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March 16, 2023

Legendary Sydney trainer Les Bridge has won his fair share of big races in a career spanning 60 years. Les reflects on his success 40 years ago when he won the iconic Golden Slipper with Sir Dapper ridden by his good friend Ron Quinton.

By Ray Thomas

LES Bridge was watching intently as his unraced two-year-old went out to the barriers for his debut at world-famous Royal Randwick racecourse.

Another trainer, Jack Denham, came over to Bridge and asked: “Is this colt of yours as good as they say he is?’’

“We are about to find out,’’ Bridge replied.

The colt’s name was Sir Dapper. He was in a field of 18, blew the start in a 1000m race, was last going over the crossing and still got up to win.

“Sir Dapper was showing us a lot at trackwork and I had one of the biggest bets I’ve ever had on a horse,’’ Bridge said.

“Everything seemed to go wrong in the race but he charged through to win. I knew then he was something special.’’

Sir Dapper was by champion sprinter and sire Vain out of Sikri, and Bridge purchased the colt for $30,000 as a yearling.

“I had always wanted to buy a horse by Vain, who was probably the greatest sprinter we have ever seen,’’ Bridge said.

“The shine had gone off Vain a little when I bought Sir Dapper.

“But I’ve never trained a horse with a better temperament than Sir Dapper. He was the most gentle, good-natured colt I’ve ever had anything to do with.’’

On the 40th anniversary of Sir Dapper’s 1983 Golden Slipper win, Bridge enjoyed reminiscing about the first champion he had through his stables.

Sir Dapper reeled off four successive wins, including the Skyline Stakes, and was early favourite for the Golden Slipper when the colt suffered a shock defeat, beaten by Daybreak Lover in the Todman Stakes.

Daybreak Lover was an outstanding sprinter and trained on to win two Stradbroke Handicaps but there is no doubt Sir Dapper should have won the Todman Stakes after being badly held up in the straight.

After a discussion between Bridge and owner Peter Horwitz, it was decided to approach Ron Quinton, Sydney’s champion jockey at the time, to replace Maurice Logue on Sir Dapper for the Golden Slipper.

It was a tough decision and might have seemed harsh on Logue at the time but every jockey goes through a similar situation through their careers and Sir Dapper was already being talked about as a potential commercial stallion prospect, so a Golden Slipper win was crucial.

Quinton received a call from Bridge the day after the Todman with the offer to ride Sir Dapper in the Golden Slipper.

“When Sir Dapper got beaten in the Todman, there were only five runners and Maurice got pocketed from barrier one which is going to happen sometimes,’’ Quinton said.

“I rode Making Time for Neville Begg in that race and he ran third. He was going to be my Golden Slipper ride until Les called.

“When Les asked me to ride Sir Dapper I told him I would have to check with Neville first.

“So, I rang Neville and asked ‘what do you think?’ and I’ll never forget his reply.

“Neville just said I would be mad if I didn’t ride Sir Dapper because the colt is almost unbeatable.’’

Quinton accepted the offer and had his first ride on Sir Dapper on the Tuesday before the Golden

The Rosehill Gardens course proper was heavy that morning and Sir Dapper struggled through the going.

“I thought he worked pretty ordinary,’’ Quinton said. “But I wasn’t worried as I knew what a good horse he was.’’

Despite Sir Dapper’s last start defeat and his indifferent final track gallop, Bridge was also convinced Sir Dapper would win the Golden Slipper.

“I was that confident with Sir Dapper,’’ Bridge said. “The only time I’ve been as confident in all the years since was with Classique Legend in The Everest (2020).

“I didn’t think Classique Legend could get beaten in The Everest and I felt the same with Sir Dapper. I just couldn’t see him getting beaten.

“I told Ron Quinton I know this sounds funny as you have never been on him in a race but in the first 100m just let him get balanced, don’t drive him out of the gates, then the colt will do the rest.

“Ron was perfect for the horse as that was how he used to ride. He jumped out and sat on him, they cruised along and he ‘killed’ them. He was just too good for them.’’

Quinton gave Sir Dapper the run of the race and said the colt was always travelling like the winner.

“We were in the first six in the run,’’ he said. “We were going to win a long way out. He was a very good horse.’’

