Final farewell to Takeover Target
NOT since the 1970s has such an enormous crowd packed Coffs Harbour racecourse for a non-TAB meeting.
But with the great Takeover Target and devoted best mate Joe Janiak receiving a civic reception on Saturday, the public responded in droves and crammed ten-deep around the mounting yard as Archie, the equine superstar with the bullseye combed onto his hindquarters, was led into their presence.
Or was it they who were in his presence?
With the familiar white blaze and golden coat glowing, the regal entry was the signal for Archie to play up to his captive audience with an hour-long performance which held them spellbound.
It began with a slow walk around the yard.
Without restraint the horse stopped every now and then to lift his head and gaze imperiously at the ever-increasing crowd, overwhelmingly made up of young mums and dads who brought lots and lots of children to the party.
Sent on to course proper for an exhibition gallop, master of ceremonies Rod Fuller asked for acclamation as the horse approached the winning post “...as Archie likes the applause ...” and right on cue as the cheering began, the horse pricked his ears and tried to break into a full gallop.
“He’s something special,” jockey Steve Traecey said after jumping from the saddle.
“It’s only taken me 39 years to get onto a Group One winner and I want to thank everybody for the thrill.”
Then, the speeches began and mayor Keith Rhoades puts everything in perspective when he spoke of the love affair the Australian public share with horse and trainer.
“There’s a relationship between this man, this horse, this city, this nation and the world,” he said.
“In all my travels, a lot of mayoral colleagues always talk after a win and we’re talking nine Group One wins attributed to this horse.
“When we started to discuss months ago about recognition, we decided to give him the keys to the city ... but how do you give keys to a horse?
“You can’t give him ‘the freedom of the city’ as it wouldn’t be safe having Takeover Target running down Harbour Drive but what we have here is a key in the form of a carrot cake.”
This was the signal for more crowd-pleasing antics from Archie who’s known for his love of the orange-coloured vegetable.
But when Joe invited him to eat, he took one sniff and turned his muzzle up in disgust.
Suddenly realising the problem, Joe licked off the icing – sending ripples of laughter through the assembled witnesses – and Archie began crunching happily away on his favourite treat.
Moments later and without prompting, Archie did something amazing by dragging the trainer to the fence so he could put his head right in among the crowd for pats on the face and much nose-stroking.
Still revelling in the attention, the champion smothered Janiak’s face in kisses which were joyfully returned.
In the crowd, camera flashes kept going off and many were seen with tears of excitement streaming down their cheeks.
Club director Merv Mercer was gobsmacked. “Look at Takeover, he’s just lapping it up,” he whispered.
“I’ve never seen anything like this on a racetrack before.”
And then it was over and the champion was led out of the spotlight, back to his stall.
“Amazing, simply amazing,” was the expression on many lips.