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  • Provincial Racing NSW


PAUL Perry’s outstanding achievement to win Royal Ascot’s famous sprint double with Choisir still resonates strongly in the country where he blazed a trail for future Australian trainers.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of capturing the King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) and Golden (now Platinum) Jubilee Stakes (1200m) on the first and last day of the historic five-day carnival, the legendary Newcastle trainer revealed he has been busy answering questions from the UK about how his hulking colt’s brutal demonstration of raw speed – as the English newspapers so aptly described it - carried off the “impossible”, and set the racing world alight.

“I’ve had plenty of phone calls and interviews about Choisir’s double, and it’s great that they remember the success we had there,” Perry said.

It might be back in 2003, but the pinnacle of his more than five decades training career still burns brightly with him – and so it should.

“We won a Golden Slipper with Stratum in 2005, but carrying off the double at Royal Ascot was something very special,” he said.

“This would not happen to you in 10 lifetimes. Royal Ascot is a magnificent carnival, equal to anything.”

Something pretty special indeed. Taking a young horse (then a three-year-old colt), albeit full of class, on a near 20,000km 32-hour flight just to get to the United Kingdom appeared an impossible dream.

As it turned out, it wasn’t – but the magnitude of Perry’s achievement should never be undervalued.

Since Irish legend Dermot Weld came halfway around the world to win the 1993 Melbourne Cup with Vintage Crop, there has been a steady stream of trainers from many parts of the globe trying to win our great race on the first Tuesday in November.

But this was in reverse. Perry was the first Australian trainer to take on the Poms on their own ground at Royal Ascot, and indeed the first trainer to capture the feature sprint double in modern times (it hadn’t been done since 1920). Only one horse since, the Charlie Appleby-trained English homebred Blue Point, has won both races in the same year.

And whilst the trip arose after the initial plan to take Choisir to Singapore for the Kris Flyer Sprint was abandoned because of a SARS virus outbreak, there were a couple of important factors which influenced the experienced trainer to give Royal Ascot a go.

He had already undertaken overseas forays to New Zealand, Hong Kong and Dubai, and this represented yet another challenge.

As much as Perry knew it was a daunting task, his crack sprinter already had been given his innoculations, and his keen eye had noted during a previous trip to Hong Kong four years earlier with his Group 1 winners Dantelah and Notoire for the Hong Kong Sprint (1000m) at an international meet at Sha Tin (they finished 4th and 10th respectively to local Fairy King Prawn) that “a couple of English sprinters weren’t up to scratch”.

Additionally, he also knew Choisir was exactly the right horse to have a crack at the famous Royal Ascot sprint double.

“The officials were keen for us to start Choisir in both races, and that was never going to be a problem anyway,” Perry said.

“Choisir was a placid big bugger, wasn’t a sulker, and ate up after winning the King’s Stand on the Tuesday. He was even better going into the second race four days later.

“Just as he was at the Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington the previous spring when he beat his own age on the Saturday (before being controversially relegated to third on protest), and then beat older horses in the Group 2 sprint at weight-for-age five days later.”

In bringing off one of international racing’s finest accomplishments, Perry blazed a trail for future Australian trainers at Royal Ascot.

Remember Joe Janiak with Takeover Target, Lee Freedman with Miss Andretti, Dan Morton with Scenic Blast, Tony Vasil with Haradasun, Peter Moody with the unbeaten champ Black Caviar, and of course Nature Strip’s sizzling King’s Stand performance last year for Chris Waller.

That’s not forgetting Starspangledbanner and Merchant Navy either. The former, a son of Choisir, originally trained in Melbourne by Leon Corstens, was transferred to Irish wizard Aidan O’Brien, and also won the Jubilee seven years later in 2010, and another former classy Group 1 Melbourne sprinter Merchant Navy repeated the feat for O’Brien in 2018.

Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh, now training, rode Choisir in both his Royal Ascot wins, and also partnered Starspangledbanner.

Perry’s son Shannon and trackwork rider Lyle Weaver took Choisir to the UK via Melbourne before the trainer arrived to put the finishing touches, and will never forget meeting the late Her Majesty the Queen after winning her race on the final day of the carnival.

“She was fantastic; so wordly,” he said. “It was Prince William’s 21st birthday party that night and she said she couldn’t wait to get home and take her shoes off and get into something more comfortable.”

