Harpo Has The Last Word At Rosehill Gardens
Scott Darby was horrified when he watched Harpo Marx contest his first two Australian barrier trials. The founder and CEO of Darby Racing had purchased the royally bred horse in 2019 from the Coolmore draft at a Tattersall’s Horses In Training Sale at Newmarket.
“His first trial was over 900m at Goulburn in March of last year and although the trip was way too short he finished a mile from the winner,” recalled Scott. “A couple of weeks later he beat a couple home in a Warwick Farm trial over 1200m but was terribly one paced. I remember thinking how unfortunate it was that hurdle racing had all but disappeared in Australia.”
Scott had been dabbling in the overseas market on behalf of his syndication company for four years with mixed success. “Our first import was a French mare called Eesha who went to Hayes and Dabernig but failed to place in five starts,” he said.
“Next experiment was to purchase four yearlings at auction in England, two of which have done the job. Canasta has won four races for Bjorn Baker including one on the Kenso track and finished second at Rosehill on Saturday. True Marvel has won four provincial races for Matthew Smith with more to come. The other two horses didn’t measure up.”
Scott has a good working relationship with highly regarded Irish bloodstock consultant Hubie de Burgh who’s been involved in the business for forty years. He spent the first twenty as consultant and adviser to Sheikh Hamdan whose thoroughbred empire was developing rapidly. Hubie started his own consultancy business de Burgh Equine in 2003, with headquarters in County Wicklow a stone’s throw from The Curragh.
“I was mildly excited when I spotted Harpo Marx in the Tattersall’s catalogue, principally because of his Aussie connection,” said Scott Darby. “He’s by the incomparable Galileo, sire of a world record 85 Group 1 winners but I was more connected to his dam Nechita.”
The Fastnet Rock mare had won three races from only four starts before the collapse of the Patinack Farm empire. She won a 2YO race at Warwick Farm and the Gr 3 Silver Shadow Stakes on the same course before finding 1400m a shade too far when unplaced in the Golden Rose.
Nechita was freshened by trainer John Thompson and whisked to Melbourne for the prestigious Gr 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes - a highly regarded stallion making race, but equally valuable to a future broodmare. Experienced jockey Christian Reith who rode Nechita in all four starts has no doubt she’s the best horse he’s ridden.
She made a staggering $1.55 million at the Gold Coast Patinack dispersal, knocked down to Coolmore who immediately announced she would be going straight to stud in Ireland. She’ll need to do something spectacular if she’s going to vindicate her purchase price. Harpo Marx who was her first foal, has so far accumulated $153,000 while two Galileo fillies have had only one start each for no result.
“Our original intention was to offer Coolmore 100,000 guineas for Harpo Marx before the sale but we got cold feet after the first veterinary inspection,” said Scott. “The Coolmore vet diagnosed what they call a lazy throat. This sometimes signals the possibility of a restricted airflow.
“We got Hubie de Burgh to organise an independent vet who disagreed with the first assessment. The decision was made to take the punt and throw in a bid or two at the Tatt’s Sale. We were pretty chuffed to snare him for 60,000 guineas.
“Hubie, who has been instrumental in sending dozens of horses to this country is adamant the European horses should be given a soft initial campaign. He stresses that their best form will come at the following preparation. That certainly applies to Harpo Marx.”
The son of Galileo had only six starts for Aidan O’Brien which included a second in a Leopardstown 3YO maiden, and a Tipperary maiden win. The winner of the Leopardstown event was none other than Il Paradiso who was destined to run third in the Melbourne Cup just six months later. At his last run for O’Brien Harpo Marx was way out of his grade in the Gr 1 Goodwood Cup, in which he started at cricket score odds and finished 29 lengths from the winner.
“Following those lacklustre barrier trials he had four starts for just one placing in his first Aussie preparation,” said Scott. “We got him into the paddock and he wasn’t sighted for twenty six weeks. He was gelded during that spell which has obviously contributed to his new lease of life.”
As predicted by Hubie de Burgh, Harpo Marx has improved markedly in his second preparation. From six starts he’s posted three wins and two placings. Rachel King who’s ridden him in all six runs, is adamant he’s still learning. The jockey reported after recent wins at Wyong and Warwick Farm that he switched off once clear of other horses.
