It took Tim Donnelly having to go through what went wrong in Participator’s two worst performances to settle on the best way to prepare the promising gelding for Saturday’s $150,000 Newhaven Park Southern Districts Country Championships (1400m) at Albury.
And what he was convinced about as he watched the four-year-old fail to beat a horse home in two starts back in September is that fresh is best.
That preparation was the first time Participator had raced more than once in a campaign and while Donnelly was prepared to make excuses for his Randwick failure on a heavy, and on fence biased, track he couldn’t do the same after his failure in the Panorama at Bathurst.
“He went into that race at Bathurst and he went poorly and I thought he’s probably just a fresh horse,’’ he said.
“If I’m wrong about that we might just have an average horse but I think I’m right.
“He’s only run badly twice and I think for good reason.”
So Donnelly has kept the gelding on ice since his impressive first-up win on his home track at Wagga back on January 5 where he led all the way to give jockey Danny Beasley his first winner since relocating to the area from Singapore.
The next day he was weighing up where to go next, with a race at Kembla Grange some three weeks later on the radar, but after a discussion with Beasley any concerns he had about the horse’s readiness for a strong 1400m were put to bed.
“It was going to be 51 days between his first run and the Championships and I thought I’d give him a run in 25 days, that way it’s a break between races,’’ he said.
“I thought about it the next day and thought he’s so good fresh I don’t want to run him again.
“I rang Danny and said I was thinking about not running him again but we have to go into it second-up at 1400m and he’s ever run it.
“He said ‘don’t worry he’d have run 1400m yesterday’. We made up our mind very quickly that’s what we’d do and I’m really happy about it.”
Donnelly is rapt to be partnering with Beasley for the jockey’s first Country Championships ride, it’s well documented they go back many years and he’s confident he has a horse capable of progressing to the Final.
“Danny rode for me when he was an apprentice, there’s been a long association,’’ he said.
“I remember when he first moved from here to Sydney I took him to the footy, Sydney Swans versus Carlton, he might have been 19 or 20. We go back a long way and it’s great to have Danny here now.”
On the back of Another One’s victory in last year’s Final there’s a sense that the Southern Districts is strengthening and Donnelly feels the 2023 field contains more depth than what the reigning champion faced to make it to Randwick.
A tilt at the Newhaven Park Country Championships has been more than 12 months in the making for Participator.
As he went into a strong TAB Highway at Randwick in February last year with an unbeaten record and finished a close fourth behind Testator Silens and Anethole, who would win the South East and Hunter & North West Championships races respectively, he was right on the radar as a Championships prospect.
Donnelly suspected it might have been a year early but was prepared to give the horse his chance if he proved up to it – he did tick that box but unfortunately injury intervened.
“He came out of the Highway with a crack in his foot, we left it about a week trying to get him right but he wasn’t going to come right,’’ he said.
“It was probably going to be too soon anyway. As I said then, there’s always next year. And here we are.
“I couldn’t be happier with him, his preparation has been perfect.”
– Racing NSW