Australian racing bid farewell to one of the most popular horses in its history on Tuesday night. Brad Bishop pays tribute to the star Queenslander, Vo Rogue.
If you gathered a panel of experts and asked them to rank Australasia's best horses from the late 1980s and early 90s, Vo Rogue wouldn't be favourite to come out on top.
In fact, the Queensland front-runner might even battle for a spot in the top three.
Hall of Famers Better Loosen Up and Super Impose, fellow Cox Plate winners Bonecrusher, Rubiton and Our Poetic Prince, Japan Cup champ Horlicks and Kiwi star Rough Habit were among those Vo Rogue raced against in what was a golden era for weight-for-age racing, while Shaftsbury Avenue and Let's Elope came along not long after.
But if you took a popularity vote on the same era, Vo Rogue would be Black Caviar-type odds to win it.
His free-wheeling style of racing, which often saw him shoot 10 lengths clear of his rivals mid-race, combined with his association with battling trainer Vic Rail and little-known jockey Cyril Small, earned a cult following, especially in Melbourne, where he did his best work.
Hence, there was much sadness late on Tuesday when news came through that Vo Rogue had died, aged 28.
Small who rode Vo Rogue in 68 of his 83 races, including 64 of his last 65 starts was saddened by his passing but thrilled to have been part of the story.
It is a sad time, he said. Melbourne people really did love him. I think the connection with Vic Rail and Vic's personality (played a part), plus the horse's great performances. They just love a good horse.
There was little sign early that the son of Americain stallion Ivor Prince and Vow, who was foaled on 12 November 1983, would go on to win 26 races and $3,116,100 in prizemoney.
It took him five starts to win a race, a lowly two-year-old maiden at Eagle Farm on 25 June 1986, while he failed to salute at any of his next five starts. But he turned the corner with three wins in the space of four starts in the summer 1986/87, which prompted Rail to send him south to Melbourne.
Vo Rogue showed an immediate appreciation for left-handed racing, running third in The Debonair (1400m) at 40-1 before a third in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) won by Military Plume at 50-1.
He then failed behind Rubiton in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes (1400m) before producing the first sign of his star qualities in the Creswick Stakes at Flemington, then a 2000m event for three-year-olds.
He walked home by seven lengths, in a scorching time of 2:00.7, and backed it up with victory over established staying three-year-olds Cossack Warrior and Myocard five days later in the Group 2 Alister Clark Stakes (2040m) at Moonee Valley.
That was the first of 13 wins at Group 1 or Group 2 level in Melbourne. Four of those were at the highest level the William Reid Stakes and Futurity Stakes in 1988 and back-to-back Australian Cups in 1989/90 and of the remainder, five were Group 2 races that are now run at Group 1 level.
Vo Rogue owned the C.F. Orr Stakes (1400m) which didn't become a Group 1 until 1993 from 1988-90 and won back-to-back Turnbull Stakes (2000m) in 1988/89.
He also won both the Blamey Stakes (1600m) then run before the Australian Cup and St George Stakes (now Peter Young Stakes, 1800m) in 1988 and 1989.
He was runner-up in five Group 1s in Victoria, one of which is the race he is best remembered for. The 1988 Australian Cup was promoted as a match race between Vo Rogue and Bonecrusher and while Vo Rogue had Bonecrusher's measure, he was unable to withstand the powerful finish of 125-1 shot Dandy Andy.
Vo Rogue won further Group 1s in the 1988 Winfield Stakes (1800m) in Perth and the 1989 George Main Stakes (1600m) the only time he ran a place in eight starts in Sydney but it was his second Australian Cup that Small remembers most fondly.
After looking as good as ever in the Orr Stakes, he then ran third as a 4/7 favourite in the Blamey Stakes and was controversially beaten by King's High on protest in the St George Stakes.
But he bounced back to beat possibly the greatest Australian Cup field of the past 25 years. Better Loosen Up ran second and Super Impose third with Stylish Century and The Phantom on the placegetters heels.
Vo Rogue fans who maintained the faith were rewarded with odds of 12-1 his longest-ever winning price.
I'd say my best memory would be his last Australia Cup, Small said. A lot of the so called experts thought he was over the hill and he proved them wrong.
Vo Rogue didn't win another race in 16 starts his best effort a second to Better Loosen Up in the 1991 Australian Cup and Rail died after contracting the Hendra virus, around three years after his final start in 20 May 1991.
Small, who only last week had his first ride in Victoria in years when he came out of retirement to ride at Warrnambool, is now the only surviving member of the famous trio but their story will live on forever.
Farewell Vo Roguehttp://www.racingvictoria.net.au/news/RVL/n_Vale_Vo_Rogue.aspx