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Sire Desert Sun
Dam Songline
Grandsire Green Desert (USA)
Damsire Western Symphony
Gender Mare
Foaled 1995
Country New Zealand
Color Bay
Breeder Susan Archer and Michael Martin
Owner Trevor McKee, Thayne Green, Helen Lusty
Trainer Trevor McKee
Record 48: 32-9-3
Earnings AU$11,351,607
Sunline is a thoroughbred racehorse out of Songline by Desert Sun. She was born around 1995 in New Zealand, and was bred by Susan Archer and Michael Martin.
Major wins
Flight Stakes (1998)
Cox Plate (1999 & 2000)
Doncaster Handicap (1999 & 2002)
All Aged Stakes (2000 & 2002)
Coolmore Classic (2000 & 2002)
Waikato Sprint (2001 & 2002)
Hong Kong Mile (2000)
Manikato Stakes (2000)
New Zealand Horse of the Year (1999-2002)
Australian Middle Distance Champion (2000, 2001)
Australian Horse of the Year (2000, 2001, 2002)
Timeform rating: 129
Australian Racing Hall of Fame
New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame (2006)
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)
Last updated on May 1, 2009

Sunline (1995–2009) was a New Zealand Thoroughbred racehorse who was the world's highest earning female racehorse of her time, competing on 48 occasions for 32 wins, 9 seconds and 3 thirds to earn $11,351,607. She won races in three different countries, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. She won successive W.S. Cox Plates (2,040m), the richest weight for age race in Australia. She also twice won the toughest mile race in Australia, the Doncaster Handicap, once as a three-year-old and then again as a six-year-old. She was named New Zealand Horse of the Year four times and is also the only horse ever to win the Australian Horse of the Year championship three times.

She recorded a remarkable 13 wins from her 25 starts in Group One races (a winning strike-rate of 52%), while Makybe Diva, with whom she is often compared, won seven of her 14 (a winning strike-rate of 50%). Greg Childs, the jockey who rode Sunline in 33 of her races, said she "deserved to bracketed with the Diva as the best racemares of the modern era. Makybe Diva was an outstanding stayer and Sunline was a champion middle distance horse." [1]

Sunline led in most of her races, and sometimes settled just behind the leader. She was renowned for her tremendous constitution, and for being difficult to get past. Sunline was an inaugural inductee into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, along with the other turf immortals Carbine, Gloaming, Kindergarten and Phar Lap.


Early days

Sunline was born at Pleasanton Stud near Cambridge, New Zealand on 29 September 1995. Her sire was the handy Group Two winning English sire, Desert Sun, a grandson of leading sire Danzig, and her dam was the former capable mare Songline by Western Symphony. Intriguingly, Sunline was one of a very small number of horses to hail from the same matrilineal family as Phar Lap, tracing all the way back to his dam, Entreaty. A big strong plain bay with no white markings, Sunline was leased by her breeders Susan Archer and Michael Martin to Takanini trainer Trevor McKee.

Racing record

In partnership with Thayne Green and Helen Lusty, McKee raced the filly three times for as many wins as a two-year-old.

After a first-up win at three, in August 1998, McKee took Sunline across the Tasman Sea to Australia for the first of an eventual nine visits. Sunline did not disappoint. Racing in the second, third, and fourth legs of Sydney's Princess Series, for three-year-old fillies, she powered through the wet on her Australian debut in the Furious Stakes, won the Tea Rose Stakes in fast time on a dry track two weeks later, and rounded out her campaign with a resounding win in the Flight Stakes - her first of 13 Group One wins. Sunline was widely considered a superstar in the making, but was spelled, rather than pressing onto the feature races in Melbourne, and never clashed with the reigning Horse of the Year, Might And Power, who was also a powerful front runner.

