Tommy Berry: Memories of Chautauqua, the ‘Grey Flash’ who set Sha Tin alight

Horse Racing Chautauqua Tommy Berry
Horse Racing Tommy Berry

Leading Australian jockey TOMMY BERRY recalls Chautauqua, ‘The Thunder Down Under’ who added Hong Kong’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize to his G1 haul with a devastating victory at Sha Tin in 2016

The first things that come to mind when I think about Chautauqua are his quirkiness, the unusual way he raced and his unbelievable turn of foot. I think he has to be the most significant horse of my career so far.

I won on Winx and Designs On Rome comes close – as he was similar in that he could make two runs and still go again – but Chautauqua was something very unusual.

I’d only been riding for the Hawkes team for about a month when he came up from Melbourne to run in the T J Smith Stakes for the first time in 2015. I’d never seen him at the track or ridden work on him before that day. Even then he had that unusual get-back style.

I probably rode him a bit colder than other jockeys but when he won in such fine style I knew that if I could stay on him we were going to have a lot of fun for the next few years.

Plans to travel to Hong Kong in 2016 came on the radar within a week of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize being opened to visitors. We’d won another T J Smith from well back by then but the Chairman’s Sprint was very deep.

Lucky Bubbles was on a roll. The older Hong Kong stars like Aerovelocity, Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia were all there along with the Breeders’ Cup winner Mongolian Saturday and another good Aussie in Buffering, who’d just won the Al Quoz on Dubai World Cup night.

But we knew we had a special horse and I was there to enjoy the whole week, including watching Chautauqua do an exceptional piece of work on the Tuesday.

I remember standing on the inside fence near the 200-metre mark with his trainer Michael Hawkes as he charged past and we just turned and smiled. We didn’t need to look at the clock. 

He was always a bold-going horse who put everything into his gallops and he left a few people in awe that morning. Michael looked at me with a big grin and said “we’re on” but it didn’t go so smoothly on the day itself.

Shoe problem put G1 dream in jeopardy

Aussie rider Brenton Avdulla was at Sha Tin with the Hawkes team and when I gave him the saddle he told me Chautauqua had already lost a shoe. That was a big worry as I knew how highly strung he was. Then once we left the jockeys’ room I saw him with the farrier – he’d kicked his shoe off again and was starting to sweat up.

It didn’t get any better once I mounted him. He was revved up going out with the pony and I remember going to the gates thinking he couldn’t possibly win. He was always on his toes at home but at Sha Tin he seemed past the point of coming back.

It didn’t matter what I did to calm him down. He wanted to do everything at a hundred mph. I’ve never been on a horse that sweated as much before a race and when that happens they normally cook themselves and leave their race behind.

He always took time to muster speed but that day he came out slower than ever and, maybe because he’d been re-shod, he didn’t stretch out great for the first 100m. I knew they were running along hard but it was only after about 400m that he started to feel comfortable in his action and in the swing of things.

Horse Racing Chautauqua
The Thunder Down Under: Chautauqua in a morning workout at Sha Tin. Photo: HKJC

I started to get more confident passing halfway as he picked up the bridle but that didn’t last as Derek Leung on Divine Boy came wide and took us from being part of the field to alone in the centre.

That really put my bloke off his stride and it felt like the race had got away but Chautauqua built up the revs and started to let fly.

Storming finish settles things in a Flash

The official result shows he was still last passing the 400m mark but the leaders had run 22.15s round the bend and that was a big help. I felt him balance up, just like in the past, and I could really feel the noise rolling down from the stands as he cut them down one by one on the outside to collar Lucky Bubbles close home.

The feeling passing the line was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced and the replay has certainly had some airtime in our house. Darren Flindell developed a great affinity with calling Chautauqua in his Group 1s in Australia but for Brett Davis to put his own twist on it by calling him ‘The Thunder Down Under’ was special and that’s a call that will always be remembered.

It was a huge day for Hong Kong racing, as Maurice was sensational in the Champions Mile straight after Chautauqua’s win, and it was a massive night, too.

There were a lot of Aussies around, so I went for dinner with my family and then we caught up with some of the Hawkes team and ended up in a corner bar in Lan Kwai Fong. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what time we pulled up – but I do know it was light by the time we jumped in the taxi!

Chautauqua only won once after his Hong Kong trip but I do believe that third T J Smith win in 2017 was the best race of his career. That was the only time he looked like he couldn’t win at any stage. What he did to get up in the final 200m was unreal and I think people will watch it back for years and still not believe he did it.

Horse Racing Chautauqua
Tommy Berry salutes as Chautauqua masters Lucky Bubbles in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize. Photo: HKJC

‘Sharky’ still a showstopper

Everyone knows Chautauqua had major stalls problems at the end but even his final public appearance – when he stayed in the barriers in a trial during racing at Moonee Valley – was memorable.

I never really knew how much people loved him until then but the crowd cheered him up and down as he trotted in front of the stands. I teared up a bit as I knew it was going to be the last time I would ride him on a racecourse and it was great that people recognised him as hero rather than villain.

Chautauqua is learning a new career as a show horse near Sydney now. They call him ‘Sharky’ these days – he looks like a Great White on legs with his coat getting whiter – and he’s doing a great job and loving life.

I rode him out on the farm before he went to his new place and it’s great to see that highly-strung horses like him can have a new life after racing.

Horses with his qualities are extremely rare. The only similar one I’ve ridden is Pakistan Star, who was brilliant when he wanted to be and didn’t want to know if he had a bee in his bonnet.

You can’t have the brilliance without temperament with that type of horse but our trip to Hong Kong with Chautauqua was unforgettable.

To do it for the Hawkes team, who are like family to me, was very special; to have everything go wrong that could go wrong before the race and still get the job done was amazing; and to have him become the first Australian horse to win a Group 1 in Hong Kong was the best of all; it felt like winning a gold medal at the Olympics for your country, that’s the only way to describe it.

• Reproduced by permission of the Hong Kong Jockey Club

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