Syndicator Scott Darby's faith reaping ultimate rewards with Golden Slipper raid
Amidst the mayhem and carnage of the mounting yard moments before the $3.5 million Golden Slipper, Scott Darby will have a quiet - and perhaps final - word to David Vandyke. Darby's trusty lieutenant Mark Holland will be there, too. Add a horde of owners trailing, flown in from all corners of the country. It won't likely be about race tactics. Instructions to jockey Zac Purton. How the track is playing. How the bloody hell they find a decent vantage point to watch the race. The topic? Faith. And how they all share it.
"We always call each other brethren," Holland says. "[Vandyke] said to us, 'brethren, the dream I have is to get a Slipper runner'. I gave him the biggest hug [after Yankee Rose's second win] and said, 'you're in, brethren'."
Many a Golden Slipper owner will resort to a racing prayer this week. None have been as regular as syndicators Darby and Holland, the brains behind the Darby Racing banner, who have two unbeaten fillies lining up in the Rosehill show stopper on Saturday.
There is a little known story about Darby searching for guidance on a modestly bred yearling which he had shortlisted at a sale a few years ago. He was by Kheleyf. Darby had him marked as fitting the bill. But try selling that pedigree page to prospective clients. Next, please. So he asked Holland, a recent acquisition to the business at the time and "another wage to pay", what he thought.
"This voice kept going off in my head saying, 'Lot 3'," Darby recalled. "I shared it with Mark the next morning to see what he said and he was like, 'I've been praying about it as well and I've been getting Lot 3 coming to me'. The prayer was for the horse to sell quickly and do well on the track. He sold within a week and he's done quite well on the track." His name is Koroibete, deriving his moniker from the Melbourne Storm cult hero. He has banked more than $300,000 in prize money, a success in a game where every horse signed for is a high-risk, high-reward sweepstakes. "If you're asking what's part of the success and Mark's reminded me with that horse ... it's definitely my faith," Darby said. "Without my faith in God [I don't know where we would be] ... that was a classic case." Faith? That's also jumping right back in the saddle after watching a horse you had bought - and shipped off the books - range up to win a Golden Slipper.
Cue Snitzerland, the filly with suspect knees laying down the gauntlet to Pierro in 2012. Darby bought her. Then let her go. All the while their other Slipper prospect that year, Doubtfilly, bounded into fourth with a different set of colours flashing past the line. Marketing is everything in the syndication game. That mad minute and a bit couldn't have been any harder to take.
"When [Snitzerland] came down the straight and kicked ... I must admit at the time there wasn't much happening in the stable and it was just awful," Darby said. "She went on to win a group 1 and could have been the flagbearer. That haunted you for a couple of years.
"But it was probably the turning point in the business that year. When that happened I think it drove me to go further. That [confidence in identifying the right horses] is what you were left with. It probably spurred me on to really go harder and the [business] has probably been on an upward spiral ever since." That's where Yankee Rose and Scarlet Rain, their other Golden Slipper hopeful under Gai Waterhouse's tutelage, come in. Every syndicator seeks out one Golden Slipper type each year. Two? The stuff dreams are made of, especially for a company that Darby launched as a one-man band with just two horses right on the heels of equine influenza.
Yankee Rose was passed in for $15,000, prompting Darby and Holland to "arrogantly" make a $10,000 play for her. Bingo. Scarlet Rain, the flashy $100,000 chestnut? Her page is also another that hardly had the eyes spinning.
"We've more consciously gone for the type now and you believe in the horse - even though they can be harder to sell," Holland said. "You have to say, 'this is a nice horse'." Added Darby: "This season is off the Richter scale and we're striking at a winner every four-and-a-half starters. You look back and say, 'yes, we've improved ... but we haven't improved that much. No one can improve that much'. There's times you do pinch yourself and wonder, 'wow, how did we get there?'"