Is Mr Brightside the best 1600m horse in the country, and if so, what sort of lucrative campaign could be in store for him?
The rise of Mr Brightside over the last two years has been remarkable, a tribute to the horse himself, and also the way he has been handled, first by Ben and JD Hayes, and latterly joined by their brother Will.
It was July 2021 when Mr Brightside won his first race in a Geelong maiden, a victory that was the first of six in a row, as he progressed through benchmark races – 64, 70, 78, 78 again, and a Listed win in the Seymour Cup. The average winning margin of those six wins was two and a half lengths, and it was clear that he was a horse to be taken seriously.
His 2021 spring finished up with a crack at Group 1 level, when running fourth in the Cantala Stakes on Derby Day, beaten 0.3 of a length.
The autumn of 2022 saw Mr Brightside be a couple of lengths behind Zaaki in races like the Blamey Stakes and All Star Mile, which showed both how far he’d come, and also that he still had a gap to bridge, in order to beat the elite.
He lined up in the 2022 Doncaster Mile as a 20-1 shot, but with only 50.5kg’s on his back. It was also his first start on a heavy track, which was therefore a great unknown. However, he skipped through the mud to defeat I’m Thunderstruck and Icebath in a thrilling finish, to secure his first Group 1.
He opened his spring account last season, with two effortless Group 2 wins, in the Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield and Feehan Stakes at Moonee Valley. The latter was by a big margin, but against limited opposition, and he was still yet to tackle the big guns at WFA.
That changed over his next four starts, in the Underwood (where he ran 5th to Alligator Blood), Caulfield Stakes (4th to Anamoe), Cox Plate (7th to Anamoe) and Cantala (3rd to Alligator Blood). Was it that he wasn’t in the same class as those he was chasing, proven Group 1 performers, or was he simply a miler that wasn’t suited to 1800m-2040m distances?
Mr Brightside took another step last autumn, proving once again that plenty of horses keep improving as they get older, not just from the ages of two to three and three to four.
He was an eye-catching fifth first-up in the Orr Stakes, beaten less than a length after settling last, very good again in the Futurity second-up when splitting Alligator Blood and I’m Thunderstruck, and after two 1400m runs he came into his own at 1600m.
Being trained specifically for two 1600m races that time around, he won the All Star Mile at his second attempt, and put the icing on the cake by defending his Doncaster crown, being the first horse to go back-to-back since Sacred Falls in 2013-14, and joining the likes of Sunline and Super Impose as a dual winner.
Mr Brightside has now won $8.4M in prizemoney, with 90% of it being won in races at 1600m. His record at that distance now stands at 13: 9-0-1, with the three misses all being fourths.
After he swept to an easy victory in the Lawrence Stakes on the weekend, he will next run in the Memsie Stakes in two weeks time, followed by the Makybe Diva Stakes at his favoured 1600m. If he wanted to head to Sydney two weeks later for the Epsom Handicap at Randwick, he would no doubt get a big weight but be competitive, and then it would be two weeks into the newly crowned King Charles Stakes worth $5M, at 1600m under WFA conditions.
He could then tackle the Cox Plate again, stepping up to a mile and a quarter with the fitness of five runs under his belt, and if the horse was still well and sound, the option to run in the Champions Mile on the last day of the Flemington carnival would still exist.
That would be $16M for Mr Brightside to race for over the next two months, and as a gelding that is in the mould of an El Segundo or Fields of Omagh, he could keep having that preparation over the next three years at least.
Mr Brightside already sits at 14th on the list of all-time Australian prizemoney earners, and will overtake So You Think, Chautauqua and Northerly at some stage this spring, if not others like Sunline and Anamoe.
It’s a good time to be Australia’s best miler with all of the riches on offer. Unless Chris Waller has a mare named Fangirl that might having something to say?