A Cambridge racehorse named Elephant has been winning hearts across Australasia with his quirky personality, goofy grin and athletic prowess.
The five-year-old gelding got his name because when he curls his top lip it looks like an elephant’s trunk.
His local trainers, Sparta Racing owners Emma-Lee and David Browne, describe him as “a clown” who loves horsing around pulling silly faces and who is starting to gather “a bit of a following” thanks to his crazy antics and early racing success.
“We love him, he’s a real character,” Emma-Lee said.
Now, thanks to his growing popularity, Elephant has hit the big time.
He has just been chosen by fans to compete in the world’s richest mile race – the Seppelt Wines All-Star Mile – where he will go head to head with 14 other equine stars including last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant.
If he wins, his owners will take home more than $2 million.
“I might have squealed a little bit,” Emma-Lee said of the moment she received the news from Racing Victoria last week.
“It was pretty cool that a lot of Cambridge people got behind him. It meant so much to us.”
The annual All-Star Mile, which began in 2019, is the only race in Australia where fans choose the horses to compete.
“Usually to get in a good race it’s your prize money or your rankings; this one’s just merely on public vote,” Emma-Lee said.
“You had to get through the qualifying criteria – you had to have won a group race or something like that – but once the nominations came out it was all up to the public and the top 10 horses went through.”
Elephant originally came in ninth with 5141 votes but was bumped up to eighth when the only other New Zealand horse voted in, Probabeel, had to be withdrawn due to injury.
Racing Victoria will also choose five wildcards to compete in the All-Star Mile at Flemington Racecourse on March 19.
David and Emma-Lee know they’re up against “really tough” competition, but hope Flemington’s long straight will work in Elephant’s favour.
“He travels well off the turn but then he always hits a flat spot and then goes again so a long straight suits him quite well,” Emma-Lee said.
Elephant, son of former Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, began racing in New Zealand in 2020 and showed immediate promise, winning all of his first five starts.
“He was just coming up through the grades and we knew he was good but we didn’t know how good,” Emma-Lee said.
“So we sort of threw him in the deep end and took him to Melbourne last year. He won his first race over there so that was a bit of a relief, that he was up to it. In his second race he ran second and then he won the Sandown Stakes. It was pretty exciting.”
Emma-Lee began training horses 10 years ago with her father, former Olympic showjumper Jeff McVean, before going into partnership with David, who is the grandson of legendary New Zealand jumps owner, trainer and jockey Ken Browne.
Currently in the process of moving to Australia, she and David say Elephant’s mere presence in the All-Star Mile will boost their profile.
“We’ll always call Cambridge home and I think we will come back, but just with all the racing over there it’s the place to be and for the moment we want to push ourselves and try and go up against the big guns,” Emma-Lee said.
Elephant is owned by his breeder Andrew Fowler, the Pukekohe-based I Wanna Race syndicate, Cambridge couple Paul and Tiffany Murray and Emma-Lee and David, who have a small share in him.