In the world of sports, gender restrictions prevent women from competing against men for obvious reasons. One sport, however, features female competitors against their male counterparts often and the difference in performance ability disappears.
Thoroughbred horse racing routinely matches genders in competition and mares and fillies such as Makybe Diva and Black Caviar left little doubt regarding their ability to compete against the opposite sex. Before the calendar changed from the 1800s to the 1900s, fillies had won the Melbourne Cup twice. Another filly that did not need a man to hold the door for her was Sunline, our subject for this piece.
She raced 48 times distributed across six seasons at distances ranging from 1100 to 2040 metres, winning 32 times and placing 12 times. She won well over $11 million, a record for the time she ran until her retirement near the end of 2002.
Sunline was foaled in New Zealand on 29 September 1995 at the Pleasanton Stud operated by S.R. Archer and M.J. Martin. Her sire, Great Britain’s Dessert Sun, raced in England and the United States, winning or placing 16 times out of 23 starts, but never placed above Group 2. One of his progeny, Helsinge, was the dam of Black Caviar.
Sunline’s dam was Songline of New Zealand. Like the sire, Songline did not produce especially great results racing, but she did make 32 starts for a total of 18 wins and placings. Going back additional generations, a connection to Phar Lap is found.
Sunline’s owners and trainer deserve credit for the approach they took to racing her and the way they developed her to race for five seasons. They tried her only three times as a two-year-old, three wins in May and July of 1998, over distances of 1100 and 1200 metres. They then spelled her for about six weeks before she won a three-year-old handicap, and then moved up in distance to win her first Group 3 event, the Furious Stakes at Randwick. Larry Cassidy was aboard, as he was when Sunline won the Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes over 1500 metres at Rosehill, and was again two weeks later when Sunline won her first Group 1 race on 3 October 1998, taking the 1600 metre Flight Stakes at Randwick.
Cassidy rode her twice more before giving up his seat to Greg Childs, who steered her to a win in a Group 2 race at Flemington, Sunline’s third try in 1999, this one at 1600 metres, so Sunline was progressively expanding the distance. She next won at 2040 metres in a Group 3 event at Moonee Valley. Cassidy was back aboard again when Sunline won the Group 1 Doncaster Handicap at Randwick, the race many consider the toughest mile in Australian racing. She closed out her three-year-old campaign with a disappointing fifth place finish in the 2000 metre Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick. The tactic of moving Sunline back in quality as the distance at which she was tried increased was a case study in good management.
Her debut in the 1999-2000 season as a four-year-old featured a Group 2 win at 1400 metres in the Warwick Stakes. Two second and one fourth place finish followed before she won the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on 23 October 1999 with Childs holding the reins, as he would for the rest of her career. Again, she was moved down in distance and quality, where she won the Group 2 Breeders Stakes over 1400 metres. She next shipped to Hong Kong for her last race of 1999, the 2000 metre Group 1 Hong Kong Cup, where she ran a substandard race, finishing seventh.
Back to Australia in March of 2000, she ran four more times winning the Group 2 Apollo Stakes and the Group 1 Coolmore Classic, where she carried her record impose of 60 kg., before running second in her attempt to defend her Doncaster Handicap victory from the prior year. She closed out her four-year-old campaign with a Group 1 win in the All Aged Stakes at Randwick.
Now competing as a five-year-old, Sunline had perhaps her best year. She won the 1200 metre Group 1 Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley, followed by the Group 2 Memsie Stakes at Caulfield, Returning to Moonee, she won the Group 2 J. F. Feehan Stakes, another instance where she was moved up in distance, but remained at the same quality level. Moving up in distance yet again, she place second at 2000 metres in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington, where only Fairway got the better of her.
Next came five consecutive wins, beginning with the 28 October running of the Cox Plate, where she repeated her win from the previous year. This time through, she won the Hong Kong Mile that had eluded her the year before, and she remained unbeaten until 24 March 2001, when she was tried unsuccessfully in Dubai, where she ran third before concluding her five-year-old campaign with another third in the All Aged Stakes.
As a six-year-old, Sunline ran into formidable competition in the form of Northerly. She was beaten by that galloper in the J.F. Feehan Stakes, but more notably, Northerly prevented her from taking her third Cox Plate. She closed out the 2001-2002 season with four consecutive wins, all Group 1 races, including her second win in the Doncaster Handicap, where she beat Shogun Lodge whilst carrying 58 kg. The stewards had just previously given her 60 kg. again in the Coolmore Classic, but this time, she prevailed. She closed out that season on 6 April 2002 with her second win in the All Aged Stakes.
She ran just four times as a seven-year-old, winning the Mudgway Stakes first up. A third placing followed in the George Main Stakes. She finsished second to Lonhro in the Caulfield Stakes before having one final try at the Cox Plate, where Northerly again got the better of her.
She went back to New Zealand, where she produced two winners, Sunstrike in 2004 and Sun Ruler in 2005. Health issues forced her to be put down in 2009.
Sunline was named New Zealand Horse of the Year four times and Australian Horse of the Year three times. She was the first horse ever to be inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame whilst still competing. She was a member of the inaugural class of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, a class that included Phar Lap, Carbine, Kindergarten and Gloaming.