Occasionally a horse arrives on the scene during the spring and sets the entire racing industry alight. That horse in 1973 was Taj Rossi.
In 1972, Bart Cummings bid a then record $18,000 for a bay colt by Matrice out of a mare named Dark Queen; the colt turned out to be Taj Rossi. This was Bart’s only purchase at the sales, and he bought the colt simply on spec and would worry about finding owners later such was his desire to secure the colt.
Taj Rossi raced as a two-year-old and he was probably just ok. He won his last two starts as a two-year-old, before being spelled in preparation for his spring three-year-old season. In late August, the colt was beaten at his first start for the preparation. The track was very heavy this day, but there was more than one punter who decided that the bay colt had not ‘come on’ from his moderately successful two-year-old season. Bart then set the colt second up for the 1200m Ascot Vale Stakes. This race is now known as the Coolmore and it is run on Derby Day as a Group One race. In 1973, it was run and won at the start of the spring, but it was still a major sprint race.
It was September 8 1973 and what Taj Rossi did on this day and over the next 11 weeks is the stuff of absolute legends. The colt won the Ascot Vale as a rank outsider, which was not surprising considering how poor he was first up. He won by two lengths in an effortless display in a then race record from two very good performers.
Two weeks later, in what appears to have been a ‘fitness run’ Taj Rossi was entered in an open handicap by Bart. The colt was given 61.5kg such was the strength of his 1200m win two weeks earlier. This race was 1600m and despite the weight, Taj Rossi was sent out the odds on favourite, again, such was the strength of his Ascot Vale win. And the punters were not disappointed, with Taj Rossi winning nicely.
One week after this race, Taj Rossi won the very rich Moonee Valley Stakes as the even money favourite. This race was on 29 September and was run over 1600m.
Two weeks after that on 13 October Taj Rossi was sent out favourite in the Caulfield Guineas. Just before the start, the colt, ridden by Roy Higgins, managed to hit his head on the uprights on the starting gates. By the time Higgins noticed that the colt was dazed and confused, the gates sprung back, and the favourite was left standing and not knowing what was going on. Higgins quickly got Taj Rossi’s mind back on the job, but the damage was done and the colt was unsighted in the run. Well unsighted until the final furlong where he set the turf on fire with a dashing display to rattle home for 4th beaten less than a length. He was an absolute certainty beaten.
Two weeks after the Caulfield Guineas, Taj Rossi won the Cox Plate at 7-1. He won by a head and beat a very strong field in the process. The runner up in the race had won the Caulfield Cup the previous week. This was perhaps the 3rd running of the Cox Plate when the race was actually considered a WFA Classic, so the field was extremely strong and Taj Rossi handled them nicely. He had now won the Ascot Vale over 1200m, a handicap over 1600m, the Moonee Valley Stakes and now the 2040 Cox Plate.
The next Saturday, Taj Rossi was saddled up and sent out the 11-2 favourite in the VRC Derby over 2500m. Remember that this horse had won a sprint race to start his preparation. Also, it has to be pointed out that only very few three-year-olds have ever won the Cox Plate then backed up and won the Derby. Savabeel was the last to try and he failed. But Taj Rossi certainly did not fail. He won and won nicely but one has to wonder how he got out to 11-2 ($6.50). The Derby win made it four now Group One wins and he really should have won the Guineas!
One week after the Derby win, Taj Rossi was sent out the 9-2 favourite in the George Adams Handicap. This race is now known as the Emirates Stakes. Taj Rossi won this race as easily as you will ever see with one of the greatest finishing bursts ever seen at Flemington. It has been demonstrated over the years, that it is relatively common for gun horses to keep winning if they are either stepping up in distance or racing regularly at the same distance. It is much harder to win at a certain distance, then win 7 days later at a distance that is less than the previous week. Taj Rossi won the Derby over 2500m, then the week later won the Emirates over 1600m. This has to have been his greatest ever win. But he was not done!
The week later, Bart sent the colt out to Sandown to win the Sandown Guineas. And why not! Remarkably, Taj Rossi started as the even money favourite, but he really should have been $1.10. This win at Sandown made it seven wins from eight starts from 8 September – 17 November. Five of these races are now Group One races, two are Group Three races and One is now Group Two. Had of Taj Rossi won these seven races last year instead of in 1973, he would have banked $4.3 million for his connections. In 1973 he managed to grab just $175,000. Even with inflation, this is just $1.5 million. The prize money for racing has certainly grown!
Taj Rossi had a virus during the autumn of his three-year-old season and he never again reached the great heights of this 11 week period during 1973. The colt went to stud in America, but was sent home after there was very little interest in sending mares to the Aussie champ. He sire 20 horses in America, and 16 of them won!
Good luck and stay tuned.