Courage Under Fire's contribution to harness racing was far greater than 41 career wins, a string of feature race titles and almost $1.5 million in stakes.
Affectionately known as "Mighty Mouse" in Australia and "The Pocket Rocket" in New Zealand, Courage Under Fire alone took harness racing to the wider sporting world with his 24-race winning streak. It was common-place to see some big thoroughbred names making a special trip to the trots just to watch the pint-sized people-puller strut his stuff. Cricketing heroes Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting were also huge fans of the pacer.
Courage Under Fire first captured my imagination on Christchurch Show Day in November, 1998, when he overcame a torrid run to beat NZ's best 3-year-olds. It was a performance of a champion. In the nine months that followed, the son of In The Pocket proved himself one of, if not the best 3-year-old Australasia has seen with a record-breaking six Derby wins.
The best win of his career came at Moonee Valley on July 10, 1999. It was the Australian Derby and local star Shakamaker was at the top of his game. What was supposed to be a thrilling contest turned into one of the most emphatic and memorable wins in the history of Moonee Valley. In a stunning display of sustained speed, Courage Under Fire simply ran his rivals ragged. His 1:56.5 mile rate for 2540m not only destroyed the track record, but also bettered the world mark.
Another of his stellar performances came at the Gold Coast just weeks before the Australian Derby, when the colt came as close as I have ever seen to a horse winning by the length of the straight. The official margin was 48.75m and the time for the mile a sizzling 1:54.9. Racecaller Dan Mielicki superbly captured the moment of Courage Under Fire's first defeat - at Moonee Valley in January 2000 - with the words: "The world must be ending."
As dramatic as it sounded, Mielicki's call was closer to the mark than even he realised at the time. Life went on, but Courage Under Fire was never quite the same. Gone was that invincibility, that intimidating presence that terrorised his rivals. Trainer Bruce Negus handed the reins to Brian Hancock in a headline-grabbing stable change. Hancock was always in a no-win situation. Everbody expected Courage Under Fire to dominate the Grand Curcuit and nothing short of that would surffice. The truth is, Courage Under Fire, by the lofty standards of his youth, was a disappointment in the big league.
But, as Hancock said this week, if you forget his deeds at two and three and just judged him on his Grand Curcuit form, he "did a damn good job." He won three Grand Curcuit events, contested three Inter-Dominion finals and won six Inter heats. Racing against horses that dwarfed him, every race as an older horse was a war for Courage Under Fire. He was one of the most appropriately named horses we have ever seen.
My memories of Courage Under Fire will be as much about the huge crowds that surrounded his stall for a glimpse, as they will for his fantastic deeds on the track. He was a people-pleaser and I was pleased to have followed his career from start to finish. Farewell, little fella.
Credit: Adam Hamilton writing in HRWeekly 18Sep02
The old firm is back with another speed merchant; Negus and De Filippi. Another smart brown colt, not quite another Courage Under Fire, but the talk is something not far short of it.
While he may have lacked the swashbuckling brilliance of Courage Under Fire when he won the race three years ago, there was a clinical touch to the manner in which Sly Flyin despatched the field in the NZ Welcome Stakes. De Filippi is yet to say go: and by not doing so this may have flattered the efforts of All Hart and Franco Trubrooke who ran second and third.
Sly Flyin is not an easy horse to drive; and he is no easier to train. If he had his own way, he wouldn't train at all. He is a notoriously poor track-worker. "He wouldn't beat a maidener at home," said Negus. "That is why we have to take him to the trials each week, so he will do the work," he said. But the problems don't end there. He has the annoying habit of pulling a plate just about every time he gets off the float, and he did this when he arrived on the track before the race - and again when he got home. "I had to get Brian Wilson, the blacksmith, to re-plate him, and it's a worry when you have to do this just before the start," said Negus.
Once Negus has finished with him, the next one to worry about him is De Filippi. Said Negus: "There is always a fifty percent chance of him galloping in the score-up. He was just lucky the horse outside him galloped and gave him a bit more room on the gate. He gets a bit claustrophobic and over that first four hundred metres after the start he is still a risk. It is just that he wants to get on with it. He is more hyperactive than nervous," he said.
Sly Flyin was left a little wide early on, soon had cover on the outer, but De Filippi didn't stay there long. He was in front a round out, slowed the pace, and didn't ask for anything special to win the race in comfort. "Once in front, he is a hard horse to get past," he said. A colt by Sands A Flyin from a Soky's Atom mare, and raced by principal Negus client Greg Brodie, Sly Flyin may be gelded after the Sires' Stakes Final next month. Negus is near enough to deciding on this before he is put aside.
While there is speculation about the quality and potential of Sly Flyin, and the tendency to compare him with Courade Under Fire, Negus has his own opinion. "Courage Under Fire was a champion, and this one is a really, really good horse. He can run a half in 55, whereas Courage could do it in 54. I honestly think he is less than five lengths behind Courage Under Fire at the same stage. Sly Flyin is going to be a very good free-for-aller. But I might be wrong; he might do more."
