From The New Zealand Herald, 12 June 2015 Bonecrusher with Sharlene Mitchell earlier this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Bonecrusher, one of the greatest racehorses of all time, was euthanized at Ellerslie racecourse yesterday morning.
The equine icon, in his 33rd year, recently developed the crippling foot disease laminitis and expert veterinarian advice was the condition was incurable.
Laminitis also claimed the life of another New Zealand champion, Sunline.
Bonecrusher, like Sunline, was as much loved in Australia as he was in his home country.
No one will ever forget the 1986 Cox Plate, declared 'The Race Of The Century', in which Bonecrusher narrowly beat fellow New Zealander Waverley Star to the words of the late, great racecaller Bill Collins "...and Bonecrusher races into equine immortality".
Horse, like humans are not immortal, but that race commentary will be.
Bonecrusher was a cheap yearling purchase. He was raced by Aucklander Peter Mitchell and trained by Frank Ritchie at Ellerslie, when New Zealand's premier racetrack was also a training centre.
Sheer guts and determination to win underpinned every race Bonecrusher had. Like a lot of champions he won major races from positions in a race field that looked impossible.
The best example was when he beat a Melbourne Cup winner At Talaq in the group one Australian Cup. There was a clear case of team riding at Flemington that day against Bonecrusher, who was flattened mid-race, but refused to yield and grabbed At Talaq in the last stride.
What Bonecrusher did in his three and four year old seasons had never been achieved in Australasia and is likely to never be repeated. As a 3-year-old he won seven consecutive races, including the New Zealand Derby, Air New Zealand Stakes, Tancred Stakes and the AJC Derby.
As a 4-year-old he won five races including four Australian group ones, the Underwood Stakes, Caulfield Stakes, Cox Plate and Australian Cup.
He won nine group one races among his eighteen victories from 880m to 2400m with all but three of his wins being at group or listed level.
His total earnings were just short of $3 million.
At the height of his greatness, Bonecrusher should have won the Japan Cup, then the world's richest horse race.
This writer was with Frank Ritchie in the lift of the Keio Plaza Hotel after the Thursday morning trackwork session at Tokyo Racecourse when topline European jockey Pat Eddery jumped into the lift.
Eddery: "You're Frank Ritchie, aren't you? We saw your horse gallop this morning and I can tell you we can't beat him on Sunday."
Pat Eddery won that Japan Cup on English stayer Jupiter Island while Bonecrusher, who had been burning up the tracks, remained in his box having fought for his life with a serious lung infection discovered on the Friday morning.
Months before, Frank Ritchie was guest speaker at an Avondale Jockey Club dinner. He pre-faced the speech with: "If I sound in awe of this horse, it's because I am and I'm not going to apologize."
Understandably, Peter Mitchell, Frank Ritchie and son Shaune were extremely upset yesterday. Shaune Ritchie, these days a top trainer at Cambridge, left high school to travel the world strapping Bonecrusher.
He had the warmest affection for the champ who everyone around called "Red" because of his rich chestnut colouring.
Champion jockey Lance O'Sullivan, on the wrong end of the result in the Race Of The Century, had reason to detest Bonecrusher, but had nothing but admiration despite seeing mainly his backside in races.
"I finished second in a stack of group one races to Bonecrusher," said O'Sullivan yesterday. "He beat me on Flight Bijou in the Derby, on Waverley Star in the Cox Plate and on Horlicks in the New Zealand Stakes.
"He was a very, very hard horse to get past. He was tough, tough."
Moments after breaking a 37-year American Triple Crown drought with American Pharoah last weekend, Californian trainer Bob Baffert was asked on television what it felt like to win such a trophy.
"I didn't win it, the horse did. It's all about him." That's the awe every trainer feels for their true champion and explains the love and respect Frank Ritchie had for Bonecrusher, a horse who defied his humble breeding to beat allcomers.
Lance O'Sullivan sums it up best: "They don't make them like him any more."
* Bonecrusher was yesterday buried at Ellerslie racecourse, the scene of some of his finest moments. A monument will be erected over his grave.
- NZ Herald