SLM Flirting and Bella Drexel

SLM Flirting; From Racehorse to One Of Australasia’s Most Successful Show Horses

SLM Flirting, who raced as Klairson, may have begun his ridden career as an unsuccessful racehorse, but he finished it as one of the most successful show hacks in Australasia. The 1998 Prince Salieri gelding had eight starts for $3,600 in prize money, for east coast trainer Alan Bailey. Retired in 2002, Max, as he is affectionately known, was brought on by Caroline Reid.

In 2008 Caroline took Max to Barastoc Horse of The Year in Melbourne. It was on this fateful day that Annabella Drexel, or Bella, fell in love with the handsome gelding.

“From the second I saw Max trot in the ring I fell in love,” Bella recalled.

“He was absolutely everything I loved in a horse, he had such incredible movement and presence he looked like he loved being on the centre stage.”

Bella and her mum, Robyn, found Max’s owners and asked if the eye-catching bay was for sale. Caroline agreed to let Bella have a test ride of the gelding. For a 14 year-old who typically rode ponies, the 16 hand thoroughbred might have proven too much, but the ride didn’t disappoint and Bella says Max was a gentleman.

“I felt safe, he was so naturally balanced I could have ridden him all day.” She said.

Bella recalls Caroline telling her mum that she didn’t think she was going to come back and might ride him all the way back to Perth.

Bella and her family are no strangers to racehorses, her grandfather is the legendary thoroughbred breeder and owner Robert (Bob) Peters. Bob was recently inducted into the WA Racing Industry Hall of Fame for his incredible efforts in the sport. It was Bob that told her she needed a bigger horse! He was quite enthusiastic about the family bringing an ex-race horse back to his property.

With Bob’s seal of approval it was only a couple days later that Max began his travels west.

Max and Bella spent the best part of 2008 to 2016 taking the show scene by storm. With countless state titles and a few national ones as well, there aren’t many that don’t know the name SLM Flirting. Some of these achievements include; Champion Hack at the Perth Royal show in 2008-2011 and 2013, Gosnells Masters Champion Hack 2008-2015, Show Horse Council of WA Classic Champion Hack 2008-2014 and 2016, 12 Champion Hack of the Year titles, Show Horse Council of Australia Grand National Champion Hack 2007 and Equestrian Australia Nationals 2008 and Trans-Tasman Runner up Hack 2008.

Bella can’t pick just one favourite win on Max, she has two; winning the runner up award at EA National Show Horse Championships in Melbourne and Champion Hack at Gosnells Masters. Bella and Max took on the best of the best across Australia and New Zealand at the EA Nationals and placed runner up, with equal points to the winner. Prior to their win at the 2014 Gosnells Masters Bella had a nasty fall off another horse and broke her back. Advised by doctors that she shouldn’t think of riding for at least 12 months, Bella made it her mission to get Max to the Masters in three months. Sure enough, with only three rides before the show Bella and Max were back in the show ring, making this a special moment for Bella.

“I trusted him with my life and he didn’t disappoint, he seemed to know I was a bit more fragile than normal.” Bella said.

SLM Flirting was a horse that both judges and competitors alike took note of. Fellow competitor and 2019 EA Show Horse Senior Sports Star of the Year, Michelle Bowden, fondly recalls SLM Flirting’s presence in the show ring.

“The way he moved and carried himself, you couldn’t keep your eyes off him, he was a showman. He just entered with all the flair, ready to perform,” Michelle says.

“It didn’t matter where he was, as soon as it was his time to work other competitors virtually had no chance to win.

“The first time I saw them was at Manjimup show – he lit up from that day on, they were the perfect pair, something to be reckoned with.”

Max’s sire, Group one winner Prince Salieri, was a fighter as displayed by his fourth placing in the Cox Plate after almost taking a fall. This is a trait Bella says was passed onto his progeny.

“I think racing made him strong and competitive. I’m sure his will to win came from those early days. I know he would have given his best. That is who he is, he loves to please and he loves to learn.” She says.

Accompanying his winning attitude and talent, is a personality full of quirks. Bella recalls Max’s distaste of any other horse but him receiving her attention.

“The display he puts on in the paddock whenever I ride or even pat another horse; prancing, spinning, rearing whatever he can do to attract my attention away,” she recalls.

“My favourite quirk Max has is that no matter how many times I see him every day he will always call out from the other end of the paddock and canter over to see me.”

Max made a career out of making the event photographer’s job easy, even to the point where he’d produce a ’smile’ when he lined up to receive his winnings.

Bella said Max’s passion for showing was obvious.

“He loved going to shows more than any horse I know. The second the truck would pull up to load him he would start dancing with excitement to get on, and when we arrived at the show he would start his famous kicking the back of the truck wall to get off.”

Max’s legacy in the show scene is such that there is an award at Perth Royal Show named after him, the SLM Flirting High Point Hack Award. Max is the most successful show horse to compete at the Perth Royal Show; he took out more champion titles than any other horse ever has.

“I was honoured when they asked if they could hold an award under his name,” Bella said.

“I’m so proud of him and love that this award keeps his show memory alive.”

Bella says the award is especially fitting as the Perth Royal Show was Max’s favourite event. Not only did Max get more enthusiastic and amiable as the week went on, he loved watching the fireworks.

“He loved watching them. He would get the front row of the barn with a bucket of carrots and happily watch the show.” Bella said.

Now retired, and letting the new crop of show horses get a chance at bringing home the garlands and ribbons, Max is living a life of luxury. Presiding over the best paddock on the property with his walk-in, walk-out stable and decked out in the best rugs, Max is known as the king of the farm. Not wanting to share the attention with other horses, Max’s company is in the form of a sheep.

Now 23 years old, Max still looks the part of a winning show horse.

“He will forever be my best friend and most favourite horse. I can never thank him enough for what he has taught me, for getting me back in the saddle after my fall, all the success and for picking me to be his forever human.” Bella said.


Images courtesy of Aussie Platinum Photography, Lorelle Mercer Photography and Vicki Photos.

  • 2012 Gosnells Masters. Photo by Vicki Photos

  • EWA Horse of the Year 2015. Photo by Aussie Platinum Photography

  • 2013 Perth Royal Show. Photo by Lorelle Mercer Photography

  • Photo by Aussie Platinum Photography

  • 2016 Show Horse Council Classic. Photo by Aussie Platinum Photography

  • Max and his Sheep

  • Max in retirement