SARS and how Choisir made history

Sixteen years ago, Australian history was made on British soil. In 2020, we have the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is a good time to reflect on how a virus known as SARS was to blame for the whole adventure. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), as many have noted, is a coronavirus, of a similar type to COVID-19. But how did SARS become the reason for an Australian horse to travel to England? In April 2003, the Singapore Turf Club announced that their international meeting, including the Gr1 Krisflyer Sprint, would be cancelled because of the SARS outbreak in the region.

Photo: Choisir at Coolmore Stud (from their website)

This resulted in a change of plans for the Australian sprinter, Choisir, as noted in this article. A Listed winner on debut as a 2YO, Choisir was a good sort of juvenile without being the best. He won three races at 2, and was placed in all three Gr1 Sydney 2YO races. At 3, he looked like being just another solid stakes horse with six starts in group company without a win, although he did run third in the Gr1 Caulfield Guineas over a mile. Brought back in trip, he won the Gr2 Emirates Classic and then finally the big one, the Gr1 Lightning Stakes over five furlongs against the older horses. A typical colt, he mixed his form in his next three starts, and looking at his race record, it makes sense that his trainer, Paul Perry, might chase the Krisflyer Sprint as a chance to get an international Gr1 on his resume.

When the race was cancelled, an ambitious plan was hatched to take Choisir to Royal Ascot instead. The number of Australian horses who’d ended up in England could be counted on one hand – only the likes of Strawberry Road, Crisp, and a few hardy others had made the trip. Certainly none had won at Royal Ascot.

The English punters thought nothing much of Choisir either. Not only had he traveled across the world, but his last couple of races in Australia were only middling efforts for seventh and sixth. As an Australian born 3YO, and a Gr1 winner, he had to carry two sets of penalty weights – one for being the equivalent of a northern hemisphere 4YO and one for his earlier victory at the highest level. Everyone thought it was too much of an ask for the horse. Punters sent him out at 25/1 in the King’s Stand Stakes, but Choisir was to prove his worth that day. He won easily by three lengths in win rated one of the best in the race’s history to become Australia’s first winner at Royal Ascot.

Not to rest on his laurels, Choisir backed up into the Gr1 Golden Jubilee, and again the punters scoffed. Horses needed two weeks between runs. Racing twice in four days was unheard of. Impossible. But they did keep him safe in the betting, sending him out at 13/2 (second favourite), just in case. Choisir won again to become the first ever horse to win both the King’s Stand and the Golden Jubilee, and only the second ever to win twice at Royal Ascot (after Stanerra won the Prince of Wales and the Hardwicke in 1983).

The $50,000 yearling purchase was now worth mega-millions, with a stud deal worth a rumoured $25million competed a few days before Choisir ran in England’s July Cup, where he finished a brave second behind Oasis Dream. Choisir still stands at Coolmore Stud in Ireland and Australia where he has sired over a thousand winners, and nearly a hundred stakes winners. His son, Starspangledbanner followed in his footsteps, winning the Golden Jubilee and the July Cup (but didn’t run in the King’s Stand Stakes), and as Coolmore’s website states, Choisir is a consistently top class stallion.

Choisir began a new trend – Australian sprinters heading to Royal Ascot, and since 2003, Australian winners include Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast, Starspangledbanner, Black Caviar, and Merchant Navy. In Racetrack Royalty, Shannon trains Biographical, a fictional horse who heads to Royal Ascot to attempt the same incredible feat of Choisir.

Racetrack Royalty
Note: Blurb in first person, book in third person
One fast horse, and a whirlwind romance set among the glamour of Royal Ascot.
Shannon Bassett
It’s a long way from Merindah Park, Australia, to Royal Ascot—but that’s where I’ve found myself. The international stud farm that bought my horse, Biographical, want him to race and as his trainer, they need me here. I’m not the top hat and penguin suit type, and the media here don’t get my horse at all—unlike the beautiful woman reading the newspaper over my shoulder on the train today. I’m going home soon so I shouldn’t fall for Ananya, but she understands me as well as horses … and she’s sexy as hell …
Ananya Rahman
According to my middle-class, hard-working parents, I have the world’s weirdest hobby. I love doing pedigree analysis on racehorses, and I spend much of my hard-earned cash every year on clothes for Royal Ascot. Still, I didn’t mean to lecture this cute Aussie about his own horse on the train today—or to be pulled into his fancy world of horse breeders. I’m a London girl and he’s from the other side of the world … but we both forget that when we kiss. What happens when the races are over?

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