In Saturday’s BM 78 of 2000m, Rachel actually drove Harpo Marx out of the gates but quickly realised the gelding resented the bustle. She found herself in front of only two runners going to the back straight some ten lengths from the tearaway leader Vadiyann (Fr). Harpo Marx was still 5 lengths from Vadiyann at the 200m where Rachel steered between two horses and he caught sight of the “bunny”. He chased the leader with great purpose to hit the front in the last couple of strides. He looked sharper than he had in all nine previous Australian starts.
“There’s not much doubt he’s getting better and obviously we’re all hoping his blueblood pedigree is starting to make its presence felt,” says Scott. “I’m not sure whether Bjorn Baker will press on now or wait for Brisbane in the winter. He’d get a handy weight in a race like the Brisbane Cup.”
Harpo Marx’s name has intrigued younger racing fans and tugged the heartstrings of veteran movie buffs. The legendary figure after whom the horse is named, was a member of a famous family comedy team known universally as the Marx Brothers. Harpo, Groucho and Chico started in vaudeville before becoming major stars on the Broadway stage. They made a seamless transition to the movies where their zany brand of comedy had audiences in stitches all over the world.
When the “talkies” started in 1927 it was decided that Harpo should never speak. Audiences didn’t hear him utter a single word on the screen in twenty years, but loved his trademark pantomime. Most of the movies featured a scene in which the “silent Marx” would play the harp - a self taught skill he’d perfected over many years. He was an accomplished musician who couldn’t read a note of music. He died in 1964 aged 75.
The equine Harpo’s win on Saturday continued the remarkable run being enjoyed currently by Darby Racing horses and their large owner base. The Darby Syndicates have been on the crest of a wave with a flurry of winners over the last couple of months. Spirit Ridge and Greysful Glamour have been the star performers with four stakes wins between them. The familiar Darby Racing colours greeted the judge fourteen times in the month of December alone.
Scott Darby has been besotted with horses all his life first learning to ride on ponies near his family home on the Southern Highlands. He later approached Tommy Smith about the likelihood of an apprenticeship but was told he was going to be much too big. Some time later he persuaded Clarry Conners to let him trot a racehorse around the Warwick Farm bullring. Clarry wasn’t impressed and convinced the youngster he was barking up the wrong tree.
The pieces fell into place when a friend returned from a Scone sale with a $6000 colt by Song Of Tara. When that friend said he had no idea what he was going to do with the yearling, young Scott offered to syndicate him. He enjoyed the experience and tried it again later with an Encounter colt bred by an old friend from the Southern Highlands.
The die was cast. Darby Racing came into existence as the industry emerged from the horrors of the 2007 equine influenza outbreak. Scott got away to a flyer when Our Joan Of Arc won the Gimcrack Stakes and the Maribyrnong Plate. He later sourced Doubtfilly who won 6 races for Stuart Kendrick and ran fourth in Pierro’s Golden Slipper.
Scott syndicated Time Of War who won a couple of Gr 2’s and just under half a million dollars. Yankee Rose was a Darby Racing purchase for just $10,000 before going on to win $2,043,700. She won an ATC Sires Produce Stakes, a Spring Champion Stakes, ran second in a Golden Slipper and third in a W.S. Cox Plate.
The purchase of She Will Reign for just $20,000 was a massive triumph for racehorse syndication. The Manhattan Rain filly won 6 races for $3.2 million including a Golden Slipper and a Moir Stakes.
Of all the nice horses purchased by Darby Racing perhaps Samadoubt provided the most pleasant surprise. An Inglis Classic acquisition for $40,000, the son of Not A Single Doubt won ten races with ten placings for well over $1 million dollars. His finest moment came when he led throughout to win the 2019 Gr 1 Winx Stakes. Irithea, Greysful Glamour, Celestial Falls, Blazing Miss, and Every Rose have all contributed to Darby Racing’s impressive strike rate in recent times.
Many Darby Racing clients look forward to 2021, none more than the large group who race Harpo Marx. They’re excited by his recent purple patch of form and look forward to the months ahead. Like his namesake from the golden years of Hollywood he’s certain to leave ‘em laughing.