When owner-trainer Jane Carruthers was presented with the Topgun trophy (then a Group 2 event) in December 1998 after her mighty sprinter Rapid Journey had just narrowly annexed the race, the amiable mentor announced her champion’s immediate retirement to stud.
The 33-kilogram red brindle son of Amerigo Man and Miss Courtney had earned $70,000 for that Topgun win, an amount which took Rapid Journey’s prize money earnings to an incredible $530,995, an Australian and world record which would stand for just over a record 12 years until it was broken by the appropriately-named Queensland star High Earner in February 2011.
At the time of Rapid Journey’s retirement, many pundits were calling him the greatest male sprinter ever seen in Australia, and certainly one of the best of all time.
He had commenced racing in 1997, winning his maiden over 314 metres at Taree on 15 March. He later won first-up at Orange, Dubbo and Wentworth Park and proved a very capable sprinter. That year he won 10 times in 24 starts, with three seconds and three thirds. Rapid Journey ran a track record 30.23 over 516 metres at Dubbo (at his sixth race start), was second in the Penrith Derby (G3), fourth to Queensland champion Roanokee in the Lismore Cup, and seventh to Elle’s Commando in the Christmas Gift (G3) at Wentworth Park.
Yet 1998 would be his annus mirabilis, an unprecedented year of success. Carruthers began his campaign with a sensational nine and a half lengths victory in the Adelaide Cup (G1). After a third placing in the Bert Bryant Memorial at Sandown behind World Title he won the Orange Cup and then the Jockey’s and Trainer’s Cup (B8) at Wentworth Park in a fast 29.98, downing the brilliant Victorian Solve The Puzzle by just over four lengths.
Then it was onto the Golden Easter Egg (G1) where Rapid Journey broke Tenthill Doll’s track record in his heat, running 29.78. It would stand for almost two years and seven months.
After being beaten in his semi-final by World Title, he came from third early to score a brilliant victory in the Golden Easter Egg final. World Title finished third.
Jane Carruthers took her champion to Western Australia where he annexed the WA Interstate Challenge (G3) in 30.55, just 3/100ths outside the track record. In his heat of the Perth Cup (G1), Rapid Journey scored by 11 lengths and ran 30.52 to equal the track mark. He then downed the Western Australian champion Reggemite by almost eight lengths to take out the Perth Cup final.
After a break of just over six weeks, Rapid Journey took out his heat of the Queensland Cup (G2) over 555 metres at Beenleigh by 12 lengths in a track record 31.68. He won the final a week later by just over four lengths.
On 27 June, the brindle flyer ran a sizzling 29.82 to win his heat of the Winter Stake (G2), his seventh win on end, but then was surprisingly beaten into third place in the final by Solve The Puzzle. A week later he finished fourth in the Premier’s Cup (B8), again to Solve The Puzzle. After the event he was found to be injured and would be off the scene for three weeks.
Rapid Journey’s return was in the Penrith Cup (B8) and he scored an impressive three lengths win. The National’s were next and Rapid Journey took out his NSW State heat and then the final, by eight and a half lengths.
The National Sprint Championship (G1) final was held at Cannington and Rapid Journey recorded an amazing victory, coming from last at the first turn.
Then it was back across the continent, for a tilt at the Brisbane Cup (G2) at Albion Park. Rapid Journey won his heat in 30.37, the best time of the night but could not hold out the very smart Questions in the final, finishing a solid second.
Heading back south, Rapid Journey took out the Lismore Cup (B8), won his 12th and final race at Wentworth Park and then snared his heat of the Melbourne Cup (G1) at Sandown in 29.92 (best) but looked to have his work cut out to win the final after drawing box six. Underneath him were a number of noted early speedsters, but Rapid Journey blew them away with a sizzling first sectional before going on to win by three lengths.
On 10 December, Rapid Journey had his last race, narrowly winning the Topgun (G2) by a head from Reggemite.
He raced 30 times in 1998 for 23 wins, three seconds, two thirds, and two fourths. Overall, Rapid Journey finished with 33 wins, six seconds, and five thirds from 54 race starts. Of his 10 unplaced performances, four were fourth placings. His track ability was such that he competed on 13 courses and won on 11. He was placed on the other two. He won from every box and on grass, sand and loam over distances between 314 and 555 metres. He had an amazing record out of boxes five and six, wearing the yellow rug six times for four wins and two seconds and being unbeaten in five races from the six alley, including the National Sprint Championship and the Melbourne Cup. His average winning margin was 4.67 lengths.
An interesting factor in Rapid Journey’s success is that he possessed quite exceptional early first sectional speed, assessed as faster than the likes of Brett Lee, Awesome Assassin and Kantarn Bale and fractionally behind Hotshot. Also interesting is that Rapid Journey never competed on a one-turn track, where his early speed would probably have provided him with even more track records.
By any yardstick, Rapid Journey deserved his long reign as Australia’s longest prize money record holder.