Alice Springs trainer Will Savage returns to familiar territory on Sunday.
Having made two trips to Adelaide and a trip to Tennant Creek in recent times, it’s back to business at Pioneer Park this weekend with the Savage stable having three runners – Speed Wheel, Bon Bandeau and Paketta.
After Fantasy Eagle and stable star Savatoxl picked up wins during the Alice Springs Cup Carnival in April, it was off to South Australia with Savatoxl winning the Group 3 McKay Stakes (1100m) at Morphettville on May 6.
It was Savatoxl’s second win in the race after saluting in 2021.
Savage then headed home before landing a winning double with Redenzo Lad and Mi Mijo on Tennant Creek Cup Day on May 13.
Then it was back to Adelaide for the $500,000 Goodwood Handicap (1200m) at Morphettville last Saturday as Savatoxl attempted to win the Group 1 feature for the second time in three years.
The seven-year-old gelding, who has amassed $1.034 million in prizemoney after 19 wins from 40 starts in the NT, SA, Queensland and Victoria, won the Goodwood in 2021 starting at $19 with Barend Vorster on board.
It was Savage’s biggest win as a trainer and Savatoxl, also victorious in the Group 2 Schillaci Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield in October 2021, is undoubtedly the best horse he has ever owned and trained.
A dominant force in the NT at the start of his career, the son of Kuroshio was under the guidance of Ballarat trainers Tony and Calvin McEvoy in 18 of his 19 starts interstate.
Savage took the horse to Eagle Farm in May 2019.
Returning to Morphettville last Saturday, Savage looked on as Savatoxl ($26) finished 7.5 lengths in 15th place behind the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Royal Merchant in The Goodwood.
Naturally, Savage was disappointed after Savatoxl, who had settled in second place on the rails before turning for home, tired in the straight – but he was philosophical and took the result in his stride.
“I don’t think I would have done anything differently,” he said.
“The horse was happy all the way through and he pulled up OK, so it was just that one-off thing in the Goodwood.
“Apart from that everything was spot on, everything was good – I was happy, the horse was happy.”
Before heading south, Savatoxl made his first appearance in Central Australia in three years with victory over 1200m (WFA) on April 22 with Ianish Luximon as the pilot – the same race he won in 2020 before finishing fifth a fortnight later in the Pioneer Sprint (1200m) during the Alice Springs Cup Carnival.
He was in fact returning from a spell after finishing 10th in the Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley last October.
Savage was gracious in defeat last Saturday, but he was frustrated with certain tactics that were employed in the Goodwood.
He can only prepare the horse for a race, but just like any other trainer Savage can’t control the outcome.
Caitlin Jones, who partnered Savatoxl in the McKay Stakes, retained the ride in the Goodwood.
“We were taken on in front by Free Of Debt from the Chris Bieg stable, who was ridden by Justin Potter,” Savage said.
“He was there for a job and that’s what he did – he did it well.
“We had to hand the lead up because Free Of Debt was going too hard, but Savatoxl still went too hard and he knocked up.
“He’s an on the speed horse – that’s the way he races – and he drew a nice gate (five) to get across on the fence.
“That’s the way we had planned, then unfortunately there was another horse that went too hard early and shadowed him in front, and it just kept his mind off the job.
“Caitlin got an inkling that she would be taken on in front and was disappointed after the race.
“My horse ran a good race, they just went too hard.”
Call it coincidence, but Potter was aboard the Matthew Seyers-trained Kifaah in the 2019 Alice Springs Cup (2000m) and took on Savatoxl ($2.30 fav), ridden by Lorelle Crow that day, before Savage’s horse finished third behind Michael Hickmott’s Lieder.
Kifaah ended up coming 10th.
“At least we beat Free Of Debt home in the Goodwood,” Savage laughed.
“The horse is fine – he was a little bit stirry after the race, but he settled down again.
“It did rain earlier in the day and it was a Soft 7, but that didn’t affect his chances as he can handle the wet.
“He won the Goodwood two years ago on a Soft 5 and this year’s McKay Stakes on a Soft 7.”
Arriving back in Alice Springs during the week, Savatoxl will have a couple of weeks off with Savage already making plans.
“The horse is OK, he’s good – back home nice and happy,” he said.
“In two months there’s a 1200m weight-for-age during the Darwin Cup Carnival – we might see him up there.
“That will be exciting to see him up there again.”
Savatoxl, arguably the best horse to emanate from the NT, has had six starts in the Top End for three wins when under the care of trainer Gary Clarke – he was second in the 2019 NT Derby (2000m).
His record in Alice Springs is 10 wins from 13 starts.
Finally, the ASTC will also kick off its Red Centre Winter Series on Sunday with two heats scheduled over 1200m (0-58) on the six-event program.
Further heats will take place on June 4 – 1100m (Class 2), June 18 – 1100m (0-64), July 2 – 1100m (0-58), July 16 – 1100m (BM54), July 30 – 1200m (0-64) and August 12 – 1200m (BM54) with the $40,000 Final set for August 25 – 1200m (BM66).
Horses will pick up points during the heats in their quest to qualify for the Final with former Alice Springs trainer Lisa Whittle winning the 2022 Red Centre Winter Series Final with Liberty Blue, who was ridden by leading Darwin jockey Sonja Wiseman.