Perfect Tens - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the December 26, 2009 / January 2, 2010 combined issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)     

Asked to compile a series of “best of” lists for the first decade of this century, Blood-Horse senior correspondent Steve Haskin eagerly took up the challenge. It may sound easy, but thinking back over a 10-year period, and the people, horses, and races that were part of it, is not a simple task. Haskin’s effort, on pages 42-43 of this issue - and with expanded comments on his blog on where readers may offer their comments - got this writer thinking of the decade that has just passed.

As 2009 ended with the argument over whether Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra should be Horse of the Year, I recalled the two times I saw the female I would consider the best—Sunline—whose racing career started in the ’90s and ended in the ’00s.

Though I did not see her race in person, I did see Sunline train one morning in January 2001 and visited her again in New Zealand four years later just three months after she had foaled her first offspring.

Sunline (Desert Sun—Songline, by Western Symphony) won 32 times in 48 starts, including 13 group I events, and earned a record amount for a distaffer, $11,351,607 (Australian funds). She is one of only two mares to win the Cox Plate (Aust-I) twice, the only distaffer to take the Doncaster Handicap (Aust-I) twice, and became the only mare to capture the Coolmore Classic (Aust-I) two times. In the latter, both victories came under 60 kilograms (132.28 pounds), equaling the weight-carrying record for the race.

Sunline won two runnings of the Waikato Draught Sprint (NZ-I) and All-Aged Stakes (Aust-I), the Manikato Stakes (Aust-I) and Flight Stakes (Aust-I), and also traveled to Hong Kong, where she won the International Mile (HK-I) over local favorite Fairy King Prawn.

In 1999-2002 Sunline was named Horse of the Year in her native New Zealand, and she earned the same title in Australia from 2000-2002.

At the farm of Trevor McKee, who trained the champion with his son, Stephen, Sunline was led from her stall in January 2005. Trailing behind her was her first foal, a Rock of Gibraltar filly later named Sunstrike. No one was leading or holding the filly, quite different than how the same event would have occurred in this country.

I was fortunate enough to see the male I would put on top of my personal “best of the decade” list. Interestingly, the race came during the first few months of the decade and was never topped. On March 25, 2000, Dubai Millennium won the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) by an easy six lengths, a visibly impressive race by a visibly impressive horse.

Dubai Millennium (Seeking the Gold—Colorado Dancer, by Shareef Dancer) won nine of 10 starts by a combined 47 1/2 lengths. He won races during the Royal Ascot meeting at 3 (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Eng-I) and 4 (Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Eng-I), took the Jacques le Marois (Fr-I) at 3, and won the Dubai World Cup at 4. His only loss came in the Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) when it appeared the 1 1/2-mile distance did not suit him. He was unbeatable at 10 furlongs.

Sheikh Mohammed was desperate to win the World Cup as the new millennium dawned, and impressed by the colt’s work at David Yoder’s yard, he changed his named from Yaazer to Dubai Millennium. That he would actually win the race two years hence made for an incredible story.

Sadly, neither Sunline nor Dubai Millennium lived to see the end of the decade. Dubai Millennium covered mares just part of one season before he died in England of grass sickness, having been sick for some time and having endured several surgeries. Sunline produced four foals before she died of laminitis, having battled the hoof ailment for nine months.

Sunline and Dubai Millennium epitomize the highs and lows so associated with the Thoroughbred. For one writer they head a decade of memories.


Leave a Comment:


I never saw Sunline race, but I do have video of Dubai Millennium and he was fantastic.  The video of the World Cup still gives me chills!  

29 Dec 2009 5:30 PM

Consider that Dubai Millennium may be even more impressive in retrospect than he was at the beginning of this decade.

In 2009, it is commonplace for horses to at least make an attempt to prove themselves over two or more of our three surfaces.  In 2000 there was no "synthetic" middleground between the turf and dirt - horses crossing between one surface and the other was rare, and difficult at best.  

Dubai Millennium was top notch on both dirt and turf and clearly had all the makings of a top sire.  Getting a horse like Dubawi from just half a crop is quite an achievement.

29 Dec 2009 10:12 PM

Thanks for the info Dan.  Bloodhorse could use more pieces on young racehorses showing talent, not just the ghosts of the past.  Sunline and Dubai Millenium are stories I love, but they are not living horses that might stir excitement at the track and in the sport now.  The ghost of Willie Shoemaker says . . . "If Bloodhorse writes more about the horses currently running, they will come . . ."

