Manner Lodge runs on Group 1 dreams

8 min read
From an accident-prone, rejected weanling by a substitute stallion to a Group 1 contender. The Runson journey has been a memorable one for Manner Lodge's Janet Gaist and Peter Harris.

Two months ago, breeders Janet Gaist and Peter Harris couldn't have dared to dream that their consistent but accident-prone open class sprinter Runson (Delzao) could compete in a Group 1.

But after a lifetime of defying the odds, the weanling sale reject who has caused himself injuries on more than a few occasions, will line-up in Saturday's G1 Crown Perth Winterbottom S. at Ascot.

At 6-years of age, Runson has hit a career-best patch of form, winning back-to-back races at Cranbourne and Moonee Valley - the latter in track record time - before running third in a Group 2 sprint over the Flemington carnival.

Runson's connections following his Moonee Valley win

For Gaist, who runs Manner Lodge which is located just outside of Rochester in northern Victoria with her partner Peter, the fact she is boarding a plane on Thursday to watch the horse she bred run in a Group 1 sprint, boggles the mind.

"We bred him ourselves, it’s a dream come true." - Breeder of Runsong, Janet Gaist

"He's a bodgy Delzao, that we didn’t pay for, we bred him ourselves, it’s a dream come true," she told TDN AusNZ. "People breed racehorses all their lives and how many get into a Group 1?"

The substitute stallion

The fact that Runson, a winner of nine of his 26 starts and $326,000 in prizemoney, even made the racetrack is somewhat of a miracle in itself.

In fact, he only exists because the stallion that Manner Lodge purchased, Muqbil (USA), died suddenly, and they were offered Delzao, a Group 2 winning racehorse whose time at Eliza Park Stud had not lived up to expectations.


"We ended up with Delzao on our farm because we had a stallion who died, who we'd bought out of the US. We had bought all mares with speed for Muqbil and Runs on Dreams (Last Tycoon {Ire}) happened to be one of them."

"Delzao never really got any mares who were speed mares, so it was a bit of a fluke that we ended up going to Delzao."

Harris had paid $4000 for Runs On Dreams at the August Thoroughbred Sale a couple of years' prior.

Not interested

Taking Runson to the 2013 Great Southern Weanling Sale, Gaist and Harris didn’t have great expectations. Their reserve was just $2000, but the colt showed about as much interest in potential buyers as they did in him.

"When we came to sell him, Delzao was not very popular." - Janet Gaist

Runson at the 2013 Great Southern Weanling Sale

"When we came to sell him, Delzao was not very popular. Robbie Laing told me one day, he's got 30 of them and none of them can run. We couldn’t sell him," she said.

"The other thing was, he wouldn’t even come out of his box to be inspected. He spent a lot of his time just lying about, I don’t mind that in a horse, it shows he's relaxed, but clearly the buyers weren't so keen."

"As we were leaving the ring, a bloke I knew was sitting next to me and he wrote down $1450 for him. He had a client in Mt Gambier that was interested. We'd already decided to keep him."

Even before he had got to the sales, the colt had suffered a setback, nearly puncturing his lung in a paddock accident.

Runson wasn't too popular at the Great Southern Sale

Making him a racehorse

But while he lacked a strong pedigree, and had a penchant for finding trouble, Gaist and Harris were committed to making him a racehorse.

"The thing with us is that we don’t care what they are by. Ok, he was by Delzao, but because we are small breeders, we treat our Delzaos the same as we would if we had a Fastnet Rock," she said.

"Because we are small breeders, we treat our Delzaos the same as we would if we had a Fastnet Rock," - Janet Gaist

"We decided to keep him and we sent him to get broken in and the breaker, Linc Sullivan, said he was the best horse he'd been on in five years."

"He wanted one of his mates to buy him and he offered me some stupid amount of money, but we said, no you can have half of him, and he didn't buy him and now he rings me every time Runson races."

Runson as a foal

The turning point for Runson came when Troy Corstens visited Manner Lodge and spotted him in the paddock.

"He saw him in the paddock and said make sure you do something with him and we sent him down there and he shocked Troy," she said.

A jumpout as a 2-year-old saw Runson finish close-up to subsequent G1 Thousand Guineas winner Stay With Me (Street Cry {Ire}) and Corstens, who trains with his father Leon, was confident he had a very good horse on his hands.

Trainer, Troy Corstens

"We then found he had a hairline fracture in his shoulder and he had to have five months off. Then he went back and won at Mornington, but then later needed knee surgeries," Gaist said.

"Only just recently, he nearly punctured an artery in his leg. He just seems to find himself in trouble."

Building an impressive record

Trouble and talent are often paired in racing and for all the bad news, there was also consistently strong performances, with five wins in his first 11 starts.

He looked to have then reached his mark before a couple of wins in benchmark races at Caulfield earlier this year indicated he might make it in open grade.

Heading into his spring campaign, the expectations were grounded for both trainer and owner.

"When we went to Cranbourne, our expectations were he would run third or fourth." - Jenny Gaist

"When we went to Cranbourne, our expectations were he would run third or fourth. We thought we were headed back to 1400m, but when he won we went off our nuts," Gaist said.

"Then he went to Moonee Valley and again, we thought second, third or fourth would be nice and he blew the doors off them."

Gaist attributes Runson's improvement to track rider Eddie Cassar's influence and when he performed so well down the Flemington straight, finishing less than a length from Osborne Bulls (Street Cry {Ire}), the Group 1 dream of the Winterbottom became a reality.

The end of the line

Back at Manner Lodge, Runs On Dreams, now 21, has just foaled a colt by Fighting Sun, and is now listed as retired.

"He's a really athletic colt," Gaist said of the new arrival. "He's magic. I rang up the boys at Sun Stud and told them I've got an absolute cracker."

Runs On Dreams, the dam of Runson has recently foaled an athletic colt by Fighting Sun

There is also a 2-year-old filly by Unencumbered which Gaist describes as an 'out and out sprinter' and an unraced 4-year-old by Elzaam called Runbro, who is currently in work with the Corstens.

"He's just been immature. He's just turned around now and is trialling next Friday," she said.

Changing pace

Runs On Dreams was one of six mares to foal at Manner Lodge this spring, a significant change from a decade ago when they served over 100 mares, including 30 of their own, and stood two stallions, Muqbil and Testafiable.

Gaist admits their ambitions were big, but they were probably naive trying to break into the stallion market.

"For small people like us to bring a stallion out of the US, we didn’t know how hard it was to play in this field," she said.

"Because we weren’t breeding fashionable horses, it made it really hard. We just couldn’t sell our horses." - Janet Gaist

Focussed on racing type over pedigree and precocity, they struggled to get cut through at the sales.

"Because we weren’t breeding fashionable horses, it made it really hard. We just couldn’t sell our horses, which meant we had to race all of them, which means a significant amount of money."

Every one of those horses ended up back at Manner Lodge. Taking pride of place on the farm is Danzylum (Danzero), the three-time Listed winner that until Runson's recent heroics, was clearly the best of the lot.

Runson too, will be welcomed back with open arms when his racing days are done.

"If you met the horse, you’d fall in love with him" Gaist said.

"He's got this amazing knack of just being a real dude."