School fees behind million-dollar bookie sting
IT'S the spring of 2005, and David Hayes is only recently back in Australia when a prime opportunity to publicise his return arose through a flying filly named after lyrics from a huge 1978 single.
I Got Chills, the first line from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John's single from Grease titled You're The One That I Want, was the name given to a General Nediym filly trained by Hayes.
Hayes had just had a successful decade training in Hong Kong and required a headline act to stamp his return. In I Got Chills he found the perfect vehicle for the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes at Flemington on October 1, 2005.
A trio of Melbourne businessmen - Rob Dummett, Peter Lord and Stephen Pirrie - became the proud owners of a bay filly after sending their mare Tidfish to speed sire General Nediym.
With bloodstock agent Mark Pilkington advising them, the filly was entered for the 2005 Melbourne Premier Yearling Sales.
She failed a scope, causing the sale to be cancelled.
Pilkington was advised the filly was suffering from pharyngitis, the horse version of a sore throat. So he asked for her to be sent back to her farm for a month and then scoped again. She passed with flying colours.
"I liked her pedigree, she looked fast and she was going to be cheap. She had a good hind quarter, big bum. If you looked at her from behind, it's like a half-cut apple," Pilkington said of a potential flying machine who cost $45,000.
Once the sale went through, she entered Hayes' stable. A name needed to be found, and when Newton-John bought into her for 10 per cent at a charity auction, some bright spark suggested I Got Chills, which were Travolta's opening words as Danny Zuko to Newton-John's Sandy Olsson in the song You're the One That I Want, from 1978 disco movie Grease.
"I got chills. They're multiplying, And I'm losing control, 'Cause the power you're supplying, It's electrifying."
And electrifying is what I Got Chills was from the moment she began fast work at Lindsay Park.
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Hayes wasn't in the habit of working, or racing, two-year-olds with older horses. But there was a precedent from Lindsay Park in 1976 when a two-year-old named Desirable had won the Lightning Stakes in a tick over 56 seconds, carrying just 43kg with Sydney apprentice Malcolm Johnston in the saddle.
In I Got Chills, Hayes quickly recognised he had a filly who could match strides with older horses, so he worked her with star sprinter-miler Barely A Moment.
"We had a very good group of two-year-olds that year, horses such as Nadeem, who won the Blue Diamond, Golden Slipper winner Miss Finland, and Anamato," he said. "I Got Chills clearly had the measure of those two-year-olds, so we gave her a little test against Barely A Moment and she was too fast for him. I thought, 'Gee, I have something special here'.
"Then Nadeem thrashed the two-year-olds in a trial and I Got Chills trialled against some older horses and could have won the trial.
"From the first time we let I Got Chills go, we knew she was a machine."
Once he knew he had the right horse to pull off a plunge, Hayes set to work on applying the finishing touches.
In Nadeem, a handsome son of boom sire Redoute's Choice, he had the perfect foil.
Nadeem already had the public profile while I Got Chills was largely unknown outside of a small group of trusted people in the stable.
"We put Craig Williams on Nadeem and a low-profile jockey in Rhys McLeod on I Got Chills. That set the market and we then backed her until our noses bled," Hayes said.
"We backed her interstate, but probably a little too sensationally for my liking.
"She went from 18s to 10s to 8s to 4s. I was hoping to average closer to 18-1 and we averaged 10-1.
"Have I saddled up a greater racecourse certainty? Maybe not, although there were other unknown horses in the race.
"But I thought in Nadeem I had the greatest danger and he just couldn't go with her.
"I was pulled in before the stewards and they asked me, 'Do you know why and who backed her so heavily?' I said, 'Yes I do, it was me. … I caused it as I've got four children going to private school and I need the school fees'."
More than $1 million was won in the plunge as I Got Chills came down the outside to score by four lengths.
Hayes took his filly to the Valley on Cox Plate day and she won by seven lengths in faster time than Virage De Fortune ran in winning the Group 1 Moir Stakes.
It was all systems go for the Slipper in five months.
"The Golden Slipper was her main plan,'' Hayes said.
"She would have won the Blue Diamond easing down from Nadeem, who beat Miss Finland in that race.
"Then Miss Finland won the Golden Slipper, but I Got Chills was better for speed. We haven't had a faster one as a two-year-old."
Sadly, I Got Chills was found to be lame, with a chipped bone in a knee, the morning after her Valley romp. The stable tried to get her back, but in two starts she was a shadow of her former self.
Naturally, bookmakers were very wary of unraced Hayes two-year-olds in the years afterwards, and while the trainer doesn't place himself in the big betting stables in the country, he doesn't rule out another sting.
"It was very exciting pulling it off and if you have the right horse, you can do it, but it's definitely harder today because all horses have to trial and all trials are televised,'' he said. "I'm not a real plunge trainer, but when a rare opportunity comes along, I wouldn't put it past me."