Maybe you could hire the Australian writer who claims that American racing suffers because of our racing media that dehydrates the sport of any fun and excitement?

Take Control- I mean Vallenzeri - won today at a mile, meeting the Derby requirement of a two year old race under his belt.  That's a story I want to read about.  How many other hundreds of good candidates out there?  I suggest that racing will thrive riding on the backs of living horses, not just the best of the decade (although on the eve of 2010 your subject is timely, after Jan. 1st please breathe some life into Bloodhorse by running more stories about the horses actually racing, please)  

30 Dec 2009 8:07 PM

Thanks Dan for sharing Sunline's story as she was a gal whoms name I had heard but really knew very little about.   I have to agree with you on Dubai Millennium.  I remember getting a DVD of him as part of his breeding promo and I was in awe.  What a beautiful horse and an amazing mover.  

31 Dec 2009 11:33 AM

Hi Dan,

I knew nothing about Sunline until I read your article.  I had heard of Dubai Millenium due to the race in Dubai.  Such sad stories about their untimely deaths.  As you describe them and their race records, they certainly would be considered among the top thoroughbreds of the decade. It would be nice to feature more of the foreign Thoroughbreds and their bloodlines in the Blood-Horse.  Also, include videos of their races on the website. It would add more depth if we fans had a better point of reference of the international stars.

31 Dec 2009 3:45 PM

I'm thrilled that you have reminded us of these awe-inspiring champions!  I loved them both and wish they were still with us.  Thanks so much, Dan!

31 Dec 2009 9:57 PM

The irony of someone named Ghost of Barbaro chastising a writer for writing about horses of the decade instead of current horses is delicious. And by the way, check out the site a little closer, another writer was assigned to write about Vallenzeri.

01 Jan 2010 1:36 PM

I'm a half Aussie, half Kiwi, and it is great to see Sunline given international recognition. I loved her - to this day, she remains one of my favourite horses. For anyone who wants to see her in action, go to Youtube and watch the 2000 Cox Plate. Astonishing.

01 Jan 2010 6:44 PM

Sunline's two Cox Plate wins can be viewed here:

01 Jan 2010 8:05 PM
kelso fan

Thanks for the reminder about Sunline and Dubai Millenium - I think we sometimes forget about the magnificent champions racing in other parts of the world.  Another great in this decade of females was Makybe Diva - wouldn't it be wonderful to get some of these horses from Australia and the Far East to the US for the Breeders Cup!

01 Jan 2010 8:28 PM

Amazingly enough just two weeks ago Sunline's only two racing progeny entered in the same race in New Zealand, and quinelled it with a nose separating them! Here is the race replay, a very special result for one of the greatest ever mares  

01 Jan 2010 8:50 PM

On their game ... Dubai Millemnium, Ghostzapper, Candy Ride, and Invasor were better than any other horse of the last decade.

But like Secretariat ... an astute racing fan must use the preface "on their game".

These 4 horses are what young people now refer to as "sick!"

Great story!  I remember Sunline tried her hand in Dubai and faced thee world's best males.  She gave a good account of herself too.

02 Jan 2010 2:18 AM

Couldn't agree more with your choice of Dubai Millennium as horse of the decade. For me, he was the best I witnessed since Buckpasser in '66-'67. When one also factors in his pedigree (among the best ever), it could be said that Dubai Millennium's untimely death was among the most significant thoroughbred losses since the breed began. Since he left so few behind, most will soon forget him, so it is important that we now underline his greatness.  

02 Jan 2010 8:57 PM

I saw Sunline compete in her last 2 years of racing in Australia.She was

magnificent. Australia continues to put out these great race fillies...they let them mature.

03 Jan 2010 6:42 PM

Sunline was a magnificent mare, she was incredibly dominant in 2 editions of the Cox Plate, watch the videos above, they are great and she was awesome.

She ran a very gallant 3rd in the Dubai Duty Free (1700 metres) beaten only half a length by Jim & Tonic and Fairy King Prawn. Her trainer is adamant that she would have won if the jockey had have obeyed riding intructions.

Her magnificent win in the HK Mile at the International Meeting is my most treasured memory of the mighty mare that was taken all too soon.

Makybe Diva was the other Autralasian wonder mare of the OOs. Three Melbourne Cups plus three of our most presigious WFA events in the Cox Plate, Australian Cup and the BWW Tancred Stakes means she is our top prizemeony earner ever, $15 million approx.

We were blessed to see two of the greatest mares (or horses for that matter) in the history of Oz racing to race so recently.

04 Jan 2010 5:46 AM

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