A trainer named his horse after The Killers’ song, then sold him without fuss before he became a star

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In the summer of 2021, New Zealand trainer Ralph Manning sat down to name a horse with an underwhelming breeding profile he had bought for less than $10,000.

The horse had trialled reasonably well and was not far off his first start, so Manning thought The Killers’ song Mr Brightside would make a killer name. His logic was simple.

Makybe Stakes winner Mr Brightside (1) is chasing a Cox Plate win.Credit: Racing Photos

“I thought it was a catchy song,” Manning said of the horse that will on Saturday chase its fifth group 1 win in the Cox Plate. “It has become even catchier.”

When the Opie Bosson-ridden three-year-old finished an unlucky fifth at Matamata on debut, Manning was forced to look on the bright side.

The run had caught the eye of agent Wayne Ormond, and he wanted to buy. He was prepared to offer enough money to turn Manning’s head and those of his co-owners, breeder Ray Johnson and Shaun Dromgool, even though the trio were all aware the horse had some serious talent.

Manning, who trains a host of horses named after songs, including On the Prowl, Dancin’ in the Dark and Boom Boom, had little trouble convincing the others to part ways with Mr Brightside, but the difficult decision came down to following through on his basic philosophy.

Will Hayes (right) with brothers JD (left) and Ben, and jockey Craig Williams after Mr Brightside’s win in the Memsie Stakes last month.Credit: Racing Photos

“I’m a seller,” Manning said.

The horse arrived at Ben Hayes’ property in Euroa in 2021. Hayes liked what he saw immediately but never did he imagine he had introduced a life-changing horse into the stable just at the time he was stepping out of his father David’s shadow to run the stable with his brothers.

“We always liked him but if you were going to tell us he would turn out like he did, we would not have believed you,” Hayes said. “He has just been an amazing horse for the stable.”

The six-year-old gelding was well named, a happy horse with a good attitude who always has his head hanging over the door ready to chew on a carrot.

The Killers’ famous song Mr Brightside has become part of Australia’s sporting heritage.

He has not looked back since bolting as a maiden on a soft track at Geelong in July 2021, winning 14 of his 27 starts, including four group 1 victories, highlighted by back-to-back Doncaster Handicaps on heavy tracks at Randwick.

Mr Brightside will have its last major workout in Euroa on Tuesday while most of his opponents entertain at Breakfast with the Stars. Hayes is hoping for a good four track and an inside barrier to jump from on Saturday as the horse tackles the race in much better form than he was last year when he finished seventh.

“His formlines are good,” Hayes said. “A lot of people think he might not run out the 2000 metres, but the stable is very strong, and think he will … he just needs to correct run in transit, he loves the Valley [and] he has a great record there.”

Mr Brightside has beaten home Alligator Blood, I Wish I Win and Attrition this season, with his wins in the Memsie and Makybe Diva Stakes. Fan Girl had the better of him, running over the top of him in the King Charles III Stakes at Randwick, but the horse pulled up well from that run.

Hayes admits that, amid all the fun the horse has given the stable and connections, he has come to appreciate The Killers’ seminal track. Mr Brightside, the song, was already embedded in Australian sporting culture because of Richmond footballer Jack Riewoldt’s performed it on stage alongside the band’s lead singer Brandon Flowers at the post-match AFL premiership celebrations after the 2017 grand final.

For his part, Manning lives its title rather than dwelling on what might have been if he had retained Mr Brightside.

“I look forward to the next one,” Manning said.

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