AFL Great-turned trainer Denis Pagan provided one of the feel-good stories of 2020 when preparing Johnny Get Angry to win the Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) on Saturday, but he was quick to deflect much of the credit to good friend and fellow Flemington trainer Troy Corstens.
Pagan, who owns Johnny Get Angry outright in addition to training him to Classic glory six months after obtaining a trainer’s license, paid tribute to Corstens for sourcing the horse at the Karaka Sales in New Zealand as well as playing a guiding hand for a newcomer to training.
“I’m just really proud of Denis,” Corstens told RSN 927. “Everyone thinks he has been in the game five minutes, he hasn’t really, he’s owned horses for 35 years. He’s had a lot of slow ones as well,” Corstens said. “For him to get a good one and to apply his craft and knowledge to our industry is fantastic. “I thought it would be great for our game if he turned out any good and, guess what, he is.”
While Pagan has called upon the brains trust of Flemington trainers in tower one, Corstens said the focus and dedication he brought to training from his AFL background was crucial. “It’s a really handy skill that gets you through life, not just football and horse racing,” he said.
Sent on a mission to source a Derby-type in New Zealand, Corstens was operating on a strict budget of $50,000 when he short-listed the son of Tavistock and Zabeel mare Luminova. “I was keen on the horse and I liked him a lot but I said to Denis ‘I really like that colt but I don’t think we’ll get him for $50,000’.”
Initially passed-in with a reserve of $100,000, Corstens would later negotiate with vendor Casey Dando of Bradbury Park. “I happened to be pretty good mates with the guy who owned the stud, Casey, who actually used to work for Dad at least 15 years ago and lived with me for about six months. “I just said, I’ve got $50,000, that’s all there is.”
Corstens also revealed Pagan had turned down some bumper offers for the horse once he had shown great promise, including an offer of $500,000 for a 50 percent stake in Johnny Get Angry, on the premise he went to a new trainer. “To Denis’ credit he backed himself and said, ‘thank you very much for the offer but I’m not interested’.”
Corstens said Pagan had been a real mentor to him over the past 15 years. “I’ve gone through some tough times and Denis has been an amazing sounding board for me. He’s done more for me than I have for him, I can tell you. “I knew if he had a crack and he was half successful at it I knew it’d be an amazing story and great for the industry.”