Michelle Fleming knew that Babbinboon Boy had the ability to win races, but getting him in the right head space to do that was an exercise in perseverance and “sleepless nights” for the Kootingal trainer.
At the TAB meeting in Armidale on Tuesday the hard worked paid off, when the four-year-old bay gelding won his first race, in race start No.2. With apprentice Wendy Peel aboard and jumping from the outside barrier (12), Babbinboon Boy won, by more than a length, the $22,000 Rapid Clean New England CG&E Maiden Plate (1100 metres). He paid a juicy $51 for the win.
But getting him to that point has illuminated the unglamorous behind-the-scenes grind involved in correcting a problem horse so he fulfills his potential. “It was just a long haul,” Fleming said, “and a lot of sleepless nights for me awake thinking about it.”
Babbinboon Boy, she said, had possessed a Jekyll and Hyde personality: so placid off the track “a child could ride him”, but on the track he “lost the plot a little bit”. “So I had to spend a lot of time with him – do a lot of work with him to get him right to race. So it’s taken a fair while to do that. He was very fit going into the race.”
After finishing seventh on debut in a 10-strong field at Gunnedah on January 18, Babbinboon Boy was spelled for 48 weeks as Fleming tried to coax the winner out of him. Leading into Tuesday’s race, the signs were promising. “[Jockey] Nick Perrett did his final gallops last week, and he went really well,” she said. “So I was pretty happy that he was right where I wanted him.
“The mental state at the track after Nick had done his gallop, he [Babbinboon Boy] walked in relaxed and everything. So I knew when Nick rode him for me the other day that he was ready to go.”
Come the big day, the track was rated soft five. Babbinboon Boy carried 57 kilograms in race two, the second lightest impost, after Peel claimed two kilograms as a second-year apprentice.
But Fleming was concerned about the wide barrier draw. It was “a hard task over 1100m at Armidale from that barrier,” she said.
She added: “I just said to Wendy, ‘Just let him roll along. Keep him balanced was my biggest thing, because he’s only learning still. And she rode him perfectly, and he came home and ran beautiful … I was just so happy, because all that work you put into them and you go, ‘Oh dear!’
“And it’s sort of a bit of a team effort, too. My track rider [Paul Hoffman], he’s done a lot. And my partner, [David Jamieson], he’s done a lot of work with him as well … without those guys helping me I wouldn’t have done it.”
Fleming now has to stop Babbinboon Boy relapsing into his bad old ways. She and her team had to “keep it all together again”, the trainer said, especially in his next few runs.
“You don’t back off just because he ran well yesterday [on Tuesday] and did everything right,” she said. “And he’s still learning – he’s probably a little bit green. But the more I race him now, the better he’ll get. He pulled up really well [on Tuesday].”
Babbinboon Boy’s next assignment may be at Tamworth early in the new year.
Fleming co-owns the horse with Rob Colley, as well as husband and wife Dave and Gail Bastable. Colley lives on Babbinboon Rd, Somerton.
Fleming capped off a memorable day at Armidale when her seasoned campaigner, six-year-old gelding Herecum Da Drums, won the $22,000 Sunday 3/3/19 Armidale Cup Benchmark 58 (1400m).
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