By Tony White
Astute Rosehill trainer Tim Martin's judgement was well and truly vindicated at Grafton yesterday when Stormhill scorched to a record-breaking win in the $175,000 XXXX Gold Grafton Cup (2400m).
The three-year-old emerged as a definite Caulfield and Melbourne cups contender with a brilliant and gutsy front-running display to win the Group Three showpiece of the July Racing Carnival. In doing so he smashed 1997 Cup winner Akwazoff's track and race record.
Stormhill covered the distance in 2:25.5.
It was a freakish performance.
Martin went out on a limb when Stormhill was offered for sale as a yearling at the Easter sales in Sydney, forking out $150,000 of his own money to secure the regally-bred Danehill colt.
Initially, Martin had trouble securing buyers for Stormhill, the colt eventually syndicated through Graham Orr and Paul Byrne to a group of nine owners.
Martin was in a similar position with champion sprinter Exceed And Excel, several studs refusing to take a 60 per cent interest in the Danehill colt owned by Nick Moraitis of Might And Power fame.
Exceed And Excel was syndicated to stud this year for $22 million.
Stormhill's defeat of Taree-trained Precise Timing and Dancing Daggers in the Grafton Cup was Martin's first major feature race win during the carnival, which he first attended back in 1991.
"I've always wanted to win the Ramornie, I still do," he said, "but there is no way I'll give this back.
"This is just beautiful. Today was no surprise to me. We set him for the Queensland Derby but I always had this race in the back of my mind.
"People have got to remember he's virtually a Class Three horse in a Grafton Cup, winning it showed he is a very good horse in the making. I don't want to put too big a rap on him. I'll let the horse take us there."
Martin didn't commit to a definite cups start ? 'that's a long way off' ? but quickly added.
"This horse has always shown ability and he's got the pedigree and conformation to go with it. He's a good, fast-running stayer. They win those types of races (cups)."
Last year another three-year-old, Pacific Dancer, won the Grafton Cup before winning the Geelong Cup and starting in last year's Melbourne Cup.
Winning jockey Chris Munce said Stormhill showed a lot of promise and could develop into a classy stayer.
"It's great to come back here (Grafton) and win my second cup," Munce said. "When he saw the other horse (Precise Timing) coming, he responded."
Munce, who rode at the Ramornie meeting on Wednesday, spent that night at his parents', Jim and Gail, Casino home.
Munce previously won the Grafton Cup aboard Count Scenario for Howard Norman in 1999.
Precise Timing's trainer, Ross Stitt, said the gelding would go for a short break before being set for the Port Macquarie Cup in September. Stitt was one of the first to congratulate Martin after Stormhill's win.
"Good on 'ya Tim, you bugger," Stitt said shaking Martin's hand.
"Sorry mate, but I did save on yours," Martin said.