Alice Springs jockey Jessie Philpot had every right to feel optimistic in regards to the forthcoming Darwin Cup Carnival.
Last year, the 27-year-old enjoyed the ride of a lifetime when the Nicole Irwin-trained Highly Decorated cleaned up on his first sojourn to the Northern Territory.
Philpot partnered the South Australian gelding in six races for six wins.
After two lead up wins, Highly Decorated then went on to win the Adelaide River Cup (1600m) on the grass before winning the ROANT Gold Cup (1300m), Chief Ministers Cup (1600m) and Darwin Cup (2050m) at Fannie Bay on the dirt.
It was also the first time a female jockey and trainer had combined to take out the Darwin Cup.
Highly Decorated had eight starts in the NT, which kicked off in April where he finished third at 0-54 level (1300m) before returning eight days later to overcome Class 2 opposition (1300m).
Alice Lindsay was the pilot in those first two races, but after posting just one win in 14 career starts in NSW, ACT and South Australia there is no way you could have predicted what was to transpire prior and during the Darwin Cup Carnival.
Irwin also secured the services of the Red Centre-based jockey and from that point it was crash, bang, wallop.
Philpot’s career suddenly sky-rocketed as the four-year-old just kept on winning.
Of course, Highly Decorated was always going to return to the Top End.
After three poor runs on the grass at Balaklava, Morphettville Parks and Murray Bridge last September and October, the five-year-old proved just how much he loved the Fannie Bay dirt with a first up win at 0-79 level over 1200m on June 4.
Highly Decorated looked set to leave his mark in the Top End once again, and defending his Darwin Cup title beckoned.
His Darwin Cup Carnival campaign, unfortunately, ended abruptly a few days later when it was discovered he had injured a tendon in his near fore leg.
The Epaulette gelding will head back to South Australia for stem cell therapy.
Irwin contacted Philpot, and although disappointed she was philosophical.
“Yeah, it was pretty shattering to hear the news from Nicky,” Philpot said from Alice Springs on Friday.
“It is what it is, it’s not life ending – so hopefully he comes back bigger and stronger.
“Pretty sad news, but like I said he’s still with us.
“It sure does bring you back down to earth a little bit, but you can’t do much about it.
“Nicky will do the best by him and I’m sure he will get looked after in the best way.”
After a mind-blowing Darwin Cup Carnival last year, Philpot is not sure what lies ahead in 2022 when the eight-day extravaganza starts on July 2.
“Greg Connor, who I mainly ride for in Alice, he’s got a couple of horses up there in Darwin and one looks pretty promising.
“That’s Flying Start, who won the NT Guineas at Pioneer Park in April, and he lines up on Saturday.
“I think we’re just going to go race by race and see how he likes Darwin.
“He’s a really nice horse and has showed some ability, so hopefully he continues in Darwin.”
Philpot returns to Fannie Bay to ride Flying Start on Saturday a fortnight after partnering Highly Decorated.
Apart from Flying Start, Philpot has two other rides at Darwin this Saturday aboard Nicole Irwin stablemates Masterati and Kentucky Ruler.
Despite only having three rides, Philpot admitted that it was still worthwhile making the trip north.
Masterati features in the main race against quality sprinters over 1000m, while Kentucky Ruler will make his first appearance after arriving from Victoria.
“Kentucky Ruler is a bit unknown, but Nicky said he’s working really well and hopefully he races up to his work,” Philpot said.
“Masterati, he’s an old battler, so he should be in there as well.
“And Greg’s horse, he’s been doing everything right from all reports, so it should be a good day.”
Philpot then heads back to Alice Springs on Sunday for a full book of rides at Pioneer Park – which will feature six races and accommodate 53 runners.
“Greg’s got a few nice horses racing on Sunday,” she said.
“The only one I’ve got outside Greg is Frilly Design for Terry Huish – it won last start, so she should be in the mix as well.
“I’m probably a bit biased, but I do like Miles Prower.
“He’s a bit special, he should race well and he drops a bit in weight too (3.5kg), so we’ll see how he lands.
“With Greg’s horses, they’re all pretty honest and they all try hard.
“I ride them all track work, so it could be a good day.
“It’s good to see big fields and we’ve got a heap of jockeys turning up.”