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Breaking records with the babies in Queensland

8 min read
Queensland pre-trainer Greg Bennett has pulled off an exceptional feat, breaking in the three individual winners of Australia’s three premier 2-year-old races in the one year.

Cover image courtesy of Fenwick Farm

On Saturday last, about the time of the G1 Golden Slipper, Greg Bennett was cutting the grass. Sleeves rolled, country jeans and a beaten-up bushie’s hat, he was a long way from the finery of the Rosehill birdcage.

But few that were trackside had the same investment in the race as the pre-trainer from Canungra. Bennett had broken in three horses in the race, and they were Shaquero (Shalaa {Ire}), Artorius (Flying Artie) and Stay Inside (Extreme Choice).

“I was on the ride-on when the Golden Slipper was on, mowing our track while it was all unfolding,” Bennett said. “I stopped, turned the mower off and watched it on my phone. When you know you’ve got a baby graduate from your training program going in a Group 1 or major 2-year-old race, you make the effort to watch it. It’s not always possible, but we watch when we can.”

Stay Inside’s easy romp last Saturday produced a staggering treble for Bennett. His three graduates had won the R. Listed Magic Millions 2YO Classic, G1 Blue Diamond S., and G1 Golden Slipper. Has it ever happened before?

“Someone asked me that on Saturday, and I couldn’t tell them,” Bennett said. “All I can say is, if it has happened, it’s got to be pretty rare.”

Greg Bennett | Image courtesy of Fenwick Farm

Diamond in the rough

From his training base at Fenwick Farm, in the uplands west of the Gold Coast, Bennett broke in 200 yearlings last year. Since January 10 this year, he has started 100. It’s a job that demands patience, early mornings and seven days in the week, and Bennett is more seasoned than most.

He started Makybe Diva (GB) (Desert King {Ire}) all those years ago when she arrived as a yearling from England, and remembers her as two lungs on four legs, breaking the hearts of her peers on the uphill climbs. He also broke in Written Tycoon, along with the stallion’s recent son, Written By, and that colt’s dam Yau Chin (Tobougg {Ire}).

“When you get on a nice, young horse that feels good, one that’s strong with a good attitude and a good temperament, they show themselves pretty quickly,” Bennett said. “Shaquero and Stay Inside really stood out early, and while Artorius was a lovely colt, he was very laid back. I think we even labelled him a bit lazy. He wasn’t as switched on as the other two, and he probably still races that way a bit too.”

“When you get on a nice, young horse that feels good, one that’s strong with a good attitude and a good temperament, they show themselves pretty quickly." - Greg Bennett

Artorius was a double-odds winner of the Blue Diamond in late February. Racing in the colours of China Horse Club, in partnership with Newgate and others, the colt was sixth in the Slipper.

“We’re going to see the best of him next preparation,” Bennett said. “Even though he’s already won a Group 1 race, I think there’s a lot more improvement in that horse from what I saw of the way he raced in the Golden Slipper. He’s got a lot of ability and a lot of natural speed, but he’s got to harness it, and that’s just mental immaturity on his part.”

Bennett is across the fine print.

He said Artorius ran the second-quickest splits for the final 600 metres of the Slipper, and that the style of the colt’s Blue Diamond win might have been scrappy, but it was effective.

“He came from a mile back in that race, and it took him a while to get going,” Bennett said. “But once he got balanced, his ability carried him through to the win.”

Half-back in a rugby league side

Shaquero started the rolling stone for Bennett in January, a dazzling winner of the R. Listed Magic Millions 2YO Classic. The colt was a first-crop product of shuttle stallion Shalaa (Ire), so there was a buzz around the Gold Coast from that fact alone.

But Bennett also started the colt that ran second to Shaquero, Alpine Edge (Better Than Ready).

“I was trackside that day, which was fantastic,” he said. “Alpine Edge was a Queensland horse, and that was what started the ball rolling for us this year, running one-two in the Magic Millions. It was an amazing beginning, and then to watch the other two come through and win the next two Group 1s, it was surreal.”

Alpine Edge | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

Bennett and his staff of 15 were prepared for Stay Inside’s Slipper win. They had three promising colts in the race, but Artorius (barrier 13) and Shaquero (barrier 15) had unfortunate draws, and they knew the calibre of Stay Inside. The result didn’t surprise them, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to process.

“We were hoping it would happen, but when it did happen we were all a bit amazed,” Bennett said. “It hit home quickly, but even up to yesterday we were still thinking this really was a pretty amazing feat. All three of those horses have one thing in common. They’ve got a very good sprint when it’s asked of them. To be able to hold that back until it’s needed, that’s the secret. That’s where those three shone.”

"Even up to yesterday we were still thinking this really was a pretty amazing feat. All three of those horses have one thing in common. They’ve got a very good sprint when it’s asked of them." - Greg Bennett

If Stay Inside was the star pupil of the trio, Bennett doesn’t say.

When he gets yearlings, the pre-trainer knows little about their trajectories until the saddles go on and the gallops begin. If they’re early running, the horses soon let him know.

Little Stay Inside was at once intelligent and talented, and he went through the motions at Fenwick Farm with the rest of his class – roundyard, flag work, rollers, and Greg’s heavy western saddle before lessons on the track.

“He was a good, quick little mover,” Bennett said. “He really handled his feet well. Stay Inside had a cheeky ‘look at me’ attitude, like a half-back in a rugby league side. He got around the ground well and carried weight well, and obviously you can’t predict they’re going to win a Cox Plate, Melbourne Cup or Golden Slipper, but of the five or six I did for Michael and Richard Freedman that year, he was the pick of them early.”

Stay Inside as a yearling

Bennett said there wasn’t a lot of size about Stay Inside, which didn’t surprise him given the colt’s sire, Extreme Choice, was a nippy galloper too.

“His father wasn’t an overly big horse,” he said. “He was only small when he was racing, but he was fast. He had a lot of speed, and this horse has done the same thing.”

Fame and glory

Bennett has been in the pre-training gig a long time. Makybe Diva carried him to unforeseen fame in 2005, but the events of last weekend are a different level.

“Makybe Diva punched my business along 10-fold for probably five years, maybe longer,” he said. “I think the blokes that broke in Black Caviar and Winx might say the same thing. Horses like these, and results like what we’ve had happen here this year, they’re good for business, and the best form of advertising is seeing what happens on the track.”

Bennett credits his staff heavily.

The process of starting yearlings is labour-intensive, requiring many hands across all stages of breaking. Bennett has an excellent set-up at Canungra, but he can’t ride everything.

“I make a point of riding every yearling that leaves here, even if it’s only three or four times." - Greg Bennett

“I make a point of riding every yearling that leaves here, even if it’s only three or four times,” he said. “But I’ve got good staff here helping me, and we’ve got good work-riders who finish them off, putting them in the racing pad, helping them learn the gates and go onto the track. It’s a team effort.”

Over the years, Bennett has been supported by some of the biggest names in the industry. Arrowfield, Vinery, Segenhoe and Cressfield Stud have been loyal, along with bloodstock agent John Foote from the Makybe Diva days. The Freedman boys and Chris Waller remain clients, along with Queensland locals Toby Edmonds and Stuart Kendrick, and lately Chris Munce.

“I’ve been training yearlings that long that I can look back three and four generations of a family now and see who I’ve broken in,” Bennett said. “But what happened last weekend, it rates right up there. We’ve won the three premier 2-year-old races in the one year with three different colts from three different buyers for three different trainers. It rates right up there with Makybe Diva winning three Melbourne Cups and a Cox Plate.”

Greg Bennett
Fenwick Farm
Stay Inside