Sir Dapper sprinted clear of Been There and Love A Show to win the Golden Slipper in what was then a race record of 1m 9.9s, breaking Luskin Star’s 1977 record of 1m 10s.

Bridge’s colt had convincingly won the world’s richest race for two-year-olds and secured his future as a stallion prospect.

Sir Dapper gave Bridge his first Group 1 winner but the trainer’s over-riding emotion immediately after the race was one of relief.

“There was a lot of pressure training a high profile colt like Sir Dapper but the pressure never worried me,’’ Bridge said.

“It was more about trying to win that first Group 1 race. I had trained a number of Group 2 winners and had so many near misses in Group 1 races you start to think if it will ever happen.

“But when he won, it was mainly a relief. I knew what was at stake as I knew they wanted to sell him to stud.’’

Sir Dapper was spelled after his Golden Slipper win and returned as a three-year-old for what would have been his last season of racing.

Bridge admitted if he had his way Sir Dapper would never have raced beyond 1600m as the colt was such a brilliant sprinter.

“If I had my way he would have stayed in sprint races because he would have been unbeatable,’’ he said.

“But in the spring, the horse kept winning as we went up in trip. He was that good.’’

Sir Dapper resumed with wins in the San Domenico Stakes and Up And Coming Stakes before he was given his chance in the Sydney spring triple crown of the Peter Pan Stakes (1500m), Gloaming Stakes (1900m) and Spring Champion Stakes (2100m).

The only race where Sir Dapper was ever challenged was the Gloaming Stakes on a heavy track but the colt still found a way to win.

The Spring Champion Stakes was run at Warwick Farm that year over 2100m. Both Bridge and Quinton felt Sir Dapper was a stamina risk so they hatched a bold plan.

“I told Les I will put Sir Dapper to ‘sleep’ early, he was such a beautiful horse to ride he would settle anywhere in the field,’’ Quinton said.

“I just felt he would be too good for them, he was a class above.’’

Bridge could see the irony – a record-breaking Golden Slipper winner ridden at the back of the field in a staying race!

“Sir Dapper was last going out of the straight the first time,’’ Bridge said.

“It was a long way for the horse but to his credit, Ron said he would put him to ‘sleep’ and he did. He just went around them and out-sprinted them from the turn.’’

Bridge maintains Sir Dapper should have won the Caulfield Guineas at his next start instead of running second to Beechcraft before the colt was spelled after finishing fifth in Strawberry Road’s Cox Plate, the only unplaced run of his career.

“Sir Dapper was only beaten half head in the Caulfield Guineas but if I had set him for that race he would have walked in,’’ Bridge said. “He had run in all those races in Sydney through the spring and had to back up a week after the Spring Champion.’’

When Sir Dapper returned for his final race campaign in autumn, it featured three memorable clashes with another champion, the flashy grey mare Emancipation.

It was first blood to Sir Dapper as he defeated Emancipation in the Expressway Stakes before they went their separate ways until later in autumn.

Sir Dapper reeled off wins in the Canterbury Stakes and Hobartville Stakes while Emancipation won the Apollo Stakes, Chipping Norton Stakes and Coolmore Classic before they clashed again in the George Ryder Stakes.

Bridge’s colt was sent out the odds-on favourite and might have been unlucky as he closed fast on Emancipation late to miss by a half neck.

The champions met again in the All Aged Stakes which was to be Sir Dapper’s final start. Again he was sent out as the odds-on favourite and again it was the same result. Emancipation won by nearly a length.

Quinton was riding Emancipation and Mick Dittman partnered Sir Dapper in those memorable clashes during the 1984 Sydney Autumn Carnival.

“As it turned out, I only got to ride Sir Dapper in seven races for six wins and a second in the Caulfield Guineas,’’ Quinton said.

“Although Emancipation did beat Sir Dapper twice that autumn, don’t worry he was an outstanding horse.

“I think if he had raced on as a four-year-old they would not have beaten him again.’’

Bridge said Sir Dapper had let down into a strong and powerful horse and the trainer agrees he would have been even better if he raced on as a four-year-old.

In total, Sir Dapper had 18 starts for 13 wins and four seconds.

“From the day he started racing to the day he retired it was 17 months,’’ Bridge said.

“He was a different kind of horse to what we have today, he was so tough. He was an idol at the time, he was a terrific horse.’’


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