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 19Apr01
Greg Brodie would agree that he took some short-cuts before making his fortune. He was a varsity drop-out and "lived on the punt" when he was still a teenager. He went to the best schools, mixed with lads from the class of landed gentry, and enjoyed the visits of ace race commentator Johnny Tapp when he'd call into the family hotel in Sydney and talk horses with his father, Cleitis.
Brodie soon learned that while short-cuts might have put him on the track to becoming a wealthy man, they did not prevent disasters on the way to finding good racehorses. Ten years ago, through the help of Martin Herbert and Bruce Negus, he was in the market buying horses in the range of $20,000 to $40,000. "They were running-along horses who hadn't done much for me," he recalled.
Then came the call that led Brodie into the arena of spending bigger money on a better prospect. "It was Bruce on the phone, and he said to me 'I've got one to make up for the others.' That was Ginger Man and he won over half a million and now I've got 30 foals by him."
Others of quality followed Jillbo, Franco Hat Trick, Bridge Hanover and One Way Traffic. As good as they have been, Negus did his best day's work for the Queenslander when he bought him a black 2-year-old colt by In The Pocket, a bit on the smallish side, in the spring of 1997. This was Courage Under Fire, Brodie's signature horse, the winner of the Smokefree New Zealand Derby and before that 16 consecutive races. He has won $721,000, and is an icon of the New Zealand harness racing industry. Soon, he will be off to Australia, for three derbies, and possibly four if Negus decides to add Perth to the itinerary of New South Wales on May 14, Queensland on July 3 and the Australian on July 10.
Brodie is a quiet, unassuming man who bought his wife Grietha and their three daughters Deahnne, Raquel and Yasmin to Christchurch to see the horse he had been telling them about. He was the only child of a suburban publican. In hindsight, he was surprised he didn't start off with a galloper because the parents of many of his classmates had farming ties and thoroughbred origins. His first horse, leased at 17, was Jam Raider, who never won a race. "During those times I lived off the punt, everything was off the punt. I dropped out of varsity, went into accountancy for seven years, then into real estate. Fouteen years ago I left Sydney and went up to the Gold Coast. It was a lifestyle thing,"
After the setback with Jam Raider, his first decent horse was Cam Raider, who won 12 races out of Cyril Caffyn's stable. In partnership with his father who also raced Cam Raider, they bought Bell Byrd from Jim Dalgety. "We paid ten thousand pounds which was a lot of money at the time but she was a very good mare and won us the Golden Easter Egg in Sydney before dying from a twisted bowel. Since then, Brodie's hobby has mushroomed to the stage where he now owns horses in Perth with Ross Olivieri, Brisbane with Vic Frost, Melbourne with Mark Peace, and with Barry Purdon and Bruce Negus in New Zealand. After seeing his 30 foals by Ginger Man during his Derby trip, Brodie says his hobby "is out of control."
He also says his policy of buying up and running young horses - he has never been a breeder - is laced with pitfalls and problems. "I have rarely bought at yearling sales, in fact I can recall only buying one. By doing it this way, it reduces the risk because you know what you are buying. But even after trialling them, vet examinations, opinion and price, the success rate is only twenty five percent. I would like to think it is fifty percent," he said. To qualify that, Brodie said the purchase of Courage Under Fire should not be considered in isolation. I bought six 2-year-olds at that time, and Courage Under Fire was not the dearest. Klim was dearer and he has won one. Congo Direct was a good juvenile in Australia last season but he is not worth two bob this season. Another was Mr Focus. I think he's won, but the others are no good."
Brodie, who used to build shopping centres and now manages the ones he owns, recalls that in the past Negus has done all the groundwork and developing of his young horses, and they have gone to Purdon when Negus has said it is time to go. "I gave Bruce the choice of keeping Klim or Courage Under Fire. I suppose it could have gone the other way."
Brodie says the stakes won by Courage Under Fire have also been a "fantastic earner" for his breeders, Neville Cockcroft, Patricia Inkpen and the estate of Ossie Cockcroft who died aged 83, just two days before the Derby. Under the sale agreement they earn 10% of what Courage Under Fire wins from Group 1 races and Sales Series Finals. "We actually offered a lower figure, but Wayne Ross, his trainer then, was keen for us to get him and this was one of the ways for doing so. It was a real smart move for them." From his perspective, Brodie is concerned about the long term future of harness racing. He fears there are too few young people getting hands-on contact, and he notices no less than anyone else the scarcity of young people at the tracks.
Courage Under Fire took 3:15.9 to win the 2600m Derby, the slowest in four years, since Il Vicolo ran 3:17.4. He ran his last mile in 1:57.7, final 800m in 56.2 and last quarter in 27.4. Trainer Bruce Negus, always refreshingly honest, said: "You really have to be a bad trainer not to win with him. This race was too slow to be hard on him. He does make it look easy," he said. Negus says the only hard race he's had was on Show Day at Addington when Stevies ran him close. In the meantime, Stevies hasn't made the slipstream. Colonel Anvil came out of the trail to run second, followed by Waitaki Warrior and Stevies.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in NZHR Weekly