Johnson’s fairytale start

After more than 20 years as a trainer in the United States, Murray Johnson kicked off the latest chapter of his training career in style today with a winner from his first Australian runner.

Overcome with emotion after Correggio claimed the $15,000 Happy 60th Birthday Tom Bishop 0-62 Handicap (1309m), when asked what the result meant to him Johnson had to choke back the tears.

“It’s what we do it for,” Johnson said.

“He’s a quality horse, he wasn’t one hundred per cent fit but I told his owners before the race that if he was one hundred per cent fit then he’d beat them easily.

“He’s a good horse and good horses make us (trainers) look good.”

Formerly in the care of leading trainer Peter Moody, Johnson said the horse was transferred to him by one of his school friends Michael Ramsden.

“I went to school with one of his owners Michael Ramsden and his father originally owned the horse in partnership with Coolmore when it was trained by Peter Moody,” Johnson said.

“The horse has had a few problems and the original owners wanted to sell him so Michael put together a group of owners who were good enough to put him in my stable.”

Last seen finishing fifth in the Listed Geelong Classic (2200m) in October last year, Johnson said his initial concern was just to make sure the horse pulls up well from today’s run.

“With a horse like him you’ve just got to hope he can stay in work for long enough so that he can get out to a distance where he can show his best.”

After jumping with only two runners behind him, jockey Cory Parish allowed Correggio ($12) to stride around the field into third position prior to the home turn before the three-year-old pulled his way to the lead at the top of the home straight.

Travelling strongly in the middle of the track, Correggio proved too good in the run to the line scoring a 2.3 length win over Lashed Out ($4.40) who was narrowly ahead of Resetalenko ($6) in third position.

Despite the nature of the victory, Parish said Correggio wasn’t an easy horse to ride.

“You have to kid to him a bit, if you don’t hit him with the whip and just growl at him then he finds the line really well,” Parish said.

“He travelled up really well and when he got to the best part of the track he kicked on strongly.

“I was already stuck three-wide on the corner so I didn’t really want to go back to the fence (in the straight) and he seemed to appreciate being out in the middle of the track.”

Story by Ben Asgari and Brad Bishop


Athos Cup pathway unveiled

Luca Cumani has revealed that Mount Athos will have two more British starts before his second try at a famous victory in the Emirates Melbourne Cup.

The Italian-born trainer has become a regular fixture at the Spring Racing Carnival and twice went close to lifting the Cup with Bauer and Purple Moon filling the runner-up position in 2008 and 2007 respectively.

Last year Mount Athos arrived at Flemington with a huge degree of expectation on his shoulders, but in a tactical race the six-year-old was too far back on the turn for home and Dr Marwan Koukash’s grey silks flashed down the stretch to occupy fifth place.

Mount Athos had scored in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury before his Australian adventure and will again take in that Group 3 event on August 17, with an outing in the Glorious Stakes at Goodwood two weeks earlier his first port of call.

Cumani said: “It is very likely he will head to the Melbourne Cup again. His next race is likely to be the Glorious Stakes at Goodwood followed by the Geoffrey Freer, which he won last year.

“He went in to the Cup fresh last year and I think we will do a similar thing this time – we will use the same idea and keep him fresh after the Geoffrey Freer.”

Mount Athos looked an improved individual when coasting home on his seasonal debut in the Ormonde Stakes atChesterin May, but he could only finish fifth in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month.

Click to view Mount Athos win the Ormonde Stakes

However, Cumani believes he is better than the bare form, and said: “Ascot was a bit of a non-event for us as there was a faller in the race and the jockeys slowed it up as they were unsure what to do with the loose horse. The race then turned in to a sprint and we were not ideally positioned for that scenario.”

There has been speculation in recent days that an Australian jockey may come in for the Cup ride aboard Mount Athos, who has had Jamie Spencer and Ryan Moore aboard of late, but Cumani stressed that no decisions have been made.

He added: “I have no idea who will ride – all options are open at this stage.”


New Owners and Trainers Facility at Flemington

Flemington racecourse will be home to one of Australia’s premier owners and trainers’ facilities thanks to a joint investment by the State Government and the Victoria Racing Club (VRC).

Premier and Minister for Racing Denis Napthine today announced funding for the $1.2 million upgrade, which includes constructing a new owners and trainers’ facility in the undercroft area of the members grandstand; refurbishing the existing winning owners’ facilities; and relocating the raceday and ticketing office to the Heritage Centre near the main car park entrance.

“The value of racehorse owners, estimated to be in excess of 35,000, to our state’s racing industry and its ongoing prosperity cannot be overstated,” Dr Napthine said.

“It is important to recognise this by providing high-quality services and facilities that reflect our appreciation of their significant investment, which leads to many hundreds of millions of dollars of economic benefit to Victoria.

“The owners and trainers’ facility will provide a much larger space than the existing venue, as well as better views over the racecourse and easier patron access.

“The new facility will be an enormous improvement on the current cramped facility and will greatly enhance the raceday experience for those who buy and invest in Victorian racing. This includes the large number of owners now involved in racehorse ownership through syndication,” Dr Napthine said.

