Missile Stakes: Hard Empire wins at $101 to shoot down punters

It was fitting that Peter Miers, rider of infamous flag start 1984 Missile Stakes winner Plus Vite, was on track to watch another monumental upset in the feature weight-for-age sprint at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

Miers was one of the retired jockeys who were guests of the Australian Turf Club for National Jockeys Celebration Day and he would have been reminiscing about Plus Vite as he watched rank outsider Hard Empire score in the Group 2 $250,000 Missile Stakes (1200m).

Plus Vite was a 200/1 bolter trained by the late Bart Cummings and was racing for the first time when he won the Missile Stakes, run from a flag start after the barriers became bogged.

Miers returned to the winners enclosure on Plus Vite to what was reported at the time to be “one of the most hostile and prolonged demonstrations ever heard on a Sydney racetrack”.

But at Royal Randwick on Saturday, jockey Rachel King was greeted only by stony silence from the small crowd after she won on Hard Empire, the Queensland sprinter who started at $71 although $101 was freely available with most bookies on track.

King was understandably surprised by the result but trainer Toby Edmonds was not shocked by hard Empire’s boilover win.

“Hard Empire was a bit stiff in the Ramornie Handicap last start and has been going really well at home,’’ Edmonds said.

“We thought some of these good horses might not be quite wound up for this race so why not have a go.

“This horse has got good form, he has beaten Jonker up there (Queensland) and he has been a good, old sprinter for us.

“But it’s not like he turned his form around, he has been going super, and on his work on Tuesday morning, it was as good as I had seen him do.’’

Hard Empire, who Edmonds trains in partnership with his son Toby, scored by a half-length and relegated the Kris Lees-trained trio of Wandabaa ($26), Gem Song ($16) and Enchanted Heart ($21) to second, third and fourth respectively.

The TAB’s box trifecta on the Missile paid $22,348.50 and the first four paid $74,843.10.

Forbidden Love was sent out the $3.20 favourite but after appearing to have every chance in the run, she faded to finish sixth.

King described Hard Empire’s win as a “nice surprise”.

“He travelled super the whole way. They took the blinkers off him today and just being an older horse I think it just sparked him up a little bit,’’ King said.

“To be fair, Toby and Trent were confident he was in very good form. Not a lot went right for him last start and it was worth a throw at the stumps today and he has proved them right.

“He has got a good turn of foot. He’s done it a few times, if you look back through his form and his last couple of wins he has won like that.

“He hit a bit of a flat spot before the rise but when he got to the top of it, he was just off and gone and there was nothing stopping him. I couldn’t pull him up afterwards.”

Edmonds, who trains out of the Gold Coast, said he went to Randwick believing Hard Empire “could run a good race and if he ran into a place I’d be happy.’’

“But Rachel rode him very well and once he gets to the outside of horses he is very strong,’’ Edmonds said.

Spare a thought for Lees as he watched his sprinters fill the minor placings.

“They all ran well but to be beaten by a 100-1 pop … what can you do,’’ Lees said.

“The two mares, Wandabaa and Enchanted Heart, go online (for sale) now and they will have a new career at stud.

“Gem Song’s been up for a while so whether we back off and wait for races like The Hunter, I’ll see how he comes through it but he’s had a good preparation.”

Forbidden Love, the triple Group 1 winner, left her trainer Michael Freedman searching for excuses after her Missile flop.

“I haven’t come up with anything right at the moment,” Freedman said.

“Hughie (Bowman) thought she was a shade disappointing and I think everyone can see that.

“Until we get her home, have a look at her tomorrow and see how she pulls up, it’s all guess work at the moment.

“If I’m trying to come up with something on the day, there was a tearaway leader (Prime Candidate) and she was sitting hard on the pace, which was a fairly brutal speed, and where we had to be from that barrier.’’

Originally published as Missile Stakes: Hard Empire wins at $101 to shoot down punters