Win, lose or draw, expect three cheers and a standing ovation for fan favourite Happy Trails when he competes in his fifth and final Cox Plate at Moonee Valley this spring.
The champion gelding is a “90 per cent” chance to call it quits at the end of the calendar year, having given his all over nearly seven years on the racetrack.
In 61 career starts, the stunning-looking chestnut has raced in 50 Group or Listed races, boasting five Stakes wins, including three G1s.
It was the spring of 2012, however, that turned the perennial placegetter into a cult hero.
Up until then, the Adelaide-based juvenile had run 23 times for two wins, 10 placings and fourth on six occasions.
But with age and maturity, Happy Trails turned into a superstar.
At his first run at five, he won the G3 Spring Stakes at Morphettville, before finishing second in the G2 Memsie and winning the G2 Feehan Stakes third-up, en route to his first G1 win – the 2012 Emirates Stakes at $13.
In the autumn of 2013, he finished third in the G1 Queen Elizabeth at $41, before returning for the spring of 2014 to win the G1 Turnbull Stakes at $26 and finish a narrow second to Shamus Award in the Cox Plate at $12.
He won the third of his G1s more than a year later – in the autumn of 2014 – holding off He’s Your Man to win the G1 Mackinnon at $7 after finishing within a length of Adelaide in the Cox Plate the week prior.
He hasn’t won since the 2014 Mackinnon, however trainer Paul Beshara believes there’s one more win left in him before the curtain closes.
“I reckon he’s got another Group 1 in him – I do. Deep down in my heart, I believe he’s got another in him,” Beshara told G1X.com.au.
“He hasn’t lost it and when I brought him back for the autumn, he raced in the Australian Cup – he ran the fastest last 800m in that but they just went that slow early and it didn’t suit him.
“Then I took him up to the Queen Elizabeth in Sydney on a heavy track and he ran a very credible fifth.”
Beshara hadn’t always intended to bring him back for the spring, but happy by name, happy by nature, the rising nine-year-old still has the zest for racing.
“He seems to be enjoying being back in work,” Beshara said.
“He looks good. He still wants to be there, he’s quite happy to be there. I’ll start to sprint him up next week and that will tell us more about him then.
Happy Trails finishing second to three-year-old Shamus Award in the G1 WS Cox Plate
“He’ll either go to the Cox Plate or the Mackinnon, and we’ve had an invitation to go to Perth, so we might go there for the Railway and the Kingston Town.”
But Beshara said it would be Happy Trails’ last crack at Cox Plate glory.
“More than likely, 90 per cent chance – he’s rising nine, so you don’t want to go to the well too many times,” he said.
“He’s one of the best horses in Australia and if you look at all the horses he’s raced against, most of them are all retired and he’s still going. I’ll say this will be his swansong.”