The Dennis brothers are a long way from their Woodlands homes in Southland, but they were never going to miss the thrill of being on track for their own runner in Australia’s most famous race.
The 80-year-old twins Ray and Tony and their slightly younger brothers Joe and Martin will all be on hand to watch their home-bred stayer The Chosen One take on an international line-up in Tuesday’s Group I Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington.
“Martin came over yesterday (Sunday) and the rest of us arrived last Friday,” Tony Dennis said.
“It’s a big thing for us. He’s the first horse we’ve owned to run in the Melbourne Cup.
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“We’re all getting on in age so we’re lucky to be able to get here. It might never happen again so we weren’t going to miss it.
“It’s a different experience being owners rather than just the breeders.
“It’ll be special seeing our own colours out there against (champion Irish trainer) Aidan O’Brien and some of the best in the world in the Melbourne Cup. I got a thrill seeing our colours go around in the Caulfield Cup.”
Prominent New Zealand owner-trainers and breeders, the Dennis brothers’ success dates back to Easter 1960 when they saddled up The Budget to win at Riverton.
They followed the racing interest of their father, Harold, and their well-known breed, starting with the prefix “The,” and have enjoyed immense success.
They have bred three New Zealand Broodmares of the Year in The Pixie (1981, jointly with Taiona), The Fantasy (1994) and The Grin (2003), while they also won New Zealand Breeder of the Year in 1994.
In 2015 the Dennis brothers picked up the biggest New Zealand honour of all, the Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand Racing Award. And through it all, they have watched members of their breed perform with distinction, including The Jewel, an O’Reilly daughter of The Grin who raced in their ownership and was trained by Hec and the late Steve Anderton.
Among The Jewel’s 11 wins were the 2002 Group I New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton and the Group I International Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa and she was runner-up in both the Group I New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) and the Group I New Zealand Oaks (2400m).
The Jewel also had a couple of Australian campaigns for a win in the Group III Doomben Roses (2020m), a desperately unlucky second in the Group I Queensland Oaks (2400m) and a fourth in the Group I Queensland Derby (2400m).
When it comes to the Melbourne Cup, the Dennis brothers’ memories immediately focus on The Phantom, a son of Noble Bijou and The Fantasy they bred. The Phantom started three times in the big one with his best results being a second to Kingston Rule in 1990 after finishing fourth to Tawriffic the previous year.
The Phantom was trained for a good part of his career, including his Melbourne Cup second, by Murray Baker so it is fitting that Baker, now in partnership with Andrew Forsman, should be giving the Dennis brothers their first runner in the famous race with The Chosen One.
“I’ve got over to see most of his races,” Dennis said.
“I was there for the Australian Derby (Group I 2400m) in Sydney and here (Melbourne) when he won the Herbert Power (Group II 2400m). I missed the Frank Packer Plate win (Group III, 2000m), but some of the others were there for it. There is always at least one of us at the races when he runs.”
Since his Herbert Power win, The Chosen One has finished ninth in the Group I Caulfield Cup (2400m) and fifth in Saturday’s Group III Hotham Handicap (2500m) at Flemington.
“I was originally a wee bit disappointed in his run last Saturday, but the fact he ran on was good,” Dennis said.
“He just pulled too hard with the blinkers on. The blinkers are off for the Cup so I hope he settles better. He did earlier on.”
A four-year-old son of champion sire Savabeel, The Chosen One was bred by the Dennis brothers from their good race mare The Glitzy One, who won eight races up to 2500m and was nine times black-type placed under the training of Steve Anderton.
Coincidently, The Glitzy One was ridden in trackwork by Aleisha Legg, who was employed by Anderton, and is now the travelling forewoman for the Baker-Forsman stable, overseeing The Chosen One’s campaign in Melbourne over the past two months.
The Chosen One was passed in with a reserve of $150,000 when offered under the Phoenix Park draft at the 2017 Premier Yearling Sale at Karaka and a syndicate of 19 was then formed to race him with the Dennis brothers part of it, along with other members of their family including their sister, Marie Robinson as well as Phoenix Park’s Janine Dunlop, plus Milan Park’s Tony Rider.
“There are also three owners who have never had a horse before,” Dennis said.
“They’re having the time of their lives, just like we all are.”
– NZ Racing Desk