YEAR: 2004

Anyone backing one to beat Coburg in Friday night's $100,000 NZ Standardbred Breeders' Stakes will do so at their peril. The winner of the PGG Premier Mares Championship "has done terrific" says trainer Mike Berger. "I took Coburg out on Monday to bowl round free-legged, but she was that frisky I had to bring her back in and put the hopples on," he said.

Berger said that while Coburg is a stronger horse than she was last season, she was not quite up to Pullover Brown and Alta Serena, he says the good draw could make all the difference over the sprint. "But both her and Hot Shoe Shuffle have thrived since being down here. Hot Shoe Shuffle won't need to improve much to beat Coburg if the draw goes her way," he said. Neither work together, as Berger finds they get too competitive and go too hard if they do. "They are better on their own. I tend to take them along quietly and tighten up the bolts later on," he said.

Coburg had the run last week that Pullover Brown had slipped into until Fake The Moment broke. After they had skirted her, Pullover Brown was on the back of Coburg who was following the parked Hot Shoe Shuffle. She is the new drive of Peter Ferguson, who said after her first night win: "I am not scared of anything next week."

Those in the Coburg syndicate are Dr Ray Thomson, who is the majority shareholder, HRNZ Executive Member Ray O'Connor and his wife Christine, who are also in the syndicate that races Hot Shoe Shuffle, Jan and Sandy Yarndley, and Barry, Matthew, Evelyn and Jill Gordon. According to Barry, Ray Thomson inspected a number of the Yarndley fillies that were being offered at the PGG sales before settling on Coburg. "I think she cost us $30,000, but we were prepared to go higher," said Gordon. "Ray is very particular in what characteristics he looks for. He is very good. We will be looking again this year, but won't be buying for the sake of it," he said.

Of those beaten runners, none impressed more than Don't Tell Kate who cut many lengths off the leaders after being near last at the 400 metres.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 28Jan04


YEAR: 2004


This time last year, Coburg had only just cleared maiden ranks. The Falcon Seelster mare got 'on the board' with a win at Alexandra Park on January 30, beating Pacing Grace by a nose to end a string of minor placings. Sure, there had been cheques arriving in the mail after all bar one of her first nine starts, but finally the Coburg Syndicate that raced her received one that had a bit of weight about it. And her trainer Mike Berger breathed a sigh of relief.

"When she was racing as a two and 3-year-old I remember telling the syndicate not to lose any sleep," Berger said. "Coburg always felt like she had the goods. And even though she had taken so long to win a race, I thought she was going to be something special one day." Twelve months later, that day is here.

Coburg is now the hottest mare in the country, and last Friday she completed the second leg of the 'double' when she won the $100,000 Mach Three NZ Standardbred Breeders' Stakes at Addington in devasting fashion. It was an even more dominant display than the week before when she had taken out the PGG Premier Mares' Championship, and it stamped her as a lady of real class.

A one and three-quarter length victory that could have been more, a 1:56.8 mile rate for the 1950 metre trip and near record time, and a chegue for almost $62,000... what a difference a year can make. Driver Peter Ferguson said he was 80 per cent confident when he steered Coburg onto the track for her warm-up, and by the time the race was underway and they had passed the 1000 metre mark he was "a hundred and ten percent". "She felt enormous," he said. "After we got a good run through to settle three-back, all I had to do was wait; if they came around, I was going. It wouldn't have mattered where she was in the running."

Ferguson has sat behind his fair share of good mares before, none better than Kate's First. "Coburg and Kate are actually similar types of horses," he said. "I don't like to compare different horses from different eras, and Coburg has got a long way to go to match Kate's deeds because she won an Auckland Cup, but it is their adaptability - they can race anywhere in the field. Coburg gives you a lot of confidence as a driver. If you get caught out wide or have to do a bit of workto get a possie, most horses will tire on you, but with Coburg you know that she will pull you through at the other end."

Ferguson has been in Coburg's sulky for the last six appearances following a suggestion by syndicate member Barry Gordon that he would suit the mare. The move has been well worth it, with four wins, a second and an unlucky eighth the tally for the new partnership so far. Both driver and trainer agree that there is no easy path ahead for Coburg from here, and just what her career entails for the remainder of the season is yet to be decided. "It could be hard work chasing the big 4-year-old races now, but I suppose you have really got to because there is nothing much else for her," Ferguson said. "Yeah, she's going to start running out of opportunities," Berger said. "We might even look at Australia, and see what races there are for her over there. She has probably done enough to secure her broodmare career though."

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 4Feb04

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