Cougar Express (pic. Western Racepix)
Fifty three fans doesn’t sound like much. Lots of racehorses have hundreds, even thousands of followers.
However, when your fan base constitutes an entire township, well, that’s something different.
And to the good folk of Kukerin, 300 kilometres from Perth in Western Australia, the 2016 XXXX Gold Kalgoorlie Cup winner, Cougar Express, really is the their pin up boy.
And why not. The Cup win on Sunday was the 6YO’s seventh from 39 starts and follows on from his Listed Bunbury Cup success back in March.
Not surprisingly, breeder and part-owner, Ross Ditchburn, was a little ‘scratchy’ on Monday morning and confessed that celebrations had raged well into the night.
“We came up to Kalgoorlie (around five hours drive from Kukerin) on Thursday and when I say ‘we’, there were quite a few locals who made the trip too,” Ditchburn reveals. “The horse is named after the footy club and when they lost the grand final, most of them decided to make the journey to Kalgoorlie for their annual footy trip.
“As for the race itself, we didn’t think he (Cougar Express) would have enough left in the tank to hold off the favourite (Falcon Crest was chasing five straight), but then 100m out it started to become clear they weren’t going to catch him. Gotta say, we almost brought down the grandstand!”
Ditchburn doesn’t breed many horses. In fact, he doesn’t even have Cougar Express’s dam, Classic Enigma, any more.
“I ended up racing her (Classic Enigma) due to some unpaid bills and she wasn’t a bad mare … eventually won three races before bowing a tendon,” Ditchburn recalls. “I then decided to give her a crack at stud and sent her to Mosayter, then to Due Sasso and back to Mosayter again, but she didn’t do much, so for the last throw of the dice, I sent her to Danehill Express. I then gave the mare away.
“Her Danehill Express colt of course turned out to be Cougar Express. The ownership group includes my two sons, another local farmer and his two sons, the Elders rep, the local stock feed guy … all good mates with a connection to Aquinas College in Perth.
“Naturally enough, they’re all pretty happy given that Cougar Express has now won $396,545.
“It really is a close knit community … apart from the 53 people that live in Kukerin, around 300 in the surrounding area and some 800 in the (Dumbleyung) shire. Everyone knows everyone else, so it’s not surprising that Cougar Express has a cult following. Probably doesn’t help given that I never shut up about the horse!”
Ditchburn has his fingers crossed that Cougar Express will shape up for a tilt at the Group Two Perth Cup in January, previously taken out by trainer, Lindsey Smith, with Crown Prosecutor in 2005.
Smith is also well known to eastern state racegoers via stable stars such as Plastered (2004 Victoria Derby) and Old Comrade (2002 Australian Cup).
“We are so proud of this bloke and grateful to have him in our stable,” an elated Smith said after the race. “He is now a dual Listed winner and thanks to everyone back at headquarters who look after Coug’s. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Ditchburn isn’t getting too far ahead of himself but believes Cougar Express could end up racing in the east and follow in the hoof steps of Black Heart Bart.
“There are not too many options left open for Cougar Express in Western Australia, so he could end up with someone like Darren Weir and he’s only a 6YO and racing so strongly.”
This might not be the last time you hear of Kukerin’s favourite horse.
HOOFNOTE: Kukerin’s other ‘claim to fame’ is the annual Kukerin Creekbed and Burnout Competition which was held this weekend.
“It’s a terrific event … they get around 15,000 campers and it’s a huge money raiser for the community,” Ditchburn adds.
That said, attendance was down slightly this year given that Ditchburn and co. were busy bringing down a grandstand in Kalgoorlie.