Helen Page has Group 1 ambitions with her progressive filly Trifling but there is another factor driving the respected trainer on Saturday afternoon on the Sunshine Coast.
The Gold Coast-based trainer has mapped out a plan for the two-year-old filly through the winter program, which is likely to culminate in the J.J. Atkins on Stradbroke Handicap day in the middle of June.
The daughter of Better Than Ready kicks-off her winter campaign on Saturday at Caloundra in the Group 3 Ken Russell Memorial Classic over 1200 metres.
The race holds extra significance for Page as Russell was a close friend and a jockey who would regularly ride for her stable before his tragic death in a race fall.
The great Russell hailed from Monto in Central Queensland before developing into one of the star jockeys of Australia, winning numerous premierships and Group 1s in the Sunshine State and New South Wales.
Page – who was the first female trainer to place in the Melbourne Cup with Magnolia Hall – described Russell as “amazing” when he was at the peak of his powers.
The late Russell was often described as the “King of the Coast” for his elite riding efforts on the Gold Coast.
He was tragically killed in a race fall at Rosehill in late 1993 at 42 years of age.
“It would be fantastic to win this race as he rode for me in Sydney when I was there as a trainer,” Page reflected this week.
“He was just amazing and I had a great affiliation with him.
“He was such a good horseman and the feedback he would give you as a jockey to a trainer was amazing.
“He became a friend so it would be great if I come win a race that is named in his honour.”
The Ken Russell Memorial Classic has been run since 1974 and attained Listed status in 1984 and, after a number of distance changes, is now run over 1200 metres.
It has since been upgraded to a Group 3 event.
Page was inducted into the Gold Coast Turf Club Hall of Fame alongside her late husband John back in 2018.
After going close in a Melbourne Cup and achieving Hall of Fame status at the Gold Coast earlier in her career, Page runs a much more scaled down operation compared to when she at her height as a conditioner.
With a boutique team in work these days, Trifling carries the moniker as “stable star”.
She mainly focuses her training attention on babies these days.
Trifling is a two-time winner – as well as two minor placings – and ran a gallant fourth in the feature QTIS Jewel for juveniles in the middle of March.
As the progressive filly often gets back and runs on in her races, the top trainer notes being beaten just under two lengths in the QTIS Jewel at Doomben was a strong effort ahead of the Ken Russell Memorial Classic.
“It was fantastic as Doomben as a track favours horses up near the lead as a tight turning track,” she said.
“She will be able to shine a little bit more with a track like the Sunshine Coast with a longer straight or Eagle Farm.
“Her pattern of racing tells me she will favour a race like the J.J Atkins.
“It looks as though the mile will be ideal for her.”
The Ken Russell Memorial Classic is a key “stepping stone”, Page says.
The race will be run at the Sunshine Coast this year with the Gold Coast track being redeveloped.
“It is important we can keep the tradition of the Gold Coast, even though we are not there, we are up at the Sunshine Coast,” Page said.
She plans to head to the Group 2 Sires’ Produce in late May with Trifling before the time-honoured J.J. Atkins.
Trifling is yet to race further than 1200 metres but Page believes the mile of the Group 1 J.J. Atkins should eventually suit her perfectly.
“She is going to get better as the races get longer,” the respected trainer said.
“However, she has won a 1200 metre race at the Sunshine Coast as it has a longer straight.
“I am probably lucky the race is being run at the Sunshine Coast rather than Gold Coast as the circular track is more in favour of front-running horses or handy horses as she likes to get back a little bit over shorter distances.”
Trifling is raced by long time clients and friends of the Pages – Frank and Christine Cook.
Christine manages many of the ladies’ syndicates of Page-trained runners and was adamant about who would be riding their filly in the black-type event.
Christine has a close association with leading Brisbane hoop Ben Thompson and the stable were quick to book him after he rode Trifling to her most recent victory at Eagle Farm in the middle of February.
“It was her request to have Ben on so she is over the moon,” Page said of Christine.
“Hopefully he can have a little bit of luck on her again.”
The TAB has Trifling listed as a $10 chance for Saturday’s race as of Friday morning.
Page is hopeful stable mate Mixed Spice will also be able to feature in the Queensland Racing Carnival after breaking her maiden status at Ipswich last month.
– Racing Queensland