Benalla-trained Sly Samba Deer proved itself a pure 1200m horse – with a big heart – at his home track on Monday.
The three-year-old gelding leapt out of its number one gate in the $22000 Ryan and McNulty RMBL Rising Stars Handicap over 1209m and was never headed.
But not for a lack of effort, with odds-on favourite Riddle Me That storming down the straight to lose by two, or maybe three, millimetres.
At 1200m Sly Samba Deer was a good half a length in front, but at 1209.3m it was behind.
However, while that handful of extra metres was almost Sly Samba Deer’s undoing, the line came at just the right time.
Jockey Logan McNeil controlled the race like a veteran, never leaving the rails from the instant he cleared the barrier and then, while the odds-on horse and his nearest rivals in the pack behind him jostled for position, McNeil gave his horse his head and stole what would prove the winning break as they stole two, and then three, lengths clear in the run to the post.
It was not until they were about 300m out that Lewis German, on Riddle Me That, realised the field had been left dangerously adrift.
He wound up his mount. but as close as it was it proved too little, too late.
Sly Samba Deer was sent out at 13-1 after being about for 20-1, so someone at the track or the TAB cleaned up on the day.
The next best finisher was Everywhere Mann and he was four lengths away.
Trainer Russell Osborne admitted it got “nerve wracking when they stop them like that at the finish and they’re coming over the top of you”.
“I actually thought we had lost it,” he said.
He said Sly Samba Deer had not been on the track in his past two starts, caught running wide where he is his own worst enemy.
“He’s just a nightmare, but after finally getting a good draw we thought he would step up,” Osborne said.
McNeil said he nearly jumped out of the saddle when Riddle Me That miraculously appeared at his knee.
He said he thought he was a couple of lengths clear of the field and cruising to the win.
“But in those last few strides he was suddenly all over me and I never really knew who had won,” he said.
“He was flying home, but I am pretty grateful he didn’t quite get there.”
McNeil said his instructions were to be up somewhere near the speed, but Osborne had told him not to panic and just let the horse slide along.
So when he found no-one in front of him when they turned for home, he knew a quick break could split the race wide open.
“He ran well, about the 600m and 500m I just had to give him a bit of a wake up call and from thereon he ran like a winner,” McNeil said.
Osborne may have been the only Benalla trainer to pick a winner, but down the road at Euroa the mighty Lindsay Park stables had a field day.
David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig took out four of the eight races, with McNeil collecting a double with them.
The stable struck from the first race with Magnetism wining the $23,000 Jaclyn Symes Member for Northern Victoria over 1209m before taking out races three and four – Walking Flying in the $23,000 CA Sinclair Pork Wholesalers over 1609m and then the $23,000 TAC Plate over 1609m with Positive Mind.
And they were not done yet.
In the eighth and final race on the card, the big guns saddled up Medieval Miss, with McNeil back on board, in the $22,000 Ken King Thoroughbreds Handicap.