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Starspangled battle for champion horse

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Danny Nickolic on Starspangledbanner
Champion horse:
Danny Nickolic on Starspangledbanner.
Picture: Darren Mcnamara
Source: Herald Sun

From the Sunday Herald Sun:

Starspangled battle for champion horse

Rod Nicholson
From: Sunday Herald Sun
July 11, 2010 12:00AM

THE dream of owning world champion racehorse Starspangledbanner has become a nightmare for ailing Michelle Massey.

The 46-year-old pensioner from East Lara, who suffers from the debilitating medical condition fibromyalgia, was given a 5 per cent share in the colt as a gift by her sister and it has become an "unexpected superstar" now worth about $30 million.

But Ms Massey and her sister Kerrie have found themselves in a David and Goliath battle after refusing to sell her share to global breeding giant Coolmore, which paid $10.25 million for the other 95 per cent in March.

"The vitriol directed towards my sister was unforgivable," Kerrie Massey said.

"I felt personally angry because a gift I gave my sister, which was to bring her joy and make her better, was in fact making her sicker because of the condition she suffers."

Starspangledbanner has won more than $1.7 million in prizemoney - a handy return of $85,000 minus expenses for Ms Massey. But her sister claims Ms Massey is a victim of "big business greed".

"I bought the share for $8000 to give my sister some interest, some hope, some motivation. But she has been threatened shamelessly ever since our little horse became an unexpected superstar," Kerrie Massey said.

On Friday night in England, Starspangledbanner added the Group 1 July Cup to his Royal Ascot Golden Jubilee success and Australian Group 1 wins in the Caulfield Guineas and Oakleigh Plate.

With the three-year-old colt's dual hemisphere success means Ms Massey could anticipate about $2 million, less expenses for insurance, travel, publicity and maintenance, every year. She is the only previous owner to retain a share, refusing $500,000 for her stake.

But rather than being at Newmarket to watch her champion, Ms Massey is confined to her humble home in constant pain.

She has never seen the first galloper she has owned run in any of his 15 races.

And, more important to her health, she is dreading more confrontations with Coolmore, which she says started immediately she refused to sell. For her, it was never about the money, more that the colt was an inspiration to her, a link with the death of her father, and a reminder of the horse-loving lifestyle she once enjoyed.

Ms Massey rode a pony from the time she could walk, she became the junior champ in the Warrnambool district, rode internationally and was groom for Barry Roycroft at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Then fibromyalgia set in. The medical disorder is characterised by chronic widespread pain. Other symptoms include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, joint stiffness, numbness and tingling, cognitive dysfunction, depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders.

Her only outlet was visiting her sister's Andalusian horse stud at Lismore.

"But when equine influenza and the drought hit, our business was pretty much killed," Kerrie said.

"So I bought a share in Starspangledbanner for her to cheer her up, to be a bit of motivation. We never dreamed the horse would reach the heights he has - we were just hoping for a country win or two.

"I took Michelle to see him before we bought the share. Once she saw him she said she never wanted to sell.

"And that tie was locked in forever when, two days before the Caulfield Guineas, our father Garry died.

"He loved the horse and it gave us some peace, as if he was looking after us through the horse's success. But since then it has not been particularly wonderful for us," she said. Bids began to flow for the colt. "Then we were told about Coolmore's $10 million offer only the day before we were expected to fall into line and sell the share. We were told that if 75 per cent of the syndicate decided to sell, we must sell, too. Coolmore insisted on owning 100 per cent of the colt, and we had no intention of parting with our Starspangledbanner.

"I spent the day fielding calls from a teary sister who just couldn't handle the harassment she was receiving," Kerrie said.

Coolmore, which has declared that Starspangledbanner will tackle the Breeders Cup in America in November, denies Ms Massey is being harshly treated.

The article, with comments, originally appeared here.


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