Golden Reign over but not for Portelli
"DON'T cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.''
Trainer Gary Portelli had reason to recite the famous Dr. Seuss quotation as She Will Reign left his Warwick Farm stables for the last time earlier this week.
She Will Reign was racing's fairytale filly. A $20,000 yearling purchase who amassed over $3.2 million in earnings including dual Group 1 successes in the Golden Slipper and Moir Stakes.
She only had 12 career starts, winning six, and was retired after her unplaced run behind Pierata in the Missile Stakes earlier this month. She will start a broodmare career in Japan next year.
"We said goodbye to She Will Reign last Monday,'' Portelli said.
"When the owners sold her a while back, we knew this was going to be her last racing preparation so we had conditioned ourselves for her to take that walk down the driveway.
"If the owners had made the decision to sell her last week, then I probably would have been in the foetal position when she left our stables.
"But I was mentally prepared for the day when it was all over. After her first-up run we were very aware she was closer to retirement than anything else.
"As it turned out, to rub salt into the wound, the horse that just beat us for fifth, Showtime, came out and won the Lawrence Stakes, and Egyptian Symbol was last in the Missile and she won the Toy Show Quality.''
The farewell to She Will Reign comes about a year after Portelli's top sprinter Rebel Dane was retired to stud.
"There is no doubt while Rebel Dane was a fantastic horse for us season after season and hopefully he goes on to do great things as a sire now but for She Will Reign to win a major, a Golden Slipper, is another level again,'' Portelli said.
"Rebel Dane will always have a special place in my heart but for me, when I look back on my career in years to come, winning the Golden Slipper will be my highlight.''
This might seem like the end a very successful era for the Portelli stable after the multiple Group 1 successes of the now-retired duo, Rebel Dane and She Will Reign but, in a sense, it is also a new beginning.
It is the very nature of the training business that Portelli was already searching for his next stable superstar before the retirements of Rebel Dane and She Will Reign. In truth, trainers are looking for that next topliner every day.
By coincidence, a couple of emerging young gallopers with links to She Will Reign and Rebel Dane, Dio D'Oro and Exceltic, could be Portelli's "Generation Next" and will fly the stable flag at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
Dio D'Oro, raced by Scott Darby from Darby Syndications who purchased She Will Reign, lines up in the Group 3 $150,000 San Domenico Stakes (1100m), and Exceltic, raced by Louis Mihalyka's Laurel Bloodstock of Rebel Dane fame, runs in the Group 3 $150,000 Ming Dynasty Quality (1400m).
"They will both run,'' Portelli said. "There might be a bit of rain about which will help their chances and they worked really well Tuesday morning.''
Dio D'Oro did run second on debut behind subsequent Golden Slipper winner Estijaab back in January but he really found form in his second preparation when he struck wet tracks through winter and reeled off three successive wins (including a dead-heat) from as many starts.
Although Dio D'Oro hasn't raced since June, he impressed in a recent Randwick barrier trial when he finished a close third to Lake Lugarno.
"Dio D'Oro is a strong horse so if it is wet, then it will bring him into it,'' Portelli said.
"I can't believe how well he has come back after that short break. He's an absolutely magnificent type, you won't see a horse under saddle look as well as him (Saturday).
"I've always thought he would be better as a three-year-old so hopefully this preparation will see him step right up.''
Portelli has a high regard for Exceltic even though the colt is s still a maiden after five starts. He has shown glimpses of his ability with placings in the Canonbury Stakes and Pierro Plate last season.
"I think he has been screaming out for 1400m,'' Portelli said of Exceltic.
"He's a lovely horse and his sectionals were good closing off at Rosehill last start. He was not quite sharp enough to run them down over 1100m but he was doing enough on the line to catch the eye.
"If he is close enough to them on the corner, he will be hard to beat.''
Portelli also saddles up $1.3 million earner Testashadow in the Group 3 $150,000 Premier's Cup (1900m). Testashadow has been improved by three runs from a spell and Portelli said: "We have got him right at his peak".
Single Bullet and Puppet Master line up in the Lindt Benchmark 78 Handicap (1100m).
Portelli is hoping Single Bullet, now a gelding, might be ready to realise his obvious potential after some brilliant track gallops and trial efforts in recent weeks.
"Single Bullet has been working the place down,'' Portelli said.
"I decided not to claim with him and put Tye Angland back on as he loves this horse.
"I'll see how he goes first-up and then work out a program for him but I'm hoping now that he has been gelded he might be the real deal.
"On race day he used to rear up like a stallion when we were putting the girth on him. At the races he was not the horse we would see every morning because he is so quiet at home.''
Portelli said the speedy Puppet Master, who like She Will Reign is raced by Darby Syndications, would only start if the track is firm on Saturday.
As Portelli prepares for life after She Will Reign, the trainer reflected on the impact she had on his training career.
"I think her Golden Slipper win consolidated the business,'' a diplomatic Portelli said.
"Leading up to the Slipper last year, the stable was having a good run. We had won the Manikato Stakes with Rebel Dane, Testashadow won the Magic Millions Cup, Single Bullet was coming through and She Will Reign had already won the Inglis Classic and the Silver Slipper.
"I had already secured about 40 yearlings before the Easter Sales last year. I was actually worried how I would cope if I got another 10 out of Easter - but I never got one yearling from that sale.
"It's funny because I remember Clarry Conners telling me after he won a couple of Golden Slippers he didn't get an extra horse out of it.''
Portelli, acknowledged as a master trainer of juveniles, has another strong crop of 40 two-year-olds on his books for the new season, with the trainer investing in yearlings by first season stallions, a practice he has had great success with in past years.
The trainer identifies the stallions he believes will be successful at stud and buys into them before their progeny hit the racetrack.
"When Northern Meteor's first crop was sold, I bought eight of them and had a lot of luck with his progeny,'' Portelli said. "This season I've got a few two-year-olds by Dissident and Deep Field. The Dissident's are strong types while Deep Field throws real speed horses. Hopefully they will be up and running early.
"I've had them all through the system at least once and now I'm trying to work out the next phase of the process and selecting which ones will be my early season two-year-olds.''
So, Portelli's search is on again for that next stable superstar, the next She Will Reign or Rebel Dane.
"It's the reason we get out of bed so early every morning,'' Portelli said. "When you have an untried two-year-old in the barn, you keep going because you just never know….''