Ethereal, one of Sir Tristram's granddaughters, may well have galloped a joyful victory lap of her Waikato paddock after Tuesday's Melbourne Cup left her 2001 record intact.

The Kiwi-trained and bred bay mare won both the Melbourne and Caulfield cups and her claim to the double in the same year stands firm.

And if you're sceptical about attributing human characteristics to horses, surely someone who's worked with them for more than three decades is an authority on the subject.

Ethereal was born and bred at Pencarrow Stud near Cambridge and now enjoys a quiet retirement there.


Leon Casey, the manager and stud master for 32 years, doesn't hesitate to liken the antics of the adorable foals we met there to those of children.

Leon and his wife recently stayed at a friend's farm stay near Ruawai. She's a long-time horsewoman and when Leon suggested she might like to visit Pencarrow, Sara promptly asked: May I bring some friends?

Thus last week four horse-mad women set off on a road trip to the Waikato hopeful that Leon might spare us half an hour of his busy life.

Soon we were aboard his ute and travelling around the 300ha stud farm.

The visit stretched to two hours and had already exceeded expectations when staff members paraded two yearlings for us in exactly the spot where, each year, the stud's youngsters are shown off to would-be buyers ahead of the Karaka sales.

One was a friendly filly called Assume, same as her mum. The stud leaves it to the new owners to name them.

We marvelled at the life-sized statue of Ethereal whose Melbourne Cup win I recall above all others. One reason is that her trainer, Sheila Laxon, was the first woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner.

Big ups to Pencarrow's owners Sir Peter and the late Philip Vela for entrusting their special horse to a female.


After pausing at flower garden-bedecked graves of past favourites, we met this season's foals. As two mares and their youngsters grazed together, Leon explained they begin life in a paddock with only their mum.

When foals are getting the hang of life, they could try to drink from the wrong mare and get a dangerous kick in return.

It's after the little ones get things sorted that anthropomorphism can hit its stride. The foals will first graze with one other mare and its offspring, then graduate to a paddock with several mares and foals.

"They're like young kids," Leon said. The foals play together and hoon around and they'll prefer to hang out with their friends' mothers.

"Just like children, they'll decide other parents are much cooler than their own."

Doesn't everyone remember that phase?

Next stop was a mare with her one-day-old foal. And just as Leon had explained, if another mare had been present this wee mite might have found trouble. Sure, it was seeking milk – but from between its mum's front legs.

Our final stop was Ethereal looking chilled and relaxed with several other retired oldies. Now 21, she's reared 11 foals including a colt which sold for $1.3 million.

Perhaps it's taking anthropomorphism too far to suggest that, as she idles through her lazy days, she dreams of her stardom of yesteryear.