Sunline resumed in February 1999, and made it eight wins from as many starts first-up in New Zealand, but was narrowly beaten by Rose O'War, second-up, in Melbourne's Angus Armanasco Stakes. The race was not run to suit, with a long shot taking off before the home turn, which may have exposed Sunline's lack of fitness on the day, as she was jumping from 1,200 to 1,600 metres. At her next start, Sunline defeated Rose O'War in the Kewney Stakes, and, in her first look at the Cox Plate course, thrashed the VRC Oaks (and subsequent AJC Oaks) winner Grand Archway by four-and-a-half lengths in the Moonee Valley Oaks (2,040 metres).

Sunline then ventured north to Sydney to tackle the Doncaster Handicap (1,600 metres). Despite taking on older horses for the first time, and starting from a wide gate, Sunline was sent out one of the shortest-priced favourites in the race's long history, at 10/9 (approximately $2.10). Sunline went straight to the front and never looked back to score by one-and-three-quarter lengths. She become just the fourth filly to win in the modern history of the race.

A fortnight later, Sunline was again a hot favourite in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2,000 metres), and led the field over the rise (near the top of the straight), but faded badly to finished second-last of the six runners. The reason remains a matter of debate among race fans. Some took the defeat as a sign that Sunline could not stay 2,000 metres in open company. Her record over the distance was excellent at Moonee Valley (three wins from five starts) but less so at other, larger tracks (one from five). Some put the failure down to Sunline being tired after five previous runs this campaign. In any case, the run provided an inglorious end to an otherwise outstanding three-year-old season and the filly was sent home to New Zealand for a spell.

Four year old

Unlike so many three-year-old champions, Sunline made the transition to weight-for-age racing as four-year-old. First-up, she scored a strong win over the multiple Group One winner Tie The Knot in the Warwick Stakes, and was installed ante-post favourite for the $3 million WS Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. At her next two starts, Trevor McKee then tried to get the mare settle in her races, but the tactics backfired as she was narrowly defeated in the Theo Marks Quality (by Adam) and the George Main Stakes (by Shogun Lodge). Her final lead-up to the Cox Plate was a close but slightly disappointing fourth under 56.5 kilograms in the Epsom Handicap.

Undaunted, the McKees pressed on. Speculation in the media that Sunline would be vulnerable in the Cox Plate - in open company over 2,040 metres - proved unfounded. She was brilliant. Leading, and taking control before the home turn, Sunline easily held off a late charge from Tie The Knot, with Caulfield Cup winner Sky Heights in third place. Sunline became only the fifth mare to win the race since its inception in 1922, and the second of three mares to have won the race since Dane Ripper in 1997 (the other being Makybe Diva in 2005).

After a brief let-up, Sunline came back in distance and easily defeated other mares in the Breeders Stakes (1,400 metres), in New Zealand, in preparation for the International Cup (2,000 metres) in Hong Kong. Sunline led, and her jockey, Greg Childs, explained that she travelled well to the home turn, but, in an echo of the autumn's Queen Elizabeth Stakes, tired badly in the home straight and finished seventh. She then returned home to New Zealand for a spell.

Back in Sydney for the autumn of 2000, Sunline powered through the rain-affected going to win the Apollo Stakes (1,400 metres) first-up. Remarkably, in her entire career, she was never beaten over the distance. She then carried the maximum topweight (60 kilograms) to win the first of two Coolmore Classics - at the time, Australia's only Group One race for fillies and mares (three years and over). At her next start, she carried 57.5 kilograms in the Doncaster Handicap and was narrowly defeated by the lightly-weighted three-year-old Over. Meeting again a week later, in the All-Aged Stakes, Sunline relished the return to weight for age conditions - easily accounting for Georgie Boy, with Over in third place, to make it three wins from four starts this campaign.

