Legionnaire returns to scale after an impressive win in the Listed Exford Plate (Racing Photos)
The ‘smart money’ for Saturday’s Listed Antler Luggage Exford Plate over 1400m at Flemington was on Missile Mantra, a stakes winner in May who had resumed with a solid fifth in the Group Three McNeil two weeks ago.
There was a bit there too for Godolphin’s filly, Tenley, who won the Listed Pierro and followed up with a victory in the Group Two Riesling as a 2YO last autumn.
The John Moloney trained, Legionnaire, on the other hand, didn’t have a great deal of support in the betting ring, sitting on the 13th line of betting ($31) in a 14 horse field.
It was hardly surprising though as, coming into the Exford, Legionnaire was a maiden, racing on five occasions for two seconds and a third. Still, in each of those runs the Stratum gelding hadn’t finished further adrift than fourth and was last seen with an eye-catching second over 1200m at Sale on 28 August.
Training for nearly 40 years and hailing from one of the most famous racing families in Victoria, Moloney obviously considered the horse a good chance however, and so it was. After sitting just off the pace entering the straight, Legionnaire forged to the lead at the 200m and valiantly held off all challengers to win by a neck.
“He (Legionnaire) is still quite immature and that’s why we didn’t nominate him for the ($2 million Group One) Caulfield Guineas, but he’s got a ton of heart and that’s not something you can train into them,” Moloney enthused.
(Moloney’s father, Jim, saddled up Caulfield Guineas winners Vain , Kenmark  and Sou’Wester ).
“I’m not sure at this stage where we will go to next with Legionnaire … possibly the (Group Three) Caulfield Guineas Prelude or the (Group Two) Stutt Stakes at the Valley, or maybe a freshen up for the (Group Three) Carbine Club Stakes at Flemington on Derby Day.
“I reckon he’ll come back a much better horse in the autumn though and the ultimate aim would be a race like the (Group One) Australian Guineas.”
The 42nd stakes winner for Widden Stud’s late stallion, Stratum, Legionnaire is from the multiple winning mare, Matron, and raced by his breeders: Julie Sampson and Meridy Taite.
Sisters who live a kilometre apart in the NSW township of Bowral, Sampson and Taite weren’t trackside on Saturday – “we’re both getting on a bit” – but were naturally thrilled with the win.
“We raced Legionnaire’s granddam, Gawne, who was purchased by Anthony Cummings (for $155,000) at the (2004) Inglis Easter Yearling Sale,” Sampson explains. “Gawne won a stakes race (Listed Perri Cutten Classic) at Caulfield for us too, but that mare has had a ton of bad luck with foals dying and then not getting in foal.
“Gawne’s second foal, Matron, is Legionnaire’s mum and she suffered an injury very early on which she never quite overcame. Matron won her first start very well, but she was always having issues and retired after just 10 starts.
“Despite her problems, I’m happy to say that Gawne has an absolutely cracking Written Tycoon colt with John (Moloney) and is in foal to So You Think, but Matron overall has had quite a deal more luck in the breeding barn than her mum: Legionnaire is her first foal, she has a Hallowed Crown 2YO (Rosenstrasse), a Your Song yearling, is about to foal a Dundeel and will head to Epaulette this spring.
“Gawne is by Flying Spur, her three quarter brother, Great Shot is a Group One winner (Railway Stakes) by a son of Flying Spur in Magnus and her half sister, Nine Covers is the dam of multiple Group winner Casino Dancer who is, in turn, by Flying Spur stallion Casino Prince.
“We usually concentrate on the Flying Spur, Testa Rossa and More Than Ready lines.”
Following a long involvement with dairy, beef cattle and grain from their adjoining properties in Queensland’s Darling Downs, Sampson and Taite only really ramped up their racing and breeding interests after shifting to NSW in 2002.
Sampson claims it was her mother that first got her interested in the thoroughbred industry.
“I was six years old and at home, sick in bed, when my mother handed me the racing guide and said: ‘well, if you’re bored, pick us a winner’,” Sampson says with a laugh.
“We’ve raced horses with Anthony (Cummings), his father Bart and Guy Walter, but now have our handful of horses with John as we love the racing in Victoria.
“Our mares are with the Taltys at Edinglassie Stud in the Hunter Valley and they do a wonderful job with them … raising the foals and selling our yearlings too.
“We only had around four broodmares a few years back but that’s quickly grown to 10 as we have a tendency to hold onto them. Emotionally attached I’d imagine you call it!”
Sampson has a major in ancient history from the University of Queensland and often invokes famous figures in the naming of her neddies: “Legionnaire obviously reflects my interest in Roman history, but we bred and raced the VRC St Leger winner, Dornier, who is named after the fighter aircraft, while we also part-owned his mother, the More Than Ready mare, Deloraine, who ran third in the Group One Coolmore Classic behind Eskimo Queen (dam of last week’s Group Two Tramway winner, Dreamforce).
“Deloraine is probably the best horse Meridy and I have raced, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that Legionnaire will be even better. At least he took a stride in the right direction on Saturday.”