By Ray Hickson
Irish Duke is no champion but he should be a poster boy for persistence.
Not too many horses climb their way out of a rating as low as his 42 just four starts ago but the six-year-old has earned his chance in the #theraces Handicap (2700m) at Canterbury on Wednesday.
He’s now rated 55, thanks to three wins from his past four starts at Cessnock, Gunnedah and Gosford, and trainer Adam Duggan admits his patience has been tested.
“If I’m being honest I was tempted a couple of times to pull the pin on him, even this preparation, but I kept giving him one more run,’’ he said.
“He’s a lovely big horse and he’s not a bad horse to have around the stables.
“He’s easy to do anything with, a bit of a gentle giant, and the reason we’ve kept going is we’ve taken a bit of a shine to the horse.’’
The Irish Duke story begins back in 2013 when owner Tony Lawler purchased the son of Duke Of Marmalade for just $10,000.
He was sent to Allan Denham and recorded one placing from seven starts. He was then unplaced in a further seven starts for Scott Singleton.
After more than two winless years, and at his second start for Duggan, Irish Duke broke through at Tuncurry in January this year.
But it was in the insuing 10 unplaced starts that Duggan’s persistence was tested.
Then everything came together when the gelding won a 2125m Class 1 at Cessnock in September, then a BM46 over 2700m at Gunnedah and his last start BM64 win over 2600m on his home track.
“You won’t see many horses that have won three of their last four that are a benchmark 55,’’ Duggan said.
“I’ve got to say (Tony) owns the horse on his own and he’s definitely been very persistent. He likes the horse and was always confident once he got up to a trip he would go well.
“I knew it was going to be a bit of a task to get the owner to sack him.
“Once he’s got up to the distance, which has taken a while, his form is good. Admittedly he’s been placed pretty well, we found the right race at Cessnock and the soft race out at Gunnedah.’’
The obvious question is why has there been a sudden spike in Irish Duke’s form other than the increase in distance.
Duggan said in the time he’s trained the horse he’s had feet issues and he has an aversion to the wet.
Irish Duke's win over 2600m at Gosford - November 14
“We finally got him fit enough to race over a trip. That’s key I think just looking back,’’ he said.
“He has a good bit of stamina but if he gets his toe in he’s definitely not as effective.’’
The trainer admits he’s facing a task at Canterbury, where he opened a $13 chance with TAB, even with the tail up his rating of 55 is still 24 points lower than top weight Doukhan and he will only be in receipt of 8.5kg.
But, Duggan said it’s a logical step after his Gosford win and he hopes the horse can have a race run to suit him.
“It’s a bit of a quantum leap coming into this race, even after Gosford, and this race works out perfectly,’’ he said.
“We thought he’d run well there but he surprised me a bit how easily he put them away on the corner.
“He’s going to keep sticking his head out it’s just whether he is good enough. If they make it a good staying test he’s a bit of a fluker’s hope.
“The owner tells me he’ll win.’’
After all the faith he has shown, you wouldn’t expect anything else.