Fittingly local icon Darryl Gardiner put the icing on his eighth Bundaberg Trainers Premiership by taking out the two biggest races on the club’s calendar, the Haifa Lightning Handicap with Mountain Courage, and the Lindsay Australia Bundaberg Gold Cup with Wrecking Ball, with the two events concluding the 2020-21 Season at Thabeban Park on Saturday.
Ridden by apprentice Isabella Teh, hot favourite Mountain Courage ($1.28) came from behind in the 850m event to career away to complete a hat-trick of victories, 6.25 lengths clear of 11-year-old evergreen Boot Shaker which set the pace and was gallant in defeat.
Wrecking Ball ($4.80) was always in the leading brigade over the 1380m course, forging to the front at the 700m mark and finding his second wind to cross the line 1.5 lengths in advance of favourite Mr Tickets ($3.20), which looked the winner when he loomed up midway down the straight, with honest Gympie raider Mahratta third, and last year’s shock winner Elusive Element fourth.
The seven-year-old gelding, which is owned by Darryl’s wife Joanne, was ridden a treat by another rising star apprentice Rebecca Wilson, who celebrated her first Bundaberg Jockeys’ Premiership.
The regally bred Wrecking Ball, whose great-grand-dam Denise’s Joy was a Golden Slipper runner-up which went on to win a Victorian Oaks among her 15 victories for Hall of Fame trainer, the late but legendary Tommy Smith, broke an 18-year Bundaberg Cup drought for Darryl who previously took out the Rum City’s premier event with Hooded Gem in 2003.
He had finished runner-up five times in the last decade, in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020, with aging 2019-20 Horse of the Year Ten Taubada’s, which contested the event again but could manage only a distant fifth, and also third in 2019.
The Gardiner’s purchased Wrecking Ball, which was originally prepared by top Melbourne training partnership of Leon and Troy Corstens, from Victoria after he had won four and been placed in a further 12 of his first 39 starts, including winning a Werribee maiden on debut, and he is unbeaten in three Bundaberg starts after taking out a Benchmark 55 Handicap at last year’s Bundaberg Cup meeting at his first start for them.
But he suffered a serious eye injury during a subsequent spell, and he failed dismally at Monto and Thangool (twice) in March-April at his first three starts after resuming, before returning to his brilliant best to win a Benchmark 60 at the previous Bundaberg Meeting on the Show Holiday in May.
Mountain Courage made a winning track debut at the same meeting, with a stunning performance in the 1090m Open Handicap.
Wrecking Ball had not raced since that program, while Mountain Courage had made just one subsequent appearance, blitzing his rivals in a Gympie Open Handicap on 19th June, and Darryl admitted he had been concerned about their lack of race fitness, especially that of Wrecking Ball.
“He had not raced for 8 weeks – we were going to take him to Thangool but couldn’t get a rider, Gladstone but again we could get a rider, and Wondai but it was washed out – and I was hopeful but certainly wasn’t over the moon about their chances,” Darryl said.
For months after his injury, Darryl was not even sure that he would ever recover, let alone return to the track.
“After he sustained his eye injury, it was a nightmare – we had to treat it with antibiotics and eye treatment every day for 53 days, so it was long time treatment, then when he struggled at his first 3 starts back, I thought he mightn’t be any good, but he obviously loves the sand and he returned to form at his first start back here,” he said.
Darryl previously won the Lightning in 2018, when he claimed the quinella with Craiglea Pistol and Al’s Briefs.
Flashy five-year-old Mountain Courage is owned by a syndicate of 10 local sporting, business and community identities, father and son Graham and Roy Howard, Tom Marland, Darren Roll, Adam Rayner, Ross Golchert, Vaughan Gamble, Scott Black, Brock Wooldridge, and Michael Howard, some of whom are first-time owners.
He has now had 8 starts for them for 5 wins and a second, losing his rider in one other race with his only unplaced run for them being a fourth in Rockhampton.
Darryl has no set plans for the co-stars of his current team of seven in work.
“I don’t know if anyone has done the double before and we’ve been a bit quiet in the last few months, so it was good to get a few winners again, but I will just continue to race them where there are suitable races for them – I have no real plans for them, but Wrecking Ball may go for the Gladstone Gold Cup,” he said.
“Mountain Courage will go wherever I can find races for him – he only likes 800-1000m – both go well on the sand and the blokes who own him are happy to race locally on country tracks but one day, he may have to go to Rocky because he’s getting up in the weights now and weight might catch up with him.”
Darryl admitted that he was a “touch disappointed” with Ten Taubada’s performance.
“But we just haven’t been able to get suitable races for him and he has had a mixed up preparation, but he will go to the Gladstone Newmarket, then an open handicap here, then spell,” he said.
Emerging Bundaberg trainer Laura Cronan also took out a double at the meeting, triumphing in the Nufarm/Visy Class B with outsider Investible, whose dam Chik Chik Boom is a great-great-great-great grand-daughter of Denise’s Joy, and the talented Gambit in the Incitec Pivot/Rivulis QTIS Benchmark 60 Handicap.
Bacio Vincente, a three-year-old full brother to Bundaberg champion King Klaus, which like him is trained by Gary Clem, ran a bold race on track debut in the Integrated Packaging Group Maiden Plate, but he had to settle for second behind rank outsider Yes No Maybe So, which continued his Wondai trainer Kym Afford’s run of Bundaberg success over the past 12 months.