By Ray Hickson
It would mean so much to Pat Webster if he can go out a winner with his final runner as a trainer at Newcastle on Saturday but probably not for the reasons you’d think.
The man best known publicly as Happy Clapper’s trainer, but whose most important work is done behind the scenes, announced his retirement earlier this week and there’s a lot of sentiment invested in his final runner Kosciusko.
The six-year-old usually races in Gerry Harvey’s famous blue and white silks but will be sporting special colours - orange with the black Maltese cross and black hooped sleeves - for Webster’s finale.
Not only are they Webster’s original colours, from when he started training back in 1978, Kosciusko is part-owned by long time friend John Burke who has been a vital part of the team.
“We’ve been racing in Gerry’s colours and we said let’s see if we can have a change of luck,’’ Webster said.
“He’ll be our last runner for a very close friend, who I dearly love, and we’ll put the first set of colours I ever had on him.
“It’d be lovely if he can win. John Burke is now 80 and still helps out at the stables. So it is important to me.”
Webster said he’s hoping to have Kosciusko ridden just off the pace, as opposed to leading, to avoid being a sitting shot as can be the case with front-runners.
That plan was complicated when the barrier gods, who don't seem to care for sentiment, handed him the outside alley in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service Handicap (1200m).
“He worked well on Tuesday, I’m very happy with him,’’ he said.
The steering job will be left to Webster’s apprentice Brandon Griffiths who knocked back a ride in town to partner Kosciusko at Newcastle and, much to Webster’s delight, is set to join the powerful Snowden stable at Randwick on Monday.
It’s a huge opportunity for the 23-year-old to repay in a small way the faith Webster put in him when he took him on, while still suspended after a positive swab, a year ago and he knows it.
“It would be the icing on the cake,’’ Griffiths said.
“That would make it a bit of an emotional day, I’m sure, for everybody involved.”
Griffiths has been on board Kosciusko in four of his last five starts, including his last win at Hawkesbury in June, and said everything points to him running a big race. His 2kg claim will see the horse carry 59.5kg.
Since his first-up run, which Webster describes as a ‘good last’, in open company at Hawkesbury almost a month ago the gelding has been back to the trials for some extra fitness.
Kosciusko runs fourth in a trial at Randwick on November 24
Of course there’ve been no favours when it comes to the barrier draw for Webster’s send off with Kosciusko coming up with the outside in the 10 horse field but Griffiths is confident enough to say he just needs some luck.
“I think he can win, he’s going to be the best horse in the race,’’ he said.
“He’s a bit of a quirky horse and has to have a bit go his way. Provided things fall into place he will be very hard to beat.
“As long as he maps into the race well, and I can give him a good enough steer, I think he can be good enough.”
Webster won't be lost to the racing industry when he retires after Saturday's meeting, he'll be continuing his work with Racing Mates as a drug and alcohol counsellor for Racing NSW.