Wishful Thinker a true rags-to-riches story

6 min read
The Hong Kong-based sprinter Wishful Thinker (I Am Invincible) will be one of the outsiders in Saturday’s G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m) facing the likes of Blue Point (Ire) (Shamardal), former winner The Right Man (GB) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) and two-time Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint hero Stormy Liberal (USA) (Stormy Atlantic {USA}).

But that’s OK, for whatever his odds at 12.30am AEST early Sunday morning, they will most definitely pale in comparison to those one would have given Wishful Thinker to even be in the position to take in a race of this quality.

“He certainly came from humble beginnings,” said Queenslander Jonathan Davies, who bred the 5-year-old from the Barathea (Ire) mare Zebithea in the winter of 2013.

Davies acquired Zebithea, one of just two foals from her dam--a half-sister to a pair of Group 3 winners in New Zealand--for just $9,000 at the 2013 Inglis Easter Broodmare Sale. Zebithea was offered in foal to I Am Invincible, whose first crop of foals was soon to turn two at the time of Davies’s purchase.

Zebithea foaled a bay colt on October 29, 2013, on Davies’s small farm in Beaudesert, but this story takes a decidedly tragic turn for the worst not long after. Zebithea passed away about a month later from complications with colic, and if that weren’t bad enough, a foster mother was nowhere to be found.

“We were simply unable to find a mare of any variety, a surrogate mother of any breed." - Jonathan Davies

I Am Invincible

“We were simply unable to find a mare of any variety, a surrogate mother of any breed,” Davies said. “There were no Thoroughbred mares, no Standardbreds, no Clydesdales, nothing.”

Full-time nannies

For the next four months, Davies and his partner Sarah Wolski, with an assist from his parents, attended to the colt’s every last need. Twenty-four, seven. Equine parenthood 101.

“He was hand-raised from a bucket,” Davies said. “We were up all hours of the night feeding him out of the bucket, myself, my partner Sarah and my parents.”

Sure enough, the I Am Invincibles hit the ground running. Davies and his team surely would have been realistic in their expectations, as there were still plenty of hurdles yet to be encountered and overcome.

“He was a little behind the eight ball as a young horse, obviously, with the setback of losing his mother." - Jonathan Davies

“When the I Am Invincibles hit the track, we thought we might have something of value,” Davies said. “He was a little behind the eight ball as a young horse, obviously, with the setback of losing his mother. There is no substitution for mare’s milk--even though formulas nowadays are pretty good, there’s still no substitution for mare’s milk.

Jonathan Davies attended to the colt's every need

"We entered him for a foal sale and I thought at the very least that the sales preparation would give him a boost. But when we did the pre-sale X-rays, we decided to withdraw him because he had numerous issues, most of them maturity issues, and he was actually deemed a high-risk weanling on X-ray.”

Consigned to play the hand they had been dealt, Davies and team drew up a new game plan.

A new game plan

“With the help of our vet, we changed his diet and started him on various rounds of treatment,” he explained. “He had multiple OCDs in both of his stifles as a foal, but he never had any surgeries at any stage. They just seemed to resolve themselves with a change of diet and restricted exercise, some medications and supplements.

"We were lucky enough to get into the [Magic Millions Gold Coast] March yearling sale, but luckily by the time we got to the sale, his X-rays were crystal clean and he was now low risk.”

Wishful Thinker as a yearling

Sure enough, the colt began to flourish, although he almost became his own worst enemy come sales time.

“He handled the sales experience a treat. He was a very quiet, a well-natured horse, very workmanlike,” Davies said. “He never turned a hair, he was always a perfect gentleman. But the morning of the sale, he kicked the box wall and was quite lame.

“He handled the sales experience a treat." - Jonathan Davies

"A few buyers shied off him because of that because he was lame on the sale day, but luckily a few people were forgiving. By the time he went through the ring he was sound again. Woodside Park ended up buying him. They had actually come to the sale to buy some horses by their sire Written Tycoon, but this horse just caught their eye.”

The colt was prepared for the Inglis Ready 2 Race Sale the following October, but was ultimately led out unsold when bidding stalled out at $120,000.

“They put him through there and he was still a little bit immature, but they really liked him. They had a good opinion of him and they put a fair reserve on him ($150,000) and were happy to race him if he didn’t make that price,” said Davies.

Wishful Thinker during the Inglis Ready 2 Race breeze up

Hong Kong calling

Trained by Mick Price, the colt--then known as Katsuro--was a maiden winner in his 3-year-old debut at Ballarat and was competitive in a pair of Caufield handicaps before registering a second victory at Moonee Valley in June 2017. It was then that Hong Kong came calling. Turned over to Richard Gibson and given his current name, he showed promise with two victories in his first preparation, but has upped his game this season.

A troubled third in the G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy H. in January was followed by a slashing success at Happy Valley the next month. A 1 1/4-length win in a four-horse Class 1 March 10 was good enough to garner an Al Quoz invitation, where he will very much play the role of David versus a few Goliaths.

Davies, who currently serves Aquis Farm as its stud manager, would love nothing more than for Wishful Thinker to become the 100th stakes winner for his sire and join fellow Queenslander Buffering (Mossman) as a winner of the Al Quoz.

“The Hunter Valley is undeniably the horse capital of Australia, but the breeding industry in Queensland is really going from strength to strength,” said Davies. “We’ve had Golden Slipper winners come out of Queensland in the last several years, the likes of Capitalist, and Buffering, as mentioned.”

“I never thought he would rise to these heights." - Jonathan Davies

Davies will have a secondary rooting interest in the Al Quoz in the form of Aquis part-owned Brave Smash (Jpn) (Tosen Stardom {Jpn}), but he speaks about Wishful Thinker with understandable incredulity.

“I never thought he would rise to these heights,” Davies admits. “He’s a horse that just never stopped improving. To think of where he came from and what he was like early days and now to think he’s gone to Dubai for a Group 1 against some of the world’s top sprinters is simply mind-boggling.”