Former Sydney trainer Mario Caltabiano will have strapper David Fletcher to thank if his rejuvenated gelding Budget Bender can land a well-deserved win in Thursday’s $65,000 Slipway Hotel Ballina Cup (1600m).
Budget Bender has always had plenty of talent but has also had a number of issues to overcome, including a throat operation, knee surgery and foot problems. Those problems have restricted the eight-year-old to just 32 starts, producing seven wins and seven minor placings.
After failing in last year’s Ballina Cup when 10th to Yoho, Budget Bender again finished unplaced at his next start at Lismore. Caltabiano thought it was time to retire the gelding but in stepped strapper David Fletcher who convinced his boss to persevere with the galloper.
“David’s done a lot of work with this horse and he convinced me to keep going with him instead of retiring him,” said Caltabiano. “He had come back from a throat operation and just didn’t fire at all last year, but he’s come back in terrific order this prep and has found some of his old form.
“David’s about to take out his own trainer’s licence and will be taking over the training of Budget Bender shortly as I’m planning to retire soon.”
Caltabiano, who trained in Sydney for 35 years before moving to the Gold Coast four years ago, would obviously love to land the Ballina Cup before he hands Budget Bender over to Fletcher. Budget Bender, raced by the trainer’s wife, Debbie, and long-time friend and stable client Roy Levy, has become a family favourite.
“Budget Bender’s been through a lot and has become something of a family pet,” he said.
“He’s always had a lot of talent but has also had his share of problems. He showed a lot of promise at the start of his career, winning five of his first 10 starts but then had all his problems to overcome and never realised his full potential.”
Budget Bender has certainly turned things around this campaign. Winless since January, 2015, Budget Bender ran well second-up form a spell when runner-up to Monster Of Energy in the Beaudesert Cup (1400m) on June 24 then two starts later finally broke through to win at Ipswich over 1700m on July 21.
He won again at his next start over 1800m at the Sunshine Coast on August 6 before his last-start sixth behind Monteaux over 2040m at Doomben on August 12.
“The 2040m found him out last time and the track was also probably a bit too hard for him – he’s much better with the sting out of the ground,” said Caltabiano.
“The drop back to the 1600m at Ballina should be ideal. The alley’s a worry, but he’s a forward-running horse and hopefully he can slot in from that wide gate. If there was no pace and he ended up getting a soft lead, that would be perfect.”
Experienced Gold Coast jockey Jason Taylor, who has ridden Budget Bender at his past three starts, continues the association on Thursday and will have to navigate across from an outside gate in the 14-horse field.
“Jason was keen to stick with him at Ballina and thinks he’ll run very well back to the 1600m,” he said.
Budget Bender is one of several runners backing up again in the Ballina Cup after tackling the race in 2016.
The John Shelton-trained Cash Spinner (second in 2016), and Bruce Hill’s two runners Liberty Island (7th) and Bodegra Negra (13th) are all back for another crack.
In-form Port Macquarie-trained gelding Glitra looks one of the hardest to beat in Thursday’s race after drawing perfectly in gate three and having the benefit of apprentice Cejay Graham’s 2kg allowance.
Thursday’s eight-race program also features the $35,000 Furnaces@Aquis Farm Ballina Newmarket Hcp (1250m).
The Stephen Lee-trained Hydrazine and the Matt Dunn-trained Red Bowers fought out the Newmarket finish last year and return to do battle again in this year’s edition.