By Ray Hickson
Cradle Mountain is a special horse to trainer Clare Cunningham and it’s easy to understand why.
As the exciting sprinter aims up at his first Listed race in Saturday’s $140,000 Razor Sharp Stakes (1200m) at Randwick, Cunningham reflected on the faith the owners have shown in her as a fledgling trainer to bring the best out in a horse she described as ‘rough as guts’ when he arrived.
A stakes win would be just reward for what’s been a trying year for Cunningham and owners John and Ellen Collison as the gelding has bounced back from a bad hamstring injury in May to re-affirm is rising talent status.
“I was still riding trackwork for other people when I took on Cradle Mountain so he’s been here from day dot,’’ Cunningham said.
“He was my first non-tried horse so we’re proud to have had him from the start. He rocked up off a truck, John and Ellen rang me up and asked me to train their horse.
“Everything you see today is what we’ve created. It’s been a journey because he’s such a character, he hasn’t been easy at times. It feels like he’s our child.’’
Cradle Mountain opened the $2.00 favourite with TAB to take his record to seven wins from 10 starts in the Razor Sharp.
So it’s fair to say Cunningham is doing a more than handy job of repaying the Collisons' faith. And that belief in her ability is something she’ll never forget.
“You couldn’t find better owners to have for your second horse,’’ she said.
“John and Ellen used to pay me in advance, that’s unheard of in this industry. I was starting out and riding work to try and get the stable to survive and pay the bills.
“They’d pay in advance so I had the money to spend on the horse. This horse is a $4000 horse, he was rough as guts when he arrived and there were the owners paying in advance every month.
“Even through the injury there was no second guessing, they left it in my hands and it’s been a pleasure to have him.
“It can be a tough world and they deserve every bit of success with the horse.’’
A first-up win at Rosehill on November 3 proved Cradle Mountain had shaken off the injury in style and he confirmed it when stretched to 1300m three weeks later with Kerrin McEvoy deputising for a suspended Jason Collett who is back in the saddle on Saturday.
Cradle Mountain's second-up win at Rosehill on November 24
The prospect of a forgiving surface at Randwick, a light weight and favourable barrier will afford the five-year-old every chance to pass his toughest test against the likes of Deploy and Kaepernick.
“I’ve worked hard to try and pick our way through the grades and I have to put him in the deep end rating wise and I’m excited to see how he lines up,’’ Cunningham said.
“Win, lose, or draw he’s going to go out after this race, he hasn’t been in a paddock for three quarters of the year. We’ll get a bit of a line on where to head for the autumn and winter.
“We think he’ll handle a soft, not too sure if it became heavy, he has a lovely big knee action so we’d like it in the soft range.’’
As far as Cradle Mountain’s preparation for his 2018 finale, Cunningham said she couldn’t have him in better order after some easy work on the Warwick Farm course proper this week.
“I’m not huge on running world record times in trackwork, as long as they do it nicely and have a blow out that’s all I need them to do,’’ she said.