By Peter Staples
SHE came, she saw, she conquered!
That’s the only way to describe Still a Star’s incredible return to racing in Launceston last month after a one-year lay-off.
The Bill Ryan-trained mare lined up in the $150,000 Group 3 Vamos Stakes over 1400 metres only days after Australia voted her into the $5 million All-Star Mile for which she gathered almost 10,000 votes to finish fourth on the pecking order.
At her first start since February last year, she did exactly what her trainer had promised, but it was an emotional experience as there were consequences if she failed.
Still a Star strolled around the mounting yard without a care in the world and it was much the same for Ryan, who was surprisingly calm before his stable star ventured to the barriers for the first time since winning the Tasmanian Oaks over 2100 metres a year earlier.
The well fancied Deroche burst from the gates with Craig Newitt aboard while Still a Star’s rider Brendon McCoull slotted the four-year-old on the back of the leader, with the race favourite Ethical Solution’s rider happy to race outside of Deroche.
At the top of the straight Deroche booted clear and looked to be travelling like the winner, while Ethical Solution already started to feel the strain of facing the breeze.
But when McCoull eased Still a Star off the rail to stake her claim the crowd started to get involved and when Ryan’s little “Minnie” poked her head in front and started to draw clear, the crowd erupted.
It was a day of reckoning for Still a Star on many fronts, but most of all she proved she was a worthy entry in the world’s richest race over a mile.
Straight after the Vamos, Ryan was philosophical in his assessment of his training feat and of his horse’s efforts.
“It’s easy to train good horses because if you think you are a horse and treat the animal as you would treat yourself in various circumstances, it’s a simple task,” Ryan said.
“I have a great working relationship with Brendon (McCoull) because he knows how I train my horses and when he gets on, he never lets me or the horse down.”
During the All-Star Mile campaign, Still a Star rose to the occasion as she worked with all forms of media, and at one stage during a photo and video shoot at Ryan’s Longford property, she made a fuss when the cameras and photographers walked away from her yard.
“I’m sure she knows exactly what’s going on around her and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more media friendly horse.”
McCoull was ecstatic with the mare’s first-up performance.
“To come out today in that quality field first-up over 1400m and knowing all the issues she’s had, it showed her heart and Bill’s training ability,” McCoull said.
“She travelled nicely throughout, and I felt like I had a ton of horse underneath me.
“I knew if I was on the horse that I rode last season, she would win, and that was the case.
“She has such a brilliant turn of foot and she ran down a very good horse (Deroche) and won easily. It was an amazing effort.”
Ryan confirmed the mare would travel to Melbourne by sea on the Thursday night prior to the race and be stabled where she can be afforded day-yard accommodation.
The trainer will make the trip across Bass Strait to see his star tackle the All-Star Mile, which goes against medical advice that suggests it might be dangerous for him to fly owing to his health issues.
Ryan was four years ago diagnosed with the incurable lung disease Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.
“Doctors told me four years ago that I probably had up to five years to live, but medications have since advanced and the stuff I’m now on seems to be helping a bit, but I still have bad days.
“Getting Minnie into the All-Star Mile is something really special and if they (doctors) think I’m going to miss seeing her run in the biggest race of her life, they are kidding themselves.”
Team Ryan mapped out a magnificent All-Star Mile vote-gathering campaign, with Bill’s daughter Monica Ryan working tirelessly to sure up votes and one of Bill’s best mates, Ron Riley, called on his connections and hammered Facebook non-stop for four weeks of the campaign.
There is no doubt a video piece produced by Neil Kierney that aired on Channel Seven’s race day coverage of a meeting at Flemington a day before All-Star Mile voting closed had an enormous impact on Minnie climbing up the ladder to snare fourth spot.
When voting went dark, Still a Star sat tenth on 4,991 votes, but she ended up with 9,982 to almost double her votes during the last 46 hours.
“I’m amazed by the amount of votes this mare received and we want to thank everyone who voted and gave me the chance to live a dream,” Ryan said.
“To be honest I never gave her a chance of getting in the race, but the closer we got to the finish of voting, the more confident I became.
“Racing is all about trying to live the dream with a good horse, and we are blessed to have Still A Star.”
A $13,000 purchase at the 2018 Tasmanian Magic Millions Yearling Sale, Still a Star has a race record of eight wins and five seconds from 13 starts for almost $500,000 in prizemoney, most of which was earned last season from four Listed race wins that saw her named Tasmanian three-year-old of the year.
A gallant performance in the All-Star Mile, god forbid a win, will see the Tasmanian four-year-old of the year award a lock and a potential ticker tape parade for Bill and his mare in Launceston. Let’s dare to dream.
Peter Staples is a racing writer at The Mercury Newspaper and the Media Manager for Tasracing.