Five year old

Sunline started her five-year-old campaign in Melbourne, against the sprinters - streaking away in the Manikato Stakes (1,200 metres) at Moonee Valley. She made it three in a row, this campaign, with wins in the Memsie (1,400 metres) and Feehan Stakes (1,600 metres), but was narrowly beaten by Fairway in the Turnbull Stakes (2,000 metres). A natural frontrunner, like Sunline, Fairway refused to hand up the lead to Sunline, who was forced to chase, and held her at bay down the straight. It was Sunline's third defeat over the distance from as many starts away from Moonee Valley, but it was a great improvement on her previous defeats, especially since Fairway was a multiple Group One-winning three-year-old the previous season.

Sunline fans regard her next run as one of her greatest. On the last Saturday of October, Sunline took control in the rain-affected going to win the Cox Plate by seven lengths from Caulfield Cup winner Diatribe, with Referral in third place. Perhaps unsuited in the conditions, fancied runners Tie The Knot (2nd in 1999), Sky Heights (3rd in 1999), and Shogun Lodge (conqueror of Sunline in the George Main Stakes) were beaten a combined margin of more than 100 lengths. In winning, Sunline became the first Australasian horse to pass $6 million in career earnings.

International success

Returning to New Zealand after the Cox Plate, the mare's owners revealed that Sunline had been part of a bidding war from five different countries, including the powerful Godolphin stables in the United Arab Emirates. All bids were rejected, and the mare was prepared for another trip to the rich, pre-Christmas international meeting in Hong Kong. In her final lead-up, Sunline raced away with the Breeders Stakes at Pukekohe. In Hong Kong, she led all the way to win the International Mile (1,600 metres), narrowly holding off local icon Fairy King Prawn, with five lengths back to Adam, from Australia, in third place.

While the victory in Hong Kong neither confirmed nor denied the oft-made claim of her fans that Sunline was world's best racemare, her Cox Plate victory saw the Australian and New Zealand Horse of the Year receive an invitation to compete in the world's richest raceday, the Dubai World Cup meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

In early February, Sunline recorded her eighth win in New Zealand when she was too good for seven other Group One winners in the Waikato Sprint. The victory kept alive Sunline's wonderful record in her home country, which at career end would stand at 10 wins from as many starts. Sunline's next step came with a hit-and-run trip to Sydney for the Apollo Stakes, at Warwick Farm. For the second year in a row, the race was run on a rain-affected track, and Sunline accounted for the veteran mudlark Celestial Choir, with Tie The Knot unplaced.

In Dubai, Sunline showed her customary pace to lead the field in the Duty Free (1,800 metres), but her breakaway tactics were not aided by a home straight of 600 metres. Jim And Tonic (a French globetrotter) and Fairy King Prawn loomed up to Sunline with 200 metres to run, and, after a tough run, she did well to hold on for third. Sunline returned to Australia to contest the All-Aged Stakes against a sub-standard field, on a wet track at Randwick. Starting a hot favourite, Sunline was inexplicably - although narrowly - beaten by El Mirada and Final Fantasy, and immediately spelled.

Third Cox Plate attempt

Now six, Sunline returned in the new season with a close second to Piavonic in the Manikato Stakes, won the Memsie Stakes second-up, for the second year in a row, and won the Turnbull Stakes at her fourth run back. In the third and fifth runs of her campaign, however, she was beaten by the West Australian newcomer Northerly - in the Feehan Stakes and the Cox Plate (where a third victory would have equalled the record set by Kingston Town from 1980 to 1982). In both races, Sunline led to the home turn, but Northerly surged to the front in the straight. The result of the Feehan Stakes was close but clear-cut, while the Cox Plate featured three controversial protests: Sunline (second) against first (Northerly), and third (Viscount) against first and second. The protests arose from heavy contact between the three horses in the straight, with Northerly on the outside, Sunline closest to the rails, and Viscount in between. All three protests were eventually dismissed on twin grounds that stewards were unable to determine which rider(s) was at fault or satisfy themselves that the interference had affected the result.

