career on Friday, it will also signal the start of another because there is a plan to return him next season to stand at stud in the South Island. Former trainer and part-owner Stuart Hunter said he would compete next month in the Victoria Cup and other Grand Circuit races in Australia, and his Cup win has already gained him a semi-final start in the new version of the Inter-Dominions

Hunter always enjoys recalling the manner in which he and part-owner Norm Jenkins came by Flashing Red. "He was racing down in Tasmania and bought by Barrie Rattray for $20,000. He was quoted to me at $40,000, which I was told was far too much. Nothing happened for a number of months, but I was still keen and eventually said I was going to go down and if I liked him I'd pay the price. It was an awful day and he was running in mud, but I thought he had some try in him. He always wanted to give you something more. So I paid the $40,000. He can run four twenty-eight quarters, and that can break their hearts." Hunter said he was so much better racing on the bigger tracks in NZ. "He'll race in a fifty-five inch hopple back home, and here he can go in a sixty-one inch. He's exceptional like that, and can stay a lot better."

Jenkins, natually enough, is happy to leave it to those who know best. "They're the experts; I just listen to what they say. I couldn't believe it. I didn't expect him to fight back when he was headed."

Of course, that's exactly what Tim did expect. "He rates right up there with Hands Down and Blossom Lady as the great stayers I've seen. Fortunately I can do what I like without pressure, and that only comes with experience. He was down and out, and he came back."

Back to win another Cup - now that takes a special kind of greatness.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 15Nov07

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