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How Smart Missile missed the cut and then made the Slipper

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday April 1, 2011

MAX PRESNELL

'The first day when we took him in with the pony, he had colts in yards alongside him. He could see them through the cracks and smell 'em. He had never seen the pony. He was restless. I put it down to him being a very horny sort of a horse, bully. I went to pass him up to Cameron to start his leading lessons and he took off. He reared on his hind legs like a stallion. He went bang, striking at him. I had to run in and drag him off. He banged me up against the wall and cut all me elbow open. We got the saddle horse out and he started to try to climb the wall, to get to his mates next door."Thus began the first and damaging kindergarten session for Smart Missile, a strong fancy in Saturday's Golden Slipper, which carries $3.5 million in prizemoney plus added millions for the winner in stud value if a colt.Imagine the scene at Gooree Stud at Mudgee, capital of Eduardo Cojuangco's significant racing empire. There is horse breaker Max Crockett, who has educated thousands of yearlings, and Harry Meyer, now the long side of 80, is on hand watching, ready with a second opinion. Meyer broke in Tulloch and other champions. The know-how of the operation is unrivalled. Supplying the youth is Cameron Crockett, son of Max and regarded as a gun breaker of the future.Max Crockett began with Cojuangco in the 70s with a top mare, Kapalaran, trained by Neville Begg. So far that partnership hasn't cracked it for a Golden Slipper. Still, the Crockett touch has paid off with other Slipper winners such as Fairy Walk, Dark Eclipse and Birthday Card plus placegetters galore.But none previously, nor any yearling for that matter, started as badly as Smart Missile. Most colts with similar behaviour would have met the gelder's blade."When we put the gear on him, I mouthed him up, he was going all right," Crockett recalled of that first lesson. "We always use a saddle pony, lead them on the right- then the left-hand side to get them used to people above their heads so they won't get frightened when you ride 'em."They learn to go around with a rider on another horse because they have never seen anyone on their dam's back. People say they are horse-shy. They are not horse-shy but rider-shy. We take them around the yard with the saddle horse and the rider leans over and they get used to it before anyone gets on them."Alas the pony sent Smart Missile into orbit; nostrils flaring, eyes blazing and hooves flailing. "He was no trouble with the other colts he ran with in the paddocks but felt the pony was an intruder," Crockett maintained. "We settled him down and I said to the stud groom, Vickie Cannon, 'He's the worst horse I've had on the lead. He's dangerous, too.' I said, 'We'll have to tell the boss to cut this horse.' She said, 'See Andrew Baddock'."Enter Baddock, conveyor of policy for the operation's Filipino owner. "Don't mention it, Max, the boss won't cut him," Baddock replied. "He's too well bred and too nice a horse."Crockett returned to old breaker lore. "Well, I'm going to have to put a rope and hopples on him," he told Baddock. "The necessity doesn't arise much these days ..."Vickie used to bandage him up. We'd bring him out with straight hopples on his front legs down the bottom and broke him in with a collar rope, strap around the neck and chest. They don't fight it much and can't break nothing."A couple of days later we put him in with the saddle horse and rode around him. We've got hopples on the front and the back leg pulled up so he can't do nothing. He started to whinny a bit. The saddle horse went around him in circles for 10 minutes ..."Suddenly he is as good as gold. But if he didn't have that sort of treatment he wouldn't have made a two-year-old. It was the hopples and collar rope. Cameron would jump on his back, slide off his backside, let him sniff the pony."Yet around the other colts, gambolling in the paddocks, Smart Missile was never a problem. "When we break them in they still run in the paddock, four or five colts together. It keeps them very 'athletical'. By the reports I get from Gai [Waterhouse] and Anthony [Cummings] they all come down to them very fit. After I knock the rough edges off them they go to a good bloke, Kevin Miller. He works them for another three weeks on the track at Gooree and then turns them back out in the paddock."Waterhouse has the Gooree second stringer, Shared Reflections, in the Golden Slipper. "A bit cranky, but not to ride, kicked a bit but, overall, pretty good," Crockett revealed.Shared Reflections was hardly the handful Dark Eclipse proved. Crockett had to re-educate her for Neville Begg. "I was the only one that could ride her," the breaker said. "And later Kevin Moses was the only one who wanted to." With Moses up, Dark Eclipse won the Golden Slipper in 1980.Crockett's first Golden Slipper involvement was with Birthday Card (1962). She needed specialist care. "I had to ride her around Centennial Park," he recalled.However, the Fred Allsop-trained Alfalfa (1968) , one of Crockett's second placegetters in the Golden One, was the most dangerous. "Alfalfa was a buck jumper," Crockett stressed. "He killed a drover bloke when they took him home [after his racing career]. I told them when they put a stock saddle on him he would buck. They laughed ..."You wonder if a breaker knows just how good a young horse is going to be. "Once he got him moving Cameron always felt Smart Missile was above average," Crockett pointed out.Relating the background of Fairy Walk ,the Golden Slipper winner for Tommy Smith in 1971, he said: "I cost Neville Begg [having] Fairy Walk. We had another filly there by Minor Portion at the same time. Broke them and gave them their first gallop. The owner Mr [Reg] Moses rang up saying whichever one you and Neville don't want I'll send Tommy Smith because my wife wants to give him a horse. And I picked the wrong one. The other one might have got a third at Canterbury."

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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