Michelle Wallis's tears said it all.
As Sly Flyin hobbled off the track gingerly after the Nufarm Free-For-All last Friday, his trainer knew the grand old man of NZ pacing had run his last race. But she wasn't crying for opportunities lost, or for the fact old Sly was feeling his old legs. After all, Sly has spent a lifetime feeling his legs. Wallis's anguish was that such a great horse will almost certainly end his career at the back of a field at the start of Auckland racing's biggest week.
That is not the ideal way for a warrior like Sly Flyin to bow out. He should have been winning something great, breakng into the millionaire's club with wonderful things being said about him on TV and written about him in newspapers. Instead, this may have to do. "If he is finished I hate seeing him go out like this," said Wallis. "He was like my best mate."
Sly Flyin deserved better than he ever got. If there is a God of racing, he is a cruel one to put such a giant heart in a body supported by such troubled legs. It is so long ago now, six years to be exact that Sly Flyin should have won a Sires' Stakes and who knows how many Derbys. You can forget that he might have started favourite in a Miracle Mile but for breaking down a few days before. And that it took Elsu at his greatest to deny him an Inter-Dominion. Let alone those amazing Easter Cup efforts, or just how many times he must have paced 3200m in 4.00 but got little to show for it.
If he goes into retirement he does so as one of the greatest pacers of the modern era not to earn $1 million, falling just under $100,000 short. But he will go to the paddock with a special place in the hearts, and minds, of those who knew what he overcame. After all, this is a horse Tony Herlihy rated as one of the best pacers he ever drove. Think about that for a second.
But maybe, just maybe, this was the right way for Sly Flyin to end his career. Trying his heart out, against the best in the business, until something broke. Only this time, it looks like it can't be fixed. Goodbye old man. You have earned your rest.
Footnote: Sly Flyin raced every season from 2 to 9. The most starts he had in a season was 16, at 5. His best season was at 8 when he won $225,446.
For The Record: Starts: 82, wins: 29, placings: 18, stakes: $911,689.
Credit: Michael Guerin writing in HRWeekly 5Mar2008
Whichever way you look at it though, Sly Flyin's victory in the Group 3 Paul Renwick Kitchen & Joinery Centre Free-For-All proved that there's still life in those aged legs yet. A lot of life.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 4Apr07
The grand old campaigner was never in the race after starting from the second row, and even trainer/driver Tony Herlihy conceded that "things looked hopeless" early on. By the time they had swung for home, nothing had changed - Sly Flyin was surronded by a wall of horses and chewing steel, throwing his head in the air. "I thought at the top of the straight that we only needed a gap," Herlihy said. "That's why I had pulled the blinds and his plugs by then; I knew if some space came that it probably wouldn't last very long, so I wanted to have him all revved up and ready to go."
Waiting for his moment to come, Herlihy somehow managed to squeeze Sly Flyin through a narrowing gap inside White Arrow and then let him rip...on a surface deadened by constant rain, the way he ate up the deficit and caught the leaders in less than a furlong was truly remarkable. "I suppose his sprint is his biggest asset, and like a lot of horses he is probably a fraction better coming from behind," Herlihy continued. "But we have never really had the chance to drive him any other way because he is off long marks most of the time. He is a pretty all-round horse though, and he wouldn't give it away easy if he was bowling along in front either."
The Sands A Flyin gelding has now headed back across the Tasman searching for retribution in the Miracle Mile - a race he was primed to win last year before disaster struck. He had won the Newcastle Mile in a sizzling 1:53.6, but just days out from the Miracle Mile his trainer received the heart-wrenching news. "He was staying at Vic Frost's, and Vic rung me on the Monday saying he wasn't happy with him at all. It wasn't his legs this time - they had always looked ugly anyway - it was his near-side hoof that was sore. We got it x-rayed and discovered a growth that was pushing against the pedal bone, so he was flown to Brisbane and ha it removed."
Sly Flyin remained in Australia for about six weeks, then had another three or four months off when he got home; everybody knew it was 'make or break' time afterwards though - Herlihy would try the gelding once more and if he didn't stand up, his career was over. Strangely enough, the 'new' Sly Flyin is as sound as he has ever been. And for that Herlihy continually praises the work by Michelle Wallis at the beach, where Sly Flyin's been stationed for most of the last 18 months.
"With all the spells he has had due to injuries, he actually hasn't had a lot of racing. And he has still got the mind of a young horse. He is very energetic, and always thrives on work and wants to be out there. We bought him up and trialled him two or three times during the winter, but then when there were no races for him we backed off again. In hindsight that was the making of his preparation - because even though he hadn't raced for eleven months, he had been in work close to six. I'm just so pleased for Michelle, because winning the Free-For-All was such a big thrill for her, and all of us. If we can keep him sound, he could be around for another year or two yet."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 22Nov06
After his game second placing behind Elsu in the InterDominon Grand Final, Sly Flyin had everything in his favour to take out the $30,000 Group 2 Frucor Beverages Free-For-All on Friday night.
