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Former jockeys reflect on the great Chief De Beers

Fri 24 May 2024

By Jordan Gerrans

Still all these years on, those closest to the great Chief De Beers are not exactly sure why he had such a love affair with the Doomben track.

As is the case every winter, the memories of the champion known as ‘The Chief’ come rolling back this week specifically when the race named in his honour is held at the track that he dominated at.

The Listed Chief De Beers will be contested over 1100 metres this Saturday as a support race to the feature Group 1 Doomben Cup.

Chief De Beers’ career record at Doomben – and every other track he raced at, in fact – is still truly remarkable all these decades on.

He will forever be remembered as the ‘King of Doomben’, where he claimed all 20 of his career wins.

The son of Hula Chief did not score at any other track he ever raced at – he was a Doomben specialist.

Around 25 years since his last start, two of ‘the Chief’s’ regular partners on race day have reminisced on his astounding career and tried to explain just why he relished Doomben.

Multiple Group 1-winning jockey Shane Scriven rode Chief De Beers on six occasions on race day as well as being involved in his early education and trial process.

Scriven holds the rare title of not actually riding the champion galloper at Doomben and therefore never winning a race on him.

As a combination they finished second at Caulfield and Eagle Farm.

The retired hoop puts the Chief and Doomben connection down to a ‘coincidence’.

“Why he couldn’t win at other tracks is a mystery,” Scriven said.

“He was good enough to win at other tracks but why he didn’t – I do not know.

“I rode him at Moonee Valley in a high class race and thought that would suit him and he couldn’t win there.

“He just loved Doomben and it is a little bit too much of a record to say it was a coincidence but I think I have to say it was a coincidence.”

While Scriven could never taste glory on the famed galloper, Alan Russell was a key cog in his rise to glory.

Russell rode him a dozen times at the races as well as also being his partner at track work of a morning.

From those 12 race day rides, Russell won on him on eight occasions at Doomben.

Russell is long retired from the saddle and now works for leading Brisbane trainer Chris Munce at his Eagle Farm stables.

Russell does not have the ‘silver bullet’ as to why he was a Doomben legend but he has a few thoughts.

“He appreciated the smaller home straight at Doomben,” Russell said.

“He loved the sting out of the ground as well and Doomben’s track had a little more give in often.

“They are the main factors, but I cannot really put my finger on one thing why he liked Doomben so much.”

Curiously, Russell never rode Chief De Beers across the road at Eagle Farm.

While he did not ride the popular horse on the wider Eagle Farm surface, the 47-year-old Russell says he was good enough and should have won a few races at the other Brisbane venue when he looks back on it all.

Russell thinks he was just hurt by bad luck and sticky gates on a few occasions at Eagle Farm.

While ‘the Chief’s’ curious Doomben record is what many will recall about his career, he was far more than just an odd statistic – he was an elite level animal.

He won the Group 1 Doomben 10,000 in 1995 and 1998, as well as 10 other black-type races at the course.

He was twice placed in Group 1 races at Eagle Farm, and also placed at Flemington, Caulfield, Moonee Valley and the Gold Coast, but Doomben remained the only track where he tasted success.

The Doomben Hall of Fame inductee was retired in 1999, drawing curtains on a career that yielded 51 starts for 20 wins, 17 placings and more than $1.5 million in prize money.

It was legendary jockey Mick Dittman who was the pilot in the majority of his elite-level victories with Russell his rider in his early days.

“He just had an amazing turn of foot,” Russell said.

“He could race on the speed – or anywhere for that matter – but he had a really electric turn of foot.

“You could start him up from a bad barrier and then drop your hands on him and he would come back underneath you and just relax.

“When it was time to go you would just push the button and he would just take off – that is what set him apart from a lot of the other horses. They do not come along often, horses like him.”

‘The Chief’ raced from early 1994 until his final event in the Doomben 10,000 of 1999.

In those days, there were not many gallopers who had the popularity of the Doomben specialist who was trained by Bill Calder.

He had a true cult following.

“He had a really good following – he was so popular,” Russell said.

“I don’t know if it was because he was good to the punters or his name but whenever you would hit the front on him at Doomben – you could hear the crowd, they were always behind him.

“He won more often than not which was a reason why they loved him so much.

“I realized later in my career that horses like him do not come around too often, I was fortunate to be able to get on him and ride him.”

Chief De Beers retired in May of 1999 and his days as a racehorse are only half the tale of the famed galloper.

He joined the Queensland Mounted Police and served as a ceremonial escort at a number of high-profile events, including the Royal Queensland Show opening and the appointment of the Queensland Governor – later serving as the Governor’s designated police horse.

The Chief was also regularly engaged in a number of searches for missing persons as well as offenders.

Scriven recalls attending a match at Lang Park where he interacted with his former race day partner while he was on the job.

Russell also spent time with him in retirement, as well.  

Scriven says a role with the Queensland Mounted Police made complete sense as he was a horse that had presence about him throughout his career.

He was later presented with a prestigious Blue Cross Medal for his service to the community by the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation (AWAMO) in conjunction with the Blue Cross Fund (UK).

The rare and prestigious honour dates back to the 1900s and is bestowed upon animals in service to acknowledge their loyalty serving alongside their human comrades.

After a decade in the force, he was retired in 2012 and lived out his days at the famous Living Legends paddock in Melbourne.

He eventually passed away at the age of 28 in July of 2020.

“If he was a mate of yours then you would think he was just a good bloke,” Scriven said.

“He was one horses that whatever you put in front of him, he would succeed at.”

The Chief De Beers will be raced for $160,000 on Saturday and comes up as race six on the program.