It has been nearly 20 years since a female trainer prepared a Perth Cup winner, a hoodoo local Ascot-based Paula Wagg hopes to break in 2015 with her mare Balmont Girl.
Wagg will saddle-up the four-year-old daughter of Balmont from a wide barrier in Thursday’s $500,000 Group 2 Golden River Developments Perth Cup (2400m) after the W.A. Oaks winner drew barrier 15.
That could become gate 13 in a capacity 16-starter Perth Cup field should the two emergency runners fail to gain a start in the January 1 classic tomorrow.
The first female trainer to win the Perth Cup was back in 1977 with Fran Gannon taking home the trophy with Muros.
Since then the other ladies to repeat the feat are Kay Miller with Ullyatt (1986) and Ros Reef (1995), Angela Johnson with her W.A.T.C. Derby winner Crying Game (1996) who completed the double just six days apart, and the Wagin-based Angela Smith with Time Frame (1997) for its all-the-way win on a very hot day 18 years ago.
Now Wagg, a jockey turned trainer who was the first official female hoop to become a fully-qualified WA hoop back in 1979, will look to add her name to the list this week.
She came was targeting her maiden Perth Cup success with Kim Angel back in 1999 on the back of the mare’s Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival campaign, and looked in with a good chance with the horse winning the Towton Cup first-up over the track and distance once home.
Kim Angel backed up from that in the Group 2 C.B. Cox Stakes (2400m) with a nice third behind Old Cobber and Lottila Bay, but the scorching Perth weather took its toll and she was spelled after pulling up with heat stress.
The mare was later raced by Australia’s John Meagher in Singapore for a 2000 Singapore Gold Cup victory, proving what could have been in the Perth Cup the year before should she have made it to race day.
This time another Singapore-owned mare in Balmont Girl is her chance at atonement, a smart runner Wagg said loves her routines.
“She hears me open the door in the morning and she is alert,” Wagg told The West Australian.
“You have to take her out and go down to the track for her work.
“If you throw out her routine she won’t eat her breakfast.
“On race days my track rider Jeff Nixon takes her for a walk and a trot.
“She is very smart because she hears the races and she knows the routine too well.”
Betting on the handicap clash this summer is firmly led at bookmakers around the country including Ladbrokes by another mare, the Adam Durrant-trained Real Love.
Balmont Girl managed to beat her home during the autumn when the two finished first and second respectively with one and a quarter lengths between them in the Group 3 W.A. Oaks (2400m) on March 29.
Durrant’s daughter of Desert King however won round two with Real Love finishing third to Balmont Girl’s fourth next time out in April’s Group 2 W.A.T.C. Derby (2400m) won by another Perth Cup hope this summer, Respondent.
After nice early spring form that included a Group 3 Asian Beau Stakes (1400m) win and a second to a stablemate of Respondent, Elite Belle, in the Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) in November, Balmont Girl was challenging Real Love for Perth Cup favouritism.
That changed however when she could only manage to finish five and a half lengths away 10th to the Chris Waller-trained Sydney raider Moriarty a fortnight later in the Group 1 Kingston Town Classic (1800m).
In her final Perth Cup lead-up Balmont Girl ran at Ascot on December 20 in the Listed W.A. St. Leger (2100m) and improved to run a half-length off Real Love in the open handicap.
She carried 56kg that day, equal with the winner, but goes up a kilo to 57kg for Thursday’s rematch.
Real Love meanwhile drops two kilograms down to the 54kg minimum and has come up trumps with barrier five, possibly into four, with William Pike booked to ride the deserving favourite.
While a few things like the barrier and the weight are working against her mare, Wagg remains hopeful that Balmont Girl’s class can shine through when back up over a mile and a half, and she can score an upset Perth Cup result in Ascot Race 8.
Wagg does admit however that the distance might not be as suitable as it looks on paper despite the mare’s win over the 2400m as a green filly.
“She’s only had the one run over 2400m and I am not sure that is her pet distance,” Wagg said.
“She came back and was thrown straight into open class where she ran really well first-up and Shaun O’Donnell rode a beautiful ride to win the Asian Beau Stakes.
“She has really impressed because she has stepped up in class and distance each time and she has continued to improve.
“I think she can run the distance, but much will depend on how they run it, whether they run it hard or it’s a sit-and-sprint.”
Whatever happens on Thursday Wagg is looking forward to the next preparation with Balmont Girl who will only go from strength-to-strength as she matures further.
“I think she is getting better and better all of the time,” she said.
“She only turned four in October and she will be a superior mare next year.”