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
It was 4.00pm Saturday when John Seaton got the call. A committee member of the Metropolitan Trotting Club was on the line, with news that Sly Flyin was out of Cup Day's NRM Sires' Stakes Final.
Until the shocking news broke almost everyone thought that the $81,000 winner's cheque had Sly Flyin's name written all over it. But not Seaton. "He was definitely the horse to beat, no doubt. It would have been a different race though, because from where he was he would have had to do work too," he said. "I rang Colin (De Filippi) on the Monday night because I felt sorry for the horse and his connections. I know what it's like to have a horse break down on you; Cool Hand Luke's just one example."
When the big day dawned, Seaton's own representative Jack Cade took the weight of the public's money and he carried it all the way to the post and home with a herculean performance in the Group 1 feature. Parked for the entire journey, Jack Cade gritted his teeth as the last half went by in a sensational 55.7 seconds and he got there by a neck from Lord Vicolo. That lethal combo of Seaton and Mark Purdon had done it again. "This is such a huge thrill," Seaton said afterwards. "To win this race with Il Vicolo and them come back and win it again with one of his sons is just brilliant."
It was indeed a magic result for Il Vicolo, who sired the quinella in the season's first major 3-year-old event with two horses from his very first crop. It wasn't far away from being the perfect fairytale either ...the other by Il Vicolo in the race was Tricky Vic, incidentally bred by Seaton, who met trouble during the running and could have finished a lot closer. Seaton says he doesn't have second thoughts about selling the Vance Hanover stallion that took him to dizzy heights when winning back-to-back NZ Cups in 1995 and 1996. "I didn't like the stud business, it is not me," he said. "I just love watching my horses run. And I knew that with Charlie Roberts and Andrew Grierson he was going to a good home. I don't think people realise just how good Il Vicolo was at two, three, four and five."
Seaton was always keen to get his hands on some of Il Vicolo's progeny, and at the first available opportunity Jack Cade was picked out by his right-hand-man Mark Purdon at the Karaka Sales. The gelding from Smooth Fella mare Janet Blue Chip cost them $30,000; he has now pocketed over $228,000. As for Jack Cade's immediate plans, Seaton says "that's up to Mark."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 15Nov01
It is not time for Bruce Negus to say 'move over Courage.' There is no real danger of that. However, it seems certain that he will speak of Sly Flyin in the next breath.
Putting sentiment aside, Sly Flyin has Closed quickly on the achievements of the great Courage Under Fire, who Negus developed into a young champion, and there was fresh evidence of his endless stamina and stubborn determination following his powerful win in the $150,000 Garrard's Sires' Stakes Final on a slushy track at Addington.
The Greg Brodie-owned and Colin De Filippi-driven colt won with the same stamp of authority that Courage Under Fire issued in his year. Tricky Vic made a valiant attempt from back in the field on what was pretty much a front-runner's night to finish second; Hardly Matters had a good trip and made good use of it to get third and All Hart was fourth after sticking on well following a tough trip.
For Sly Flyin, it's a seven-week break, and the declaration of another career when his racing career has finished. Negus was more or less committed to geld Sly Flyin at the end of his campaign, and said so. "Courage was perfect in this respect. Anyone could give him a pat and show him some affection. He liked that. This fellow is a little more aggressive, and could bowl you over without being nasty at all. But I promised him he would stay a colt if he won. Gelding him, by the look of it, couldn't make him go any better," he said.
In the cold light of day, the run was exceptional, because there was some difficulty for him when a hopple shortener became stuck. It meant that he had one of 53 inches on one side and 56 inches on the other. "That is why Colin had to force the issue when he did. He is a short coupled horse but it would not have been comfortable for him. Colin's drive was very astute. He drove to the horse's strengths. In the last four or five years, Colin has just got better and better. He really is top class," he said.
The quality of Sly Flyin's win was not a revelation, and Negus no longer is afraid to give him the kudos he has deserved. "His trial a week earlier at Motukarara in 2:41.8 for 2200m did surprise me, but then he has improved many lengths since his Welcome Stakes win last months. He was not distressed, and it is hard to describe how well he did that. He is a great stayer, and to be honest I don't know how good he is. He could be a super horse, but here we have rated him a second behind Courage in all departments at this stage. Up till now, I have hesitated to say that he is up with him, but I think he has earned that right now. In a tight finish, he will win nine times out of ten," he said.
With his boyish tendencies needing to be ironed out at the start of his campaign, Negus went to a couple of senior horsemen for advice, his father Bob, and Doug Mangos. Through his time with George and John Noble, Mangos was an old hand with young horses, and won nine successive races at two with the brilliant filly, Roydon Roux. As a result of their wisdom, Negus worked Sly Flyin every day in the cart, for weeks on end.
Sly Flyin is a 15.2-hand son of Sands A Flyin, who achieved a remarkable and honourable double when his iron-willed daughter Sparks A Flyin won the Group 1 Nevele R Fillies Final on the card - in the same willing manner. Brodie bought Sly Flyin for a six-figure sum on the recommendation of Greg Payne. "I recall Greg saying after just his fourth hopple, 'here is a $100,000 horse'," said Negus. That was in September.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 16May01