By Ray Hickson
Trainer Rebecca Dunn called on her expertise with show horses to turn talented gelding Artlee from a basket case back into a racehorse and she has the fingers crossed he’ll run a cheeky race in his comeback at Rosehill on Saturday.
The inaugural Country Championships winner has only raced three times, back in February and March of 2018 for Kris Lees, since 2016 when he contested the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap for original trainer Todd Willan.
Now a soon to be nine-year-old, Artlee’s return has been pencilled in for Saturday’s July Sprint (1100m) and Dunn is confident the horse is 100 per cent sound after being in the wars over the past couple of years.
“That was our big thing, that’s why it has taken us so long bringing him back,’’ Dunn said.
“The owners have had him since he was a foal and he’s always been into mischief since the day he was born. They told me ‘he loves doing what he does and he will let you know if he doesn’t want to do it’.
“He is definitely happy, healthy and wanting to do the job again which is something he was failing to do at the end there with Kris.’’
In his time Artlee has had a throat operation, surgery for colic and an ongoing hoof issue and when he arrived at Dunn’s stable she gave him a clean slate and sent him back to the basics of being a horse.
“The owners decided to tip him out and get him over all his ailments. He’s been with me nearly three months, bringing him back slowly, and this is where we are at,’’ she said.
“When we started he was a handful and because he is such a tall animal we bought him back to earth.
“We did a lot of schooling in the sand and work getting his balance back, a lot of flat work like we do with dressage horses and it seems to have balanced up his body again.
“Obviously being out for so long and with so many different things going wrong his body was all out of whack.
“Now he’s a very nice horse to do anything with, he’s at the top of the pecking order but he lets you know that’s where he wants to be. If you have him second in line to be fed he lets you know how rude you are.’’
Dunn has given Artlee one public trial, where he ran on into fifth over 1000m at Gosford on July 11, and says he is such a busy horse his fitness levels are good but you can’t replace match practice.
“He hates being in a paddock so he just loves being in a stable environment. The further he gets into his prep the bouncier he gets,’’ she said.
“A lot of other horses warm up into their work but he is chomping at the bit from the time you get on him. He’s a boy with a purpose, he’s on the march. He doesn’t feel like a show horse that’s for sure.’’
She says forgetting Artlee’s credentials was easy at the start but now he’s days away from racing she feels like she’s thrown herself in the deep end running a horse in the city on a Saturday.
While Dunn has been riding trackwork for more than 20 years she's only been training for six, and only prepares a handful of horses, and it wasn’t that long ago she trained her first city winner when On My Word won a maiden at Warwick Farm.
Artlee will carry around 58kg in the July Sprint with Jake Hull booked to take the ride.
“I wanted to give him a run in the bush somewhere, I was aiming at the Daniel Baker sprint at Coffs Harbour but he was given 67kg,’’ she said.
Artlee's trial at Gosford on July 11
“This whole thing having a horse with a benchmark as high as his is new waters for me.
“I would have liked to have some match fitness before going to town. We have to go with an open mind knowing full well you are coming back from so many issues.
“Being 1100m I don’t know what to expect being first-up after so long. He might just shock the hell out of me and put his best foot forward.’’
You could forgive Artlee’s owners for wondering what might have been with their horse – he’s only had the 19 starts since his debut over five years ago and his last win was the Listed Luskin Star at Scone a month after the Country Championships.
He recorded placings up to Group 2 level and finished two lengths astern of Malaguerra in a BTC Cup in 2016 but Dunn says the owners are excited to be heading to Sydney again.
“The owners are characters, they are just happy to be down there. You’re going down there with owners who are absolutely thrilled to be back racing,’’ she said.