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Seniors' moment as Demi takes Oaks

With all due respect to those involved - with the exception of three-year-old filly Dear Demi, which in truth did most of the work - the Oaks was not so much a win for the ages as a win for the aged.

In the mounting yard, John Singleton - the ads and horses mogul who turns 71 on Friday - sought out Clarry Conners, a loveable beach ball of a man whose 66 years have been lived for the love of training racehorses, as his father did before him and his sons have since.

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One of his boys, Geelong-based Heath, told his dad on Oaks morning: ''You've gotta win Mum a group 1 for her birthday!''

It would be impolite to ask Maree Conners how many candles she would be blowing out on Thursday night, but safe to say if you threw the 49 years jockey Jimmy Cassidy contributed to the Oaks-winning mix, the combined wisdom of jockey, owner, trainer and wife amount to roughly 250 years.

''Clarry, I just wanna be with him, he's such a beautiful guy, we've had such wonderful success together,'' Singleton gushed, words that choked up the emotional little man under his arm. ''I just love the bloke, I love Maree. We've never had a cross word. I love his dad, his sons …''

Then he was off to make peace with an even littler man, who he didn't love at all after Saturday's fourth in the Wakeful Stakes. That result added to Dear Demi's trail of woe since Conners took aim at the VRC Oaks six months and seven starts ago. As only an imp can, Cassidy had somehow slipped back into the fold.


''Give us a hug, mate!'' a sweat-soaked Cassidy barked, opening an exchange that ended with Singleton's suit in need of a dry clean, and the jockey back to his boisterous best.

''Ring-a-ding-ding, Pumper rides for the king!''

He very nearly didn't. With a Thousand Guineas shambles to support his case for dismissal, Singleton sacked Cassidy after the Wakeful, only to grudgingly put him back on when Nash Rawiller was suspended. Singo said he'd never seen him ride such a bad race - ''except on purpose, I reckon!''

Conners told Cassidy to make a cap-in-hand phone call on Saturday night. Singleton reckons it's a good thing he waited until Sunday.

''I told him how bad it was, there was no friendliness exchanged,'' he said of their conversation.

Cassidy had no choice but to cop it sweet, knowing how fortunate he was. ''I'm only five-foot-two, but I've got big shoulders. I wore it and worried about today.''

His Oaks instructions were similarly blunt - ride it like he did Kiwi in the 1983 Melbourne Cup, from the back, wide as you like, but out of trouble. ''Not much to remember,'' Singleton said. ''Sit on the horse, don't fall off, and go wide, that's all. Just steer, for Christ's sake!''

Cassidy did as asked, and Dear Demi revelled in Flemington's clean air, picking up the favourite, Zydeco, inside the last 200 metres and powering home.

Singleton thought she might make a Cups horse next year; Cassidy asked if he could have the ride.

''Mate, at your age we take it day by day.''

Singleton fished for the great moments of his partnership with Conners, none better than Belle du Jour's last-to-first triumph in the 2000 Golden Slipper. He reckoned her last Australian win before leaving for Dermot Weld's stable had been on Oaks Day; it mattered not that it was actually the 2003 Newmarket Handicap - the memory still brought another tear to Conners' eyes.

''The best photo I've ever seen was Clarry kissing Belle du Jour, crying,'' Singleton said. ''I wish we'd heeded him and kept it in Australia, but anyway … '' Belle du Jour died while foaling in 2006, at Singleton's Strawberry Hill Stud.

The owner got back to making mischief, concluding that barrier 12 had surely been the difference, finally able to make light of the No.11 alley that Gai Waterhouse chose for More Joyous, endangering both the horse's Cox Plate chances and the long-standing friendship between two of Sydney's biggest racing names.

He finds playing the good loser is hard. ''I go round saying, 'Oh, well, it's bad luck, that's racing', and 'smile', smile'.'' Singleton remembered the old saying about kicking the cat, but he hates cats. ''I make the dogs stay outside for the night.''

On Thursday night, at last, nobody was in Singo's doghouse.