Smuggling back in Alice Springs aiming for third Pioneer Sprint

Victorian-based jockey Jason Maskiell celebrates with the trophy after guiding the Phil Cole-trained Smuggling to back to back wins in the $100,000 Pioneer Sprint (1200m) on Alice Springs Cup Day at Pioneer Park last May. Picture: Nikki Westover Photography)

Darwin trainer Phil Cole will be aiming to achieve the rare feat of winning the Pioneer Sprint (1200m) in Alice Springs for the third straight year.

Smuggling, a 10-year-old gelding, has won the $100,000 feature during the Alice Springs Cup Carnival for the past two years and 2023 will more than likely be his last appearance in the race.

The son of Wanted, who finished 10th when he debuted in an 1100m maiden at Echuca in June 2017, has arrived back in the Red Centre where his preparation will mirror the path he took 12 months ago.

He will line up in the 1200m weight-for-age on April 22 before contesting the Pioneer Sprint on April 30.

Last year, Smuggling finished fourth in the weight-for-age with Top End jockey Wayne Davis in the saddle before storming home eight days later to win the Pioneer Sprint by 3.5 lengths with Victorian jockey Jason Maskiell on board.

In 2021, the gelding had four starts at Pioneer Park prior and during Carnival finishing third over 1000m and eighth over 1400m in open company before finishing second in the weight-for-age behind Stage Front before getting the better of Stage Front in the Sprint.

In those four races Alice Lindsay, Vanessa Arnott, Davis and Maskiell rode the horse.

Smuggling had the first of his seven starts in Alice Springs in September 2020 when he saluted over 1600m after finishing fourth behind Enigman (0.4 lengths) in the Palmerston Sprint (1200m) in August during the 2020 Darwin Cup Carnival with Davis as the pilot.

Speaking of Davis, who has based himself in Alice Springs during Carnival, he has not only been caring for Smuggling in Cole’s absence, but he has also been providing regular updates.

“Wayne is pretty much doing all my work in Alice Springs,” Cole said.

“He said the horse is going really good, he’s been very happy with all his gallops since arriving in Alice Springs.

“He’s come to us from Kym Healy in good order, so there’s no reason he can’t be winning three in a row – it’s not impossible.

“He’s had two runs in Adelaide and one run at Murray Bridge this year, and was unplaced.

“During our wet season here in Darwin he struggles with the humidity, so he maintains his fitness with those runs down south.

“Last year, Kym, who was training Smuggling, gave him three runs in Adelaide and then headed off to Alice Springs – he did the same this year.

“He got beaten by about five lengths in the weight-for-age last year and then went into the Sprint.

“Smuggling thrives on game day, he loves those high pressure races and I expect him to go really well again.”

Smuggling, third in the 2021 Palmerston Sprint in Darwin before finishing second last year – with Maskiell on board, lumped 60kg (2021) and 55.5kg (2022) en route to victory in the Pioneer Sprint.

Cole was unsure what weight Smuggling would receive for the 2023 Pioneer Sprint, and that might well determine if Maskiell returns to the NT to ride the horse.

“I don’t expect him to get as much weight this year, those couple of runs in South Australia hasn’t helped his rating,” he said.

“When he is racing against high quality horses all the time with big weights, he’s losing points if his not running a place.

“He might even get in on the minimum in the Sprint this year.

“We might need to be looking at finding another rider instead of Jason.

“He’s set to ride Smuggling, we’ll have to see what weight he gets and then we’ll have to go from there.”

Cole is actually flying to Alice Springs this weekend to shoe a few horses for fellow trainer Kerry Petrick, so he will get to inspect Smuggling first hand.

The highly successful NT trainer will return to the Red Centre on April 22 where he will watch Smuggling contest the weight-for-age that same day.

Smuggling, who once represented the stable of former Darwin trainer Stephen Brown, has raced at Fannie Bay on 23 occasions for eight wins since winning on debut over 1200m (0-66) in June 2019 and in 56 career starts he has saluted 14 times.

Eight horses will represent the Cole stable during the Alice Springs Carnival, with Sedona (Davis) lining up against open company over 1100m and Mt Buller (Davis) facing 0-58 opposition over 1200m on Saturday.

“Sedona, he won four races down there last preparation,” Cole said.

“He’s first up on Saturday, but he probably needs to win to get a run in the Sprint – otherwise there’s no races for him for the rest of the Carnival.”

Apart from Smuggling, Ideas Man and Saccharo are two quality horses form the Cole yard to watch during April.

“I have Ideas Man, that’s Chris Nash’s horse – hopefully I can try and get him a run in the Sprint,” he said.

“He’s had a full preparation, but he was very good in Darwin and had quite a few runs, and was very competitive as well – he has been working really well.

“Saccharo is heading towards the Cup – he won his last couple of races in Darwin.

“He won the Birdsville Cup last year and he’s ticking all the boxes.

“I think the trip to Queensland made this horse and we keep saying to the owners that he’s going probably better than he ever has since I’ve had him.

“He’s going great guns at the moment and he’ll run on April 22 in the Chief Ministers weight-for-age and then back up a week later in the Alice Springs Cup.”

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