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Family first, Caulfield Cup later

6 min read
Youngstar (High Chaparral {Ire}) represents not only an entire town in Saturday's Caulfield Cup, but as one of only three Australian-bred horses, the best hopes of a nation.

On a day when the first horse they ever bred, Youngstar (High Chaparral {Ire}), starts favourite as one of only three Australian-bred runners in the G1 Stella Artois Caulfield Cup, Jack and Karen Sheather will be 620km away at their eldest daughter's wedding.

Youngstar's quest to win the Caulfield Cup - while the Sheathers remain in their hometown of Young for their daughter Megan's nuptials - is just the latest chapter in the remarkable tale of the Chris Waller trained mare who looks Australia's best chance to repel the international assault on the major spring handicaps.

For Jack and Karen, their kids have always taken priority and it wasn't until their children had grown up that Jack felt free to indulge his love for thoroughbreds.

"As soon as we got the kids out of the way, we thought 'well bugger it, we’ll have a bit of a go'." - Jack Sheather on finally indulging his love of thoroughbreds

"I've always wanted to do it. We came from working class families, Karen and myself, we didn’t have any real start in life. We had the kids and we were just hellbent on giving them a decent education. That takes money," he told TDN AusNZ.

"As soon as we got the kids out of the way, we thought 'well bugger it, we’ll have a bit of a go'."

That 'bit of a go', saw Jack head to the 2014 Sydney Broodmare and Weanling Sale with his good mate John North from Bowness Stud.

"We were sitting there, and John said, 'have you bought anything yet'. I had my hand up a couple of times but wasn't having much luck," Jack said.

"The mare (Starspangled {Ire}) came up for sale, and there was an issue with the sale. John had a lot to do with Coolmore and the staff over the years and they asked him if he was interested and he said 'I'll take her', and he paid $30,000."

"It was going through my head, I’d like to take her for $30,000. And John said 'Would you like her?' and I couldn’t shake his hand quick enough."

North said he was happy to help Sheather out in buying Starspangled, who was in foal to High Chaparral at the time.

"He was a good friend, and he was always keen to get a hold of a mare, and he always wanted a Danehill mare. I said, 'well we’ve got this one'. We’ve got plenty of mares, we don’t need any more."

Starspangled was in foal to High Chaparral when bought by Jack Sheather

A special foal

A few months later, Starspangled foaled a filly at North's Bowness Stud and the experienced horseman knew straight away she was something pretty special.

"She was always a good-looking foal," North said.

"Right from day one, Chris Waller always rated her and we always rated her. She was as nice a yearling as you could prep at Melbourne Premier. $200,000 for a High Chaparral was an enormous price, which is a reflection on the quality of the animal."

"She was always a good-looking foal." - Bowness Stud's John North

Oliver Koolman bought the filly at the 2016 Melbourne Premier Sale - she was the second most expensive High Chaparral sold there - and Inglis deputy chairman Arthur Inglis and his wife Charlotte took a share, along with a few others, including the Sheathers.

Youngstar as a yearling

Fast forward two and a half years and the working-class couple from Young are on the ride of a lifetime, as Youngstar, a G1 Queensland Oaks winner, starts favourite in one of Australia's great races, the Caulfield Cup.

"We couldn’t have done any of this without John (North) and his wife Helen, they have done so much for Karen and myself," Jack said.

Town gets around their star

North says the entire town of Young, from which the mare takes her name, is also along for the ride.

"The whole town is following her. Jack and Karen, who own the mare, they are wonderful citizens, great people and everyone is so thrilled for them," he said.

The influence of Bowness Stud in the resurgence of interest in thoroughbreds in the town of just over 7000 people can't be overstated.

The NSW country town of Young

Multiple Group 1 winner Trapeze Artist (Snitzel) was bred and raised at Bowness, while the likes of Ike's Dream (King of Kings {Ire}) and more recently Don’t Give A Damn (Bon Hoffa), also hail from North's farm outside of the town.

"I always thought Young could produce good thoroughbreds, because we’ve always been good at producing standardbreds," Jack Sheather said.

"The thoroughbreds in the past few years have really kicked on in this area."

The Aussie battler

A lot has been made in recent years about the lack of locally-bred horses in the main spring staying handicaps. In Saturday's Caulfield Cup, there are just three Australian-bred horses, while three are bred in New Zealand and the other 14 of the 20-horse field (including emergencies) are bred in Japan, Europe or the USA.

"We just don’t breed these horses in Australia any more with the focus on breeding for speed," North said. "That seems to be the whole focus, rather than get something which can perform in our best Cups without having to go overseas to get it."

"We just don’t breed these horses in Australia any more with the focus on breeding for speed." - John North

Youngstar is by an imported Irish stallion out of an imported Irish mare but having been born in Australia, she is firmly in the 'Aussie battler' category' according to the Sheathers.

North is suitably impressed with how she has prepared for her big targets this spring,

"I think she's a good a home-bred horse as you could produce, even going forward into the Melbourne Cup," he said.

The first Tuesday looms

The Melbourne Cup is also on the mind of the Sheathers after getting through their big day this Saturday.

"Hopefully, it all goes good. Give away one daughter and claim a Caulfield Cup." - Jack Sheather

"The ceremony is going to be at 3:30 and then there are quite a few TV screens around the area. Hopefully, it all goes good. Give away one daughter and claim a Caulfield Cup," Jack said.

"Tell you what would be even better, a Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double!"

Like most of his generation, the Melbourne Cup was the race that captured Jack's imagination as a kid and to have a major player in the famous race would be a dream come true.

"I've always loved racing for as long as I can remember, right back to school. I had an uncle who was a jockey in Sydney. He strapped (1959 Cup winner) Macdougal (NZ) (Marco Polo {FR})," Jack said.

"People who have asked me what my claim to fame is, and I tell them I rode a Melbourne Cup winner, because he threw me up on Macdougal as a kid."

Come Saturday at 4:40pm, father-of-the-bride Jack may have a whole new claim to fame.