Indian Summer

Following her spring defeats by Northerly, and approaching the autumn of her six-year-old term, many in her fan base were now questioning whether the great mare was past her best, but she raced four times in the autumn of 2002 for as many wins - all in Group One races. Indeed, Sunline underlined her extraordinary consistency because each of her nine starts for the season came in races she had also contested in the last two seasons, and returned six wins from nine starts (a winning strike-rate of 67%), compared to eight from 11 in the 2000-2001 season (73%), and six from 11 in the 1999-2000 season (55%).

She opened her campaign with a blistering win by four lengths in Waikato Sprint at Te Rapa (beating Ethereal, who was out-paced in her first run since the Melbourne Cup). She then won the Coolmore Classic for a second time - again carrying the race's maximum handicap of 60 kilograms - and became the first horse in Australasia to win AUD$9 million in prize money.

At her next start, she carried the number one saddlecloth to victory in Doncaster Handicap. With 58 kilos, she defeated Shogun Lodge (who also carried 58 kilos) and Defier (who carried just 51.5 kilos but was trapped wide). She closed her campaign with a six length victory in the weight-for age All-Aged Stakes. By winning these races, she became the first horse in Australasia to pass the $11 million mark in career earnings and with 13 Group One wins, she drew to within a solitary win of Kingston Town's record of 14 Group One races.

So good did some judges consider this campaign that it propelled her to a third Australian Horse of the Year award - the only horse to do so - from Northerly (who had beaten her in the spring but then failed to add to his Group One tally in the autumn) and Ethereal (who had won the Caulfield Cup, the Melbourne Cup, and the BMW Stakes - all run at 2,400 metres or above - but was well-beaten by Northerly and Sunline in several shorter races).

Final campaign

In the spring, Sunline notched her fifth consecutive win when taking the Mudgway Stakes first-up in New Zealand, and returned to Sydney for the George Main Stakes. Sunline led but was run down by Defier and Excellerator, with Lonhro a luckless fourth. Her next start produced a classic contest with Lonhro in the Caulfield Stakes. Sunline led, and, to a huge roar from the crowd, skipped away by more than three lengths at the top of the straight, but Lonhro loomed up strongly close to home to score in race record time, with an incredible margin of six lengths back to the third horse.

Unfortunately, this clash may have flattened Sunline and Lonhro, who appeared to race below their best when fourth and sixth, respectively, behind Northerly in the Cox Plate. As planned, Sunline was retired after this, her fourth and final Cox Plate, and her record of two wins, a second, and a fourth is one of the best in the history of the race. She retired with 27 stakes wins, more than any other horse in Australasian History.


Sunline went into retirement at the McKee property near Auckland. On 1 May 2009 she was put down after suffering from the debilitating hoof disease laminitis for nine months.[2] A memorial is to be established at Ellerslie Racecourse where she was buried.[3]

Sunline left four progeny. At the time of her death two of her progeny had already won races, Sun Ruler (2005 colt by Zabeel) and Sunstrike (2004 filly by Rock of Gibraltar). She also left two unraced fillies, Sunalta (2006 by Rock of Gibraltar) and Sunsett (2007 by Hussonet).[4]

Sun Ruler and Sun Strike, met for the first time in a race on 19 December 2009 at Te Rapa with Sun Ruler defeating his older half-sister Sunstrike, by a nose.[5]

Race Record

Group 1 Wins

Year Race Track Distance
1998 AJC Flight Stakes Randwick



1999 AJC Doncaster Handicap Randwick



1999 MVRC W.S.Cox Plate Moonee Valley



G.J. Childs
2000 STC Coolmore Classic Rosehill



G.J. Childs
2000 AJC All Aged Stakes Randwick



2000 MVRC Manikato Stakes Moonee Valley



2000 MVRC W.S.Cox Plate Moonee Valley



2000 HKJC Hong Kong Mile Sha Tin



2001 WaRC Waikato Sprint Te Rapa



2002 WaRC Waikato Sprint Te Rapa



2002 STC Coolmore Classic Rosehill



2002 AJC Doncaster Handicap Randwick



2002 AJC All Aged Stakes Randwick




See also

Millionaire Racehorses in Australia



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