VRC CEO David Courtney thanked the Victorian Government for its ongoing support of racing at Flemington.

“Premier Napthine has championed the racing industry since coming to office, and this is another example of the government working with Victorian clubs to support industry participants at every level,” Mr Courtney said.

“The VRC is proud to offer an improved space specifically for some of racing’s most important supporters, that is, the owners. We look forward to the owners and trainers’ facility becoming a hub of activity and celebration on raceday.”

Victorian Thoroughbred Racehorse Owners Association chairman Jonathan Munz said the new facility would be a showpiece for Flemington.

“The TROA has pushed very hard for improved raceday facilities and this new owners and trainers’ facility at Flemington will provide much more room, as well as better and extended access for owners,” Mr Munz said.

“The Victoria Racing Club is developing this new facility with the help and encouragement of the Victorian Government and Racing Victoria, and will set the benchmark for new facilities elsewhere.”

Dr Napthine said the government was committed to ensuring Victoria’s racing industry continues to grow and provide economic and social benefits to the community.

The government’s investment in this new facility is through the $79.5 million Victorian Racing Industry Fund, which is derived from unclaimed dividends, that is, winning Victorian totalisator bets not collected by punters.

Black Grand in National

Australian record breaking jumper Black And Bent has defied over 70 years of history to win a second $200,000 Grand National Hurdle (3900m) at Sportingbet Park Sandown today.

The 14th jumps victory of the Robert Smerdon-trained seven-year-old’s career, by lumping 72kg, he carried the most weight to win the Grand National Hurdle since Cherry Jack carried 73kg in 1940.

Admitting he didn’t believe that Black And Bent would ever make it back to the track after a second tendon injury in 2012, Smerdon paid credit to the horses “amazing never say die attitude”.

“I thought his last tendon would have been the end of his racing career but he’s come back and proved us all wrong and you’ve just got to take your hat off to the horse,” Smerdon said.

“Gee it was a tough effort, the race really changed complexion so much in that last part but it was a great effort on the horse’s part.

“He’s had a lot of miles and a lot of issues and he’s dealt with them all which is probably a testament to his determination.”

Racing at the rear of the field throughout, Black And Bent ($3.50) was still around six lengths away from the third horse at the top of the hill when race caller Greg Miles exclaimed “Black And Bent looks to be racing a shadow of his former self”.

From that moment on however, Black And Bent rallied for jockey Steven Pateman and was in striking distance of the leaders when the odds-on favourite Wells ($1.80F) fell at the second last hurdle.

Still a few lengths behind the leader approaching the last obstacle, when Stand To Gain ($7.50) made a mess of the jump, Black And Bent put in a perfect leap surging to the lead on the inside to record a 1.8 length victory over Stand To Gain, with Brungle Cry ($9) six lengths away from the winner in third position.

The victory capped a memorable day for Pateman, who earlier claimed the other feature on the program, the $100,000 Crisp Steeplechase (3900m) aboard star chaser Bashboy.

Describing the performance by Black And Bent as “one of the most special wins of my career”, Pateman said he was always worried throughout the race.

“He was always off the bit and I was struggling to keep him in contact but these days he just wants to stay,” Pateman said.

“I just loved it how going into the race he was the underdog and champions are always champions.

“Robert Smerdon is an absolute master, it’s been an enormous training effort with all of his injuries and the horse has to do it tough these days with the weight.”

The win was Black And Bent’s second Grant National Hurdle triumph after the son of Black Hawk claimed the 2011 edition.

Story by Ben Asgari


Six straight for Bashboy

Reigning Australian Jumper of the Year Bashboy remains unbeaten over the steeples after the Ciaron Maher-trained nine-year-old claimed a second straight $100,000 Crisp Steeplechase (3900m) at Sportingbet Park Sandown.

After a sixth consecutive jumps victory, jockey Steven Pateman said the son of Perugino will be even better suited by the extra distance of the $250,000 Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) at the same venue in a fortnight.

“It was a good win today, he won very comfortably in the end and it’s onwards and upwards going forward,” Pateman said.

“The runner-up Cats Fun was always going to give a good kick having the soft run in front and he’ll be the one to beat again in the National but we held him off comfortably in the end.”

Settling on the outside of the early leader Cats Fun, Pateman allowed Bashboy plenty of galloping room around the back of the course before striding to join the lead approaching the penultimate obstacle.

Despite Cats Fun racing a length clear on the home turn, Pateman was yet to let Bashboy go and following a brilliant leap at the final jump Bashboy raced away over the final 200 metres to record a 3.3 length victory over Cats Fun, with Kirribilli Gold a further nine lengths away in third.

Speaking after the victory, Maher said he believed Bashboy would measure up to a trip overseas but that he would get over the Grand National Steeplechase in two weeks time first.

“I definitely am still considering it, Steve (Pateman) and myself both think he’s got what it takes,” Maher said.

“At the set weights today and back to Sandown he looked pretty well in and he’s been able to get the job done quite easily.

“He sort of stepped at one around the back and he jumped a couple a little bit short but that’s OK, you don’t mind that in these longer races.”

Story by Ben Asgari