By Ray Hickson
If She Will Reign didn’t save Gary Portelli’s training career she certainly rejuvenated it.
The fairy tale filly’s story hasn’t just been a tale about a group of battlers with a cheap horse it’s also about the trainer wondering how he could fill a stable.
Portelli revealed in the lead up to Saturday’s $10 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick how even a year ago he wondered where he stood in Sydney racing and how much She Will Reign coming along means to him.
“I was starting to worry that I was getting pigeonholed and getting squeezed out of the game and I was concerned we were going the wrong way,’’ Portelli said.
“Rebel Dane was always there but I didn't have much to back him up. I thought 'once he retires I've got nothing' and I didn't think anything would replace him.’’
Road to The Everest
— Darby Racing (@Darby_Racing) October 9, 2017
It’s been well documented that She Will Reign, a $20,000 purchase, was originally trained by Michael Costa but when he made the move to Queensland the filly stayed in Sydney and was transferred to Portelli.
He talks about "sliding doors’’ moments and this was a big one.
Then She Will Reign won the Golden Slipper, realising a long held ambition for the trainer who started out in Orange in the central west of NSW, and from six starts has already amassed over $2.8 million.
“I was struggling a few years back, I didn't have much quality in the camp,’’ he said.
“We picked up a good horse and here we are playing at the elite level. We've had a good year, we won on Magic Millions day with Testashadow, the Slipper and a couple of two-year-old races with Single Bullet and the boxes are now filled.
“This game has taken me a long way. I've been lucky enough to have Rebel Dane who took me to Hong Kong, I've been to Royal Ascot with Gold Trail.
“We don’t always get the expensive yearlings at the sales, to have one of the best sprinters in Australia goes to show you anyone can own a good horse.
“And if she can win The Everest I think she should be ranked the best sprinter in Australia.’’
Portelli was always confident She Will Reign could measure up to the older horses and that’s partially why he selected the Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m) for her only Everest lead up run.
She passed it with flying colours, repaying Portelli’s faith and the gamble that slot holder Yu Long had in her, overcoming a tardy start and an on pace pattern to prove herself at the top level.
“When I first found the race to aim at, it's usually a small field so when it was 13 runners it wasn't the plan but it was the run she had to have going into The Everest,’’ Portelli said.
“For me it wasn't so much she had to win but she had to run well. It worked out beautifully, she was able to follow a frantic pace and she got the money.
“The way she did it gave me confidence we can go into The Everest and be a great chance of winning. That was a Group 1 but this is a real Group 1.’’
Kerrin McEvoy rode She Will Reign in Melbourne but he already had a commitment to Everest runner Redzel so Portelli and Darby Racing selected Corey Brown to ride her at Randwick.
He’s spent a fair amount of time getting to know the filly and, after watching her work all week, Portelli is confident the filly is comfortable with the new hoop and The Everest is a mountain they can climb.
“She was a bit keen when Corey first rode her because I think she thought he was a jockey that'd gallop her,’’ Portelli said.
“Ever since he's been riding her every day she's now come back and relaxing more for him.
“I always have my doubts going into a race.
“On Tuesday morning is the best time to talk to me, after trackwork, because from there on I start listening to all the paper talk, the critics, and start giving more credibility to the opposition.
“This race is going to be an amazing race. There's no dominators, there's no horse that's going to put four on them on the turn and everyone's going to clap them down the straight like a Winx.
“And racing needs it, it's been getting a bit stale with the same old races every year. We need something like this.’’