Alice Springs top horse of 2022 eyes further success

Flying Start, the deserved Alice Springs Horse of the Year for 2022, will aim to return to his winning ways at Pioneer Park on Saturday.

The four-year-old gelding from the Greg Connor stable returned to action on December 18 after a spell lasting almost four months and finished fourth in open company over 1200m behind Terry Gillett’s Supreme Times.

Jumping from the outside gate in the eight-horse field, the son of Flying Artie worked hard early before settling in third place and although showing grit in the home straight it was only a lack of fitness that saw him lose touch with the leaders.

The former Victoria galloper from Lloyd Kennewell’s Cranbourne stable will front this weekend against quality sprinters once again over 1100m.

In eight NT starts, Flying Start won his first race in the Red Centre by eight lengths in a 1200m maiden last April and then sealed the NT Guineas (1600m) by eight lengths before taking out another feature during the Alice Springs Cup Carnival for the 3YO/4YOs over 1600m (BM68).

To overcome Terry Gillett’s talented Bench Press on that occasion was no mean feat, and subsequently Connor devised a Darwin Cup Carnival campaign.

A narrow first up second against fellow 3YOs over 1300m (BM66) in June was followed by a disappointing seventh in the Darwin Guineas (1600m) in early July and it was at that point Connor realised Flying Start’s future was as a sprinter.

The gelding ended his first Top End sojourn in style with victory in a $40,000 race for the 3YOs over 1200m (BM68) before making it back to back wins in open company over 1300m on Darwin Cup Day (August 1).

Flying Start has ability, but his best attribute is his finishing speed that has at times left Connor in awe – highlighted by his NT Guineas win when he was easily 10 lengths behind the leaders with 600m to go.

Darwin Cup winning jockey Jessie Philpot, who has partnered Flying Start in each of his NT starts, retains the ride on Saturday and is optimistic the horse will prove competitive.

“I think he needed the run last start, but he’s much fitter for it going into this race tomorrow,” she said on Friday.

“To be honest, I think he was probably a bit fresh and we ended up a bit more forward than we liked – but it wasn’t a bad run.

“There really wasn’t a plan because he has basically raced the same in all of his starts – it was just to see how he went first run back after a spell.

“He’s come back good – Greg’s happy with him and he’s been doing all his work right, so that’s the main thing.

“It’s really good having him back.

“He’s got a lot of character, he’s a bit of a stable favourite, not because he’s won his races – he’s just good to have around the stables.”

It should be a good race on Saturday as you can make a case for Paul Gardner’s Roughly, Kerry Petrick’s Our Luca, Dick Leech’s Write Your Name, Will Savage’s Cut It Out, Terry Gillett’s Valley Prince, and Lisa Whittle’s stablemates Mathematics and Cyclonite.

“I hope he runs well, it’s not a huge field, there’s some nice and talented horses in it and hopefully he can do his job – as long as he runs a nice race everyone will be happy,” Philpot said.

“We’ll just see how the race pans out and hopefully we can sit behind them and he does his thing.

“Greg’s not the type of person who says that they’ve got to win or anything like that, so there’s no pressure going into it.

“We’ll just see how it goes and re-evaluate at the end of the day.

“I’m not sure what Greg’s got planned, but he’ll know what’s best for him.

“I’m sure he’s got a plan worked out, I just don’t know it yet.”

Flying Start isn’t the only decent horse Philpot has ridden in recent times after enjoying a spectacular ride aboard the Nicole Irwin-trained Highly Decorated before and during the 2021 Darwin Cup Carnival.

South Australian galloper Highly Decorated won three straight in the Top End and then took out the Adelaide River Cup (1600m) before returning to Fannie Bay to land another three wins.

Philpot didn’t ride the gelding – a six-year-old these days – in his first NT start, but she then got the nod from Irwin before securing the ROANT Gold Cup (1300m), Chief Ministers Cup (1600m) and Darwin Cup (2050m).

Murray Bridge-based Irwin, who has spent plenty of time in the Top End in recent years, brought Highly Decorated back to Darwin last year and with Philpot as the pilot he won first up over 1200m (BM79) in June before injury curtailed his Cup Carnival campaign.

When assessing Highly Decorated, a likely Darwin Cup Carnival arrival in 2023, and Flying Start, Philpot was diplomatic.

“Oooooh,” she said.

“Well, they are two completely different horses in looks and running ability, but they’re both nice horses.

“Highly Decorated is pretty special obviously after winning the Darwin Cup, but I have spent a lot of time with Flying Start too.

“They’re both on the same wavelength, I think.”

Finally, Flying Start was also named as Alice Springs’ Three-Year-Old of the Year for 2022.

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