Manuel fights off Brave Smash ultimately claiming the Group One CF Orr Stakes (Racing Photos)
Manuel’s part-owner, Gary Lechte, could be excused for having a few nervous moments during the final 200m of the Group One Ladbrokes CF Orr Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday.
Sure, Manuel had controlled the race throughout, courtesy of a bold Luke Currie, but most of us were switching our attention from the $21 outsider to the fast finishing challengers such as Kementari, Brave Smash and Land of Plenty.
However, it would be Manuel who had us all asking Que? as he refused to give in, eventually scoring with a half length to spare.
It’s been quite the journey for Manuel who ran fourth on debut, as a 2YO, in the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes, but it would be over 12 months before Manuel notched up his first victory: by 10 lengths in a Geelong Maiden!
Indeed, it was only six months ago that he was running in a Benchmark 84 at Caulfield and his best performance, leading into the Orr, was a Listed Kilmore Cup victory in November.
It was the real Manuel who stood up to be counted on Saturday though and he is now well in line for a start in the $5 million All-Star Mile at Flemington on 16 March.
Yet, while Manuel’s victory was a mystery to the rest of us, the McEvoy/Mitchell stable, who has always been confident of the horse’s ability, isn’t about to lose its cool over a close finish.
After all, Lechte has been in much tighter corners than the Caulfield circuit.
For instance, a visit to Lechte’s office reveals a yellowing poster from the Cairns Post with the screaming headline: PILOT BLACKS OUT IN MID-AIR.
It’s quite the yarn. Back in the early 1990s, Lechte was in north Queensland with wife, Chris, and friends, on a marlin fishing trip. It came close to being his last trip.
Flying back into Port Douglas on a light plane, Lechte was riding shot gun when all of a sudden the pilot passed out.
“I couldn’t believe it … he was chatting away showing us the coral reefs and the stingrays and then he just stopped talking. He had this strange smile on his face but then started drooling and fell over the controls and we went into a deep dive.
“We were only a 1000 feet up, which doesn’t give you a lot of wriggle room, but fortunately I’d had a few flying lessons, so we managed to pull him off the controls and I, eventually, levelled out the plane.
“I thought the best thing would be try and land it on the water and started to come in, but realised I was going too fast and, if we’d hit the water at that speed, the plane would have cartwheeled. Well, so I was told later. Goodnight nurse in other words.
“Anyway, I pulled out, levelled off and was gearing up for a second crack at it when the pilot came to and managed to land the plane on the water himself.
“I still get sweaty palms when I think about it … I’m not suggesting that Manuel wouldn’t have won the Orr Stakes without me, but he came close to winning it without me as the owner,” Lechte says with a laugh.
After selling his 200 acre Victorian property – Delamere Farm – seven years ago, Lechte has reduced his mare numbers to just a couple, but wasn’t specific on the number of horses he races, except to say: “too many!”.
Clearly Manuel doesn’t fall into the ‘superfluous to requirements’ category though. One of 78 stakes winners for the Champion Sire, Commands, Manuel is out of the stakes winner and multiple stakes placed Hussonet mare, Girl Hussler. Dam of four winners including Group winner Taking Aim, Group placed Witherspoon and exciting 2YO Sun Patch, Girl Hussler is a granddaughter of the 2YO stakes winner and Group One Lightning Stakes runnerup, Clever Zoe. Raced by Lechte, Clever Zoe would produce four winners at Delamere, including the Adelaide stakes winner, Dual Hemisphere.
Manuel though was bred by Segenhoe Stud who would prepare the colt for the 2015 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale where he was knocked down to Tony McEvoy for $240,000.
“I wasn’t in Sydney for that sale, but I’d phoned Tony a couple of days beforehand and asked him to have a look at the yearling,” Lechte reveals. “I was obviously keen because of the Clever Zoe connection, but also it’s a great family.
“Tony said he thought the then colt was an absolutely cracking type and would probably make around $200,000, so I phoned my cousin Jon and suggested he come into the horse with me. He said sure, he’ll just take his kids out of private school and forget about ever having another holiday. I was keen to get him involved in the industry and it’s bit of a standard joke between us.
“Anyway, we watched the sale online and when it went for $240,000, we both thought, ‘OK, back to the drawing board’, only to hear it had been knocked down to Tony. Next thing Tony is on the phone saying ‘congratulations’!
“So, I phoned Tony’s business partner, Wayne Mitchell, and he, Jon and I took a third each.”
Following Saturday’s Orr victory, Manuel has taken his record to eight wins and seven placings from 23 starts for $752,050 in stakes, while first prize for the All-Star Mile, the richest 1600m race in the world, is $2.25 million.
“The late, great Robert Sangster said to me once to ‘win like you’re used to it, and lose like it doesn’t matter’,” Lechte adds. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get that used to winning or not care when we lose, but I’ve been fortunate enough to own some good horses along the way, including a part-share in He’s Our Rokkii (Group One Toorak Handicap), but this one is special.
“As I mentioned in my speech on Saturday, I was at Caulfield 22 years ago when my horse Cut Up Rough ran second to Saintly in the Orr and he would go on to become my first Group One winner by winning the VicHealth later that year.
“Now, I’ve got a second Group One winner in our colours and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. It’s special alright.”
One thing is for sure … if Manuel gets into the All-Star Mile and then wins it, Lechte’s palms might not be as sweaty as they once were, but you can be guaranteed he’ll be low flying on his way to the winners’ enclosure.