By Ray Hickson
“From the first gallop she just took the breath away.”
That was Nathan Doyle’s first impression of exciting mare Strawb, the blueblood who trod an unlikely path to the young Newcastle trainer's hands and is set to make her city debut at Kensington on Saturday.
The Strawb story begins with John Singleton, she’s a member of Singo's famous Joie Denise family and a grand-daughter of Sunday Joy, and she made her debut with Kylie Gavenlock, running last, before being sold to Matthew Sandblom for $80,000.
She won a Coffs Harbour maiden for Stirling Osland and was then sent to stud but she failed to get into foal to both Capitalist and Deep Field and was placed with Doyle.
Now, the mare has won three of her last four starts and all eyes will be on her in the Ranvet Handicap (1400m).
Doyle said initially there wasn’t a whole to lot to recommend her aside from her pedigree and admits he wasn’t enthused by the research he did into her first two starts but that all changed when he saw her gallop.
“The first thing I did when Mr Sandblom said he was going to send her down was I went back through her form and she’d won a Sky 2 race at Coffs Harbour,’’ he said.
“Everything that ran behind her were retired or were still trying to win a race so I wasn’t sure what we were getting.
“But she does it with ease, she pricks the ears on the line, she goes home and licks the bin.
“I’ve got some nice enough horses in the stable but she is just next level. She’s very clean winded, she’s hassle free, she’s sound and believe it or not with her gate issues she’s perfect to deal with at home.’’
Those gate issues cost Strawb an unbeaten record for Doyle, she won well at Scone at her first run for the stable, despite missing the start, on April 6 but when she returned a couple of weeks later she completely bombed it and gave away 10-12 lengths before beating beaten just over a length.
Doyle went to work to fix that issue and the proof has been there in the two dynamic wins at Newcastle in the past month that have made her hot property, with jockey managers clambering to unseat Mitchell Bell, before she’s raced in town.
“She’s been faultless of late and she’s only lightly raced so there’s still a lot more left to come. The more times we step her out the better she is going to be,’’ Doyle said.
“She’s a big mare and she just doesn’t like to be crowded in the gates. On every occasion when she missed the start they were holding on to her in the gates and she hates that, she just wants to be left alone.
“Hopefully we have found the key to her and she can move forward and be better for it.’’
There was no way Mitchell Bell was going to give up the ride on Strawb easily and Doyle said he was more than happy to stick with the jockey that knows her.
“I wanted to show faith in Mitchell too, he’s done nothing wrong by us,’’ he said.
“You need opportunities and without them I wouldn’t be where I am so why doesn’t Mitchell deserve a chance when he’s done nothing wrong.
“The phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to ride her. I offered it to Mitchell and he said he was going wherever she was going.’’
Strawb wins at Newcastle on July 4
Strawb was a dominant $2.50 favourite with TAB on Thursday and it’s no surprise when you look at her last start win over 1400m at Newcastle.
The Punter’s Intelligence sectional data showed both her last 600m of 33.35 and last 200m of 11.58 were easily the fastest of the meeting and, ominously, Doyle said the report from Bell was that she didn’t feel like she was going that fast.
A break beckons for Strawb after Saturday’s assignment and Doyle's confident enough that she will be able to produce her best on a heavy track.
“She’s one of those horses who will handle any conditions but I think she will be more effective on top of the ground,’’ he said.
“You don’t want to take away from her turn of foot because we have some high hopes for her moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Doyle said Café Royale has gone for a spell after her unplaced effort at Rosehill last week, citing she’s not fond of wet tracks, but he will be sending another promising type in Royal Banquet, who loves the wet, to town on Saturday week.