Valley of dreams

The Racing Australia syndicate that owns 10% of Douro Valley, winner of the Yalumba Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday, has 18 members. That means each gets 0.55% of the $240,000 first prize, or a little more than $1300.

Actually, you have to take 15% from that — the standard 10% to the trainer and 5% to the jockey — so each pockets just over $1100.

To win a group 1 race, however, is priceless, and syndicate manager Kristen Manning and many of the Racing Australia members celebrated like celebrating was going out of fashion. Manning even raised the large trophy over her head in a group photo.

"This is something you spend your whole life dreaming about," she said. "This is Australia No. 1 syndicate, our first. We bought a share in a General Nediym filly who was no good and then we got offered a share in this lovely horse."

"Lovely" is an apt description, with Douro Valley's eight wins, seven seconds and seven thirds from 48 starts helping bring the syndicate a small share of more than $1.1 million prizemoney, and lots of fun, especially this time last year when Douro Valley beat Maldivian in the Naturalism Stakes to get into the Caulfield Cup, in which he ran second to stablemate Master O'Reilly.

Racing Australia is on a roll, because just seven days before the Yalumba its No. 4 syndicate, with 12 members, won a race with Hard To Miss.

That win provided the biggest cheer in the press room at Flemington on the day there were six group 1 races in Australasia.

It was only a maiden at Murtoa — it was shown on television — but it didn't stop wild celebrations from Manning, husband Vin Lowe, who works for the Moonee Valley Racing Club, and a handful of racing photographers in the syndicate.

The 12 each picked up 8.5% of 10% of $5850, less 15%. In comparing that win with Douro Valley's, Manning said the feeling on crossing the line was similar but afterwards the Douro joy was much bigger.

Owning not much more than a few hairs in the horse's tail did not lessen the thrill. "Actually, it's better because we're sharing with such good people," she said.

Manning now manages six syndicates, which have had four different winners. "I think he's the best by a long way," she said of Douro Valley.

Jockey James Winks, clearly, ranks Douro Valley as his favourite horse. The Yalumba was his first group 1 in Melbourne and his second overall, having won the Winter Stakes in Queensland mid-year on Absolut Glam, who, as with Douro Valley, is trained by Danny O'Brien at Flemington.

Interestingly, analysts had predicted a tactical race in the Yalumba but had suggested Douro Valley did not have the best jockey in those circumstances with Damien Oliver and Craig Williams among the competition.

How wrong they were. Winks' ride used to perfection the tactics he and O'Brien devised, going around the field to lead some 1000 metres out and having the other runners off the bit turning for home.

Despite running the second-slowest final 200 metres in the seven-horse field, Douro Valley, the outsider at $41, had a neck to spare on the line from Pompeii Ruler and Guillotine.

"It was a ballsy move to take off around Casual Pass at the 1000 and put the pressure on," O'Brien said of Winks' work.

"But coming to the corner you could tell they were all off the bridle chasing him."

In some ways this season Winks has been chasing Oliver, who, as the state's best jockey, has muscled in on some key stable mounts.

"He's been terrific, he hasn't missed a morning," O'Brien said when asked how Winks coped with the trainer using the freelance Oliver.

"There's never been anyone with a mortgage on the rides at our joint — James obviously gets a lot because he puts in a lot and rides well, Steven Arnold does and Damien keeps popping in as well. We're quite content to spread it around. When things aren't going so well there's not one bloke to kick." Back-slapping, not kicking, was the post-race move this weekend.

Winks, 25, praised the horse, saying "this guy has done so much for my career".

Did he get put out when Oliver took rides he might have expected? "You do ... maybe. You've just got to keep showing up. That's part of it ... he's the best. Now I've got the group 1 on the board. It's unbelievable. Hopefully we can back up next week (in Saturday's Caulfield Cup)."

Winks' wonderful weekend began with a win at Moonee Valley on Friday night, went on with a listed victory in the last race at Caulfield and finished with a treble at Kilmore yesterday.

By Stephen Howell

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