In the recent G3 How Now Stakes (1200m), the trauma of Felicia’s near-death surgical complication in 2018 was consigned to the vault of distant memories. Describing the four-year-old’s barreling two-length win, owners observed that while the path to success was far from perfect, that September day at Caulfield was.
Come-back stories in racing are rare. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be so compelling. The alchemy of personality, knowledge, patience and determination can result in the extraordinary. And that describes the culmination of events leading up to Saturday, September 19, at Caulfield.
The mare who fought for her life against infection following a knee procedure returned to the winner’s circle as though the troubles of the last two years counted for nothing. If only that were so. As connections attest, Felicia’s success was nothing if not hard won.
Felicia’s career began with impressive consecutive two-year-old wins at Saturday level in Adelaide, setting her on a path for the inaugural running of The Showdown (1200m) at Caulfield in April, 2019. Entered for the Cinderella Stakes (1050m) at Morphettville as a black-type target along the way, Felicia was diagnosed with a very small bone chip in her knee a week before the race.
Felicia underwent a straightforward arthroscope to remove the chip, but subsequently developed infection. This was followed by a second arthroscope, by which time Felicia was in serious trouble. The filly eventually fought back from the brink, but with veterinary advice that her racing career was over. Some suggested she faced a future as a broodmare, at best. Second and third opinions confirmed the prognosis, with another suggesting worse outcomes.
In the end, Felicia returned to Victoria to recuperate at Leopold’s Ribblesdale Stud and prepare for eventual life as a mother. Her recovery regime included 4CYTE EPIITALIS FORTE Gel to manage inflammation and prevent the rapid onset of early stage joint disease. Felicia remained sound on 4CYTE, showing no signs of discomfort or change to her typical rowdy behaviour.
Fascinated by the filly’s recovery, stud owner Brooke Barker kept a close eye on Felicia’s progress. Frosty mornings would see Felicia galloping and bucking in her paddock with her mate, showing no signs of lameness. The more Barker watched, the more she second-guessed the long-term prognosis of the veterinarians.
Based on Barker’s feedback, Felicia’s connections were keen to do all they could to save her racing career. Further advice was sought, with Golden Plains Equine revisiting the start of the supposed end. The team consulted and, after additional arthroscopy and visual inspection of the inside of the joint, felt Felicia had a fighting chance of making it back to the track provided she underwent proper recovery and careful preparation.
On completion of recuperation, Felicia’s owners set about finding a trainer with the knowledge, patience and facilities to get her fit initially, with no guarantee that she would get to the races. They chose Dean Binaisse at 888 Racing as a great natural fit. With incredible powers of perseverance (as well as his world class water walker, access to Balnarring beach, variety of track surfaces at Mornington Racecourse and personal daily attention), Binaisse was integral to getting Felicia to where she is today.
On April 18, 888 Racing presented Felicia on track at Caulfield confident the filly was ready to compete again. Despite the jangled nerves, Felicia wouldn’t and couldn’t disappoint her team, finishing half a length third. The return would be a precursor to another four starts in a campaign that would reap another two placings and culminate in a four-length win in the Hyland Sportswear EOFY Sale Hcp (1200m) at Caulfield on June 27.
Felicia has had two starts since a spell in the paddock at Ribblesdale, finishing second in the Strathmore Community Bendigo Bank Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley on September 5, and racing away to win her last start in the How Now Stakes. She’s back alright.
But there’s so much more to this than wins. She has remained on 4CYTE EPIITALIS FORTE Gel since her surgery, and never had an unsound day. Binaisse now uses the product widely throughout his stables not only because of the improvement in Felicia but also in the soundness and willingness to work in his other horses.
Felicia’s knee history is now exactly that. History. Perhaps another few starts under her belt, stretching out to 1400m, will see her fulfil her destiny and her take her place in Group One races later in the season. On that, we can only wait and see.