“I had a couple of horses at Bart’s, So You Think and Saintly, they were pretty good, Viewed was a good horse, but Hartnell is up there with him.
“He’s like the godfather of Godolphin, mate. He’s been terrific, everyone’s enjoyed having him here and it’s sad he’s getting close to having his last start, but he can’t go around forever.”
Racing and Bloodstock manager Jason Walsh says the nine-year-old gelding epitomises everything that Godolphin is about, “being bred in the northern hemisphere, a global brand, he’s come down here and raced at the elite level for us for six years.”
“He’s dependable, he’s obviously durable,” Walsh says.
“He’s been the captain of this stable for six years; he’s like when Hawthorn look to Luke Hodge, when the All Blacks look to Richie McCaw, when the Patriots look to Tom Brady, we look to Hartnell in the same way.
He’s like the godfather of Godolphin, mate.
“Saturday will be a really emotional day for that reason but we get great comfort out of knowing that with Reg, he and a lot of horses like him end up in great homes.”
The quietly spoken and humble Fleming is arguably Australia’s greatest trainer that never had the “head” trainer’s title. For James Cummings, he’s an invaluable asset among a team of horsemen and women who make the Godolphin operation succeed.
“Reg and I together, we were able to really invigorate Precedence at a late stage of his staying career,” Cummings recalls.
“We won a Moonee Valley Cup with the horse and a Queen Elizabeth Stakes with the horse after missing out on the Melbourne Cup balloting bonus.
“You think to yourself, what does that take? What sort of sensitivities and detail and intimate knowledge and passion does that take?
“I know the level required and we’re pouring it all into this horse for his ultimate race start.”
However, Cummings can only do so much as captain of the blue army.
“I’m a small part to play in it, really, I just gently steer the ship and make sure it’s going in the direction I want it to go, but the guys are hands on with the horses all the time,” he says.
“I’m constantly on the phone talking about how he’s feeling, how his gait is, how his muscles are, how he’s responding to the training, what his appetite is like, each and every day twice a day, checking his temperatures.
“They’re providing me with the rider feedback, riders on him every day telling us how he feels. As a horse’s preparation ebbs and flows, all that information is critical.
“Whether it’s Julie [Hussey] who straps him, Sean [Keogh] who rides the horse and takes him to the races and saddles him, Reg, Geoff Foley who’s the barn foreman here, anybody else who’s enjoyed the privilege of sitting on his back … Mark [Haneybell], Travvy [Whitaker] and Paul Reid, [all of whom] know the horse so intimately, they provide me with all the detail I need to do our best to have the horse at his top.
“He’s absolutely gleaming going into the Mackinnon and those critical pieces of feedback are what’s going to help us focus on having the horse at his best.”
By Authorized out of Debonnaire, the 2011 foal was named after Norman Hartnell, a “debonnaire” dressmaker who was “authorized” in the 1940s and ’50s to design dresses for the Queen Mother and her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.
Hartnell began his career in the UK, breaking his maiden by four lengths and winning his first stakes race as a three-year-old before joining the first Godolphin shipment of international horses sent to Australia in November 2014.
His group 1 wins include The BMW (2015), Turnbull Stakes (2016), C F Orr Stakes (2018) and a track record win in the 2018 Epsom Handicap, and he also placed second in the 2016 Cox Plate behind Winx before running third in that year’s Melbourne Cup.
Beyond Saturday, Hartnell will leave his Flemington stables and start his career as a show horse. Godolphin will retain ownership in Hartnell, who becomes their Lifetime Care program’s third flagbearer alongside Hauraki and It’s Somewhat. Fleming will be his custodian.
One can only imagine if Hartnell’s record on the race track is anything to go by, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum might be receiving some show awards from Australia.
A top-eight finish in Saturday’s $2 million race will see Hartnell surpass $7.3 million in career earnings to move into the top 10 Australian and New Zealand earners.
For further context, a win in his 34th group 1 start will see Hartnell leap Black Caviar, who sits eighth with $7.95 million in career stakes.
But Fleming is more concerned about what life after racing looks like for the champion that has given him so much joy. Hartnell will join a number of his other former runners, including Precedence and Simione, on the show circuit.
“The girls enjoy doing the show and I enjoy going to watch them but for me, it’s, I know where they are,” he says.
“When they’re retired, you think, where are they now? Are they in good health, are they getting looked after? This way I know where they are, I know they’re getting a good life.
“I just want them to have a good home because they’ve done something for me, now it’s my turn to repay them for what they’ve done for me.”
Damien Ractliffe is the Chief Racing Reporter for The Age.