Understandably, Darwin trainer Phil Cole is still celebrating after Smuggling made it back-to-back wins in the Pioneer Sprint (1200m) in Alice Springs on May 1.
It’s the feature race for the sprinters during the Alice Springs Cup Carnival, with $100,000 up for grabs and a tidy $66,000 on offer for the winning connections.
Cole, who has established himself as arguably the most successful trainer in the Top End after the all-conquering Gary Clarke in recent years, has yet to win the Palmerston Sprint (1200m) during the Darwin Cup Carnival.
The race is worth $135,000, with the winning connections picking up a tick under $90,000 in prizemoney.
Smuggling gives you the impression that he is capable of winning the Palmerston Sprint after finishing fourth in 2020 behind Enigman and third in 2021 behind Mayameen; however, as a nine-year-old, he is fast running out of time.
Little Town Blues returned to form with a win at Fannie Bay in a 0-64 handicap over 1200m on Saturday, and Cole argues that he might be a chance in the 2023 Palmerston Sprint.
After a first-up win in Victoria in a Sale two-year-old maiden over 1110m in July 2020, Little Town Blues had two unplaced starts at Caulfield before finishing second at Balaklava against 0-58 level over 1050m in May last year.
He then left South Australia before winning on debut at Fannie Bay for Cole last July against fellow three-year-olds at a 0-66 level over 1100m.
“He was super impressive in his first start in Darwin, I thought he could win and he destroyed them actually,” Cole said.
“He’s a hard horse to train – he’s quiet and a big thinker.
“Getting the best out of him on race days has always been an issue.”
He had two further runs during the Darwin Cup Carnival for a second and a third before overcoming Class 2 opposition over 1000m on August 28.
After failing to fire a shot in two starts late last year, Little Town Blues finished fourth in March and April before finally returning to the winner’s circle last weekend.
The four-year-old gelding jumped well and held a commanding lead along the back straight and turning for home before winning comfortably by three lengths.
0-64 Handicap (1200m) | Darwin | May 21, 2022 | Little Town Blues (1st)
Starting at $5.50 with online bookmakers, he won from Gary Clarke’s fast-finishing $4.60 hope Obilgatory (Adam Nicholls) and Nicole Irwin’s $4.60 chance Smartkap (Vanessa Arnott), who kept the winner on his toes for a major portion of the race.
In the end, Cole’s patience with Little Town Blues finally paid off.
“Every time he has sort of gone around we’ve either had to change his gear, change his training or his preparation,” he said.
“His work was sensational leading into his first couple of runs.
“He also got pressured up front and got caught wide and then he just spat it a bit at the 600m and said ‘nah, this is too hard’ and pulled up.
“Obviously we space out his runs a lot just to keep his mindset right.
“After his two runs this preparation, you know, what we’ve been doing in the past hasn’t worked and we’ve had to re-evaluate the whole situation and start training him a completely different way again.
“His last little gallops leading into the races on Saturday were probably the worst he has ever worked in his life.”
The changes obviously worked, because he won like a really good horse on Saturday – to the extent that he might have finally clicked into gear.
“We know he’s got tons of ability,” Cole said.
“Sometimes when we gallop him at track work he’s a flying machine, but just getting him to produce that on race day is not as easy as it seems.
“Last year we nominated him for the Palmerston Sprint – probably would have got a run as there were scratchings.
“He’s still only a four-year-old, so with his little antics and just trying to keep him genuine he probably wasn’t mentally mature enough to cop a big high pressure race like that.”
Cole, who is busily preparing his stable for the Darwin Cup Carnival starting on July 2, has plans for Little Town Blues.
“He’s still lightly raced and I think we’ll just pick a couple of nice benchmark races through the carnival,” he said.
“We’ll give him another season to mature mentally and hopefully he’ll come back a lot more like a racehorse for the next preparation.
“Hopefully next year he can participate in race something like the Palmerston because he has got the ability.
“It’s just whether or not he can mentally cope with a race like that, that’s all.”