Aside from the SARS virus halting racing in Singapore, the UK trip most likely would never have eventuated if Perry had not seen Choisir’s sire Danehill Dancer win a race at The Curragh during a trip to Ireland many years earlier.

“I was impressed with him and when his progeny was offered in Australia at the 2001 Inglis Classic yearling sale at the old Newmarket complex, I was very interested,” he recalled.

“I hadn’t seen Choisir but knew he was in the catalogue and got him out of his box at the sale.

“He was a lovely colt. I really liked him and was rapt to be able to take him home.”

Choisir was knocked down to Perry for $55,000, and he raced him with Newcastle’s Wallace family (Terry and wife Diane and children John and Helen). He was well named too; his dam was the Lunchtime mare Great Selection, and choisir is a French verb meaning “to choose”.

Perry had Choisir based at Newmarket, which he described as “horse heaven”, for his UK campaign, and recalls an interesting moment in the lead-up to the horse’s English debut.

“Royal Ascot held a press conference on the Friday prior to the carnival, and sent a helicopter to Newmarket to pick up Shannon and myself and Saeed Bin Suroor (Godolphin trainer).

“Saeed blessed himself five times before we got in the helicopter. Shannon and I looked at one another and thought ‘bloody hell’.

“We made it there safely, and had the opportunity to walk the straight track. It was unbelievable; plenty of undulations and very testing for horse and rider.”

Not for Choisir and Murtagh though. The horse was sold to Coolmore (he died in December 2021 at 22 years of age after a long career at stud), and stayed on for the July Cup (1200m) at Newmarket the following month.

He ran second to Oasis Dream at his final start, and his trainer remains adamant it would have been a different story had he been able to get another week’s work into him.

“Choisir had a couple of easy weeks after Royal Ascot before the decision was made to tackle the July Cup after the stud deal was finalised,” he said. “He was underdone”.

Perry was born into racing. His father Ron was a successful jockey and mother Beryl’s father Bert Dunning trained.

He started going to his grandfather’s stables at two years of age, and at 15 became apprenticed to then leading Newcastle trainer Ray Wallace.

As he did with Choisir at Royal Ascot, Perry achieved a 100 per cent result with his written test to gain his apprenticeship, and rode his first winner in November 1964 at his sixth ride.

Increasing weight curtailed his days in the saddle, and he called it quits at 17 with 25 wins to his name.

Having been called up for National Service, Perry was a week away from being sent to Vietnam when Labour’s Gough Whitlam won Government and immediately put a stop to Australian troops going there.

He took out his trainer’s licence in 1972 and his first winner Secret Jim, on his home track at Broadmeadow the following year, was fittingly ridden by his brother Ron Jnr.

Perry attempted to repeat Choisir’s Royal Ascot feat with Fastnet Rock two years later when the magnitude of his 2003 deeds became even more evident when the latter contracted travel sickness and couldn’t run.

Fastnet Rock had won both the Group 1 Lightning Stakes (as Choisir did) and Oakleigh Plate in Melbourne earlier that year, and thus would have been very hard to beat at Royal Ascot.

Perry hasn’t been to a Royal Ascot carnival since the Choisir days, and says it would take a pretty good horse to lure him back.

“The prizemoney now is outstanding here anyway,” he said. “The Everest wasn’t around when Choisir went to England, and I have no doubt he would have been the ideal type for it.”

Perry turns 74 next month, and his magnificent 51-year training career (which tallies more than 4000 winners, including 12 Group 1s (it would have been 13 if the now Group 1 King’s Stand had been elevated to that level then) continues at full pace.

“I’m still enjoying it,” he said. “I love getting up early and going to the track six mornings a week.

“You have to keep doing something, otherwise you fade away.”

HOOFNOTE: The Australian challenge at Royal Ascot continues next week, with second favorite Coolangatta (Ciaron Maher & David Eustace) and fourth favorite Cannonball (Peter & Paul Snowden) tackling Tuesday night’s (our time) King’s Stand Stakes, and favorite Artorius (Anthony & Sam Freedman), and The Astrologist (Leon & Troy Corstens) flying the flag in Saturday night’s Platinum Jubilee Stakes.

*Words John Curtis, Wednesday June 14, 2023 - Pics Bradley Photos & supplied*

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