"HE'S more than a horse to me."
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The racing career for one of Bathurst's favourite pacing stars has come to a close after trainer Mat Rue announced on Monday evening that he'd made the decision to retire stable star Fouroeight.
The son of Rock N Roll Heaven finishes his distinguished career with $312,195 in prizemoney and three victories at Group level, the most memorable being his stunning upset victory in the 2021 Group 2 Shirley Turnbull Memorial.
In the winter of 2017 Fouroeight's career looked in serious jeopardy after the gelding suffered a pelvis fracture which would keep him away from the racetrack for 18 months.
But 'Phil' showed his loveable tenacity upon his racing return in December of 2018, easily romping home to victory on his home track.
From that point on not only was Fouroeight back racing at the level he did before his injury - he surpassed it.
For Fouroeight, whose racing name honours the player number of Australian test cricketer Phil Hughes, his comeback from such a lengthy spell made him a popular horse among the Bathurst Paceway regulars and he's been a regular highlight machine for owner Ben Hagney.
Rue had been planning to retire his star pacer at some stage this winter but Fouroeight's recent battle against colitis brought that date forward.
With Fouroeight now medically in the clear Rue can breathe easier and take the time to reflect on a horse who has helped take his training career to special places.
"It's not just about his ability - he does know he's a bit better than everyone else and he's got a bit of personality - but he's done so much for me. He's raced at a great level for such a long time now," he said.
"There's not a lot of time that goes by where he's not competing in a good race and he never just competes, he's always right up there with them. He's raced around Group level his whole career."
Nothing encompasses Fouroeight's sit-sprint prowess than his Shirley Turnbull Memorial success.
Rue had previously entered his runner in the Boxing Day classic on two previous occasions, running fifth (2018) and third (2020), and punters didn't have confidence that he could take down a classy field at attempt number three, sending him out as a $61 shot.
But not only did Fouroeight swing around the field on the final turn and race home for victory, he made the rest of the field look second rate in a 20 metre demolition job.
Rue was able to spend the entire final 100m saluting a vocal and jubilant crowd.
"The Shirley Turnbull sticks out above them all. That was just his day," Rue said.
"With the way he went that day it would have taken any horse in the country to be at their best to beat him.
"Obviously the Gold Chalice was another big win for him and it was a big thrill when he won the Mount Eden Sprint as a four-year-old.
"He also broke the Bathurst track record with a 1:52 [in November 2020] and you don't see many horses doing times like that around here.
"He had his own racing style. He preferred to be sat up, which probably cost him a few races over the years, but it probably helped with his longevity too."
The pelvis injury was a blow of big proportions for Fouroeight, who at that point had already notched up eight victories from 28 starts.
It was a long road back to full fitness for Rue's star but the wait was certainly worthwhile.
"He didn't race at all as a five-year-old after fracturing his pelvis and breaking his tailbone. The best part was that he was able to make a full recover and he came back just as good, if not better, from that. There were never any ongoing issues," Rue said.
"We gave him more than enough time off and we brought him back very slowly. That first up win after such a long time away was probably one of his most memorable wins. He sat outside the leader and went 1:54 first up after 18 months. That was huge."
Fouroeight's racing career began on March 11, 2015, and it ended recently on June 18 while staying with Jack Trainor's Sydney stable.
His final career statistics were 107 starts for 28 wins and 38 minor placings.
While there's a shred of disappointment not to be able to race Phil at Bathurst Paceway one more time Rue is just happy at this stage to see his gelding alive and well.
"We were about to retire him anyway. Jack was probably going to give him one more start before I brought him home. It would have been nice to give him one more start for me at home but once he got sick that didn't matter at all, it was just about making sure he lived," he said.
"The vets were ringing me non-stop with updates and you know that things can go south quickly with it. Even when they start coming good it doesn't mean that they're out of the woods.
"We're very lucky to still have him. There was never any thoughts of racing him again after that.
"Before he got sick the toughest thing for him was that no matter what race you'd enter him in he'd have to go up against top horses, because of his grade. He could still go with them but he wasn't able to race on a consistent enough basis. It was tough on him going to Menangle each week."
His racing career may be over but that doesn't mean Fouroeight is ready to leave the competitive spotlight just yet.
Rue said it will exciting to see Phil enjoy life in a new arena.
"He's off having a month over a Little Wych to make sure he doesn't go backwards. Fran [Ovenstone] has been keeping a really good eye on him out there," he said.
"Judy Frisby had arranged a couple of months ago for a young girl near Orange to come out and have a look at him. She's keen on taking him as a show horse, so at this stage that looks like being his future.
"I can't wait to watch him in action. It will be great to see him all done up."
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