Undue charging into uncharted territory
By Pat Bartley
February 18, 2006
SHANE Clarke's world changed dramatically just on 18 months ago. The Darwin trainer expects to be a major player in today's group 1 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley with a sprinter named Undue.
This is no ordinary galloper. This gelding is a discard from the mighty powerful Woodlands Stud operation, Bob Ingham's multimillion-dollar breeding and racing empire, which is umatched in these parts.
No long ago a group of Clarke's clients approached him to take on the lightly raced Undue, which they had bought from Woodlands' Crown Lodge stable in Melbourne for an undisclosed amount, although believed to be less than $20,000.
"I took him on, but he wasn't the easiest horse in the world," Clarke said this week.
"When I put him in his box, he kept looking to the very end of the stable block at one gelding. Then one day, he managed to get out of his stable and race down to this horse and in trying to climb into the horse's box, he knocked his cannon bone."
After infection set in, Clarke was had to spell the horse. On his return, Undue was being prepared for a career in Darwin but one track gallop changed the trainer's mind.
"I sent him out to gallop and I looked down at my stopwatch," Clarke recalled. "I couldn't believe a bush horse could run this time. I nudged the bloke next to me in disbelief and asked him if what I'd seen actually happened.
"On the strength of that, I told the owners we would head to Adelaide for one run and then come home. Don't forget, taking a horse from Darwin to Adelaide is a big jump in class, so the decision is never an easy one."
Undue had already made a name for himself in Darwin, having won four races from six starts. But despite this, his trainer was still wary about taking the next step.
Horses from the Woodlands Stud empire such as Undue are often sent to the Northern Territory and north Queensland. In fact, Woodlands Stud horses once prepared by John Hawkes largely underpin the racehorse population in those areas, with up to 20 per cent of them being discards from the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane stables.
"Don't get me wrong, they are always healthy, well and sound when they come up our way," Clarke said. "And their appearance in the Territory has given many, many owners a lot of pleasure."
When recalling Undue, Hawkes said: "He had ability and he's obviously improved a little more to be racing at that level. And good luck to the people.
"We decided to sell him and we did. We sell 150 horses every year. We have to because another crop is coming behind and they must be given a chance. Tough decisions have to be made."
Undue didn't let Clarke down on his arrival in Adelaide, winning first-up at Cheltenham and prompting Clarke to "stay for one more", which ended up resulting in the four-year-old putting together three consecutive wins in South Australia.
"Then I said to the owners, 'Let's give him a try at Flemington - I've never been there, so it'll be an experience for us all'," Clarke said.
"I clearly remember walking in to the betting ring and backing the horse, with the bookie leaning down to me telling me, 'He's got no hope from barrier one'. And 40 minutes later, I've trained my first winner at Flemington from just my first starter and I'm filling out a late-entry form for the Newmarket."
Two weeks later, Undue won the Sale Quality, with Clarke saying: "He just keeps getting better, so I thought, 'Well, he could run at Mornington next week or jump in at the deep end at Moonee Valley'. And my gut feeling was, let's jump in at the deep end."