Former Tasmanian Eastender is poised to begin a campaign aimed at the Group One Metropolitan Handicap and nobody is more surprised than Denise Martin.
The boss of syndication company Star Thoroughbreds, Martin has enjoyed decades of success at the highest level but admits she has a soft spot for the horse who has defied his humble beginnings and his pedigree.
When she bought Eastender as a yearling, Martin thought he would sprint and identified him as a potential candidate for the Tasmanian two-year-old Magic Millions.
“Other than the fact he was a good-looking yearling, his pedigree almost didn’t warrant looking at him twice but because he was such a nice horse as a baby, I just wanted to buy him and take a chance,” Martin said.
“When I looked at him six months after the sale, I thought he probably wasn’t my best purchase ever.
“In his early three-year-old year he showed no ability at all over short-course racing and I thought, well I suppose he hasn’t cost me a great deal of money, $22,000, so in the next few months if he doesn’t step up and show some ability we’ll offer him to some friends as a lovely riding horse.”
It was jockey Raquel Clark, then stable apprentice to Eastender’s Tasmanian trainer Barry Campbell, who suggested they try Eastender over ground.
The horse improved and at his ninth start won the first of two Launceston St Legers.
Martin thought she may have unearthed a handy jumper and that probably would have been Eastender’s fate had Campbell not convinced her the horse could be something more.
And last summer, he was.
Eastender blossomed, making a clean-sweep of Tasmania’s four biggest Cups races – the Devonport, Summer, Launceston and Hobart Cups, earning a trip to the mainland.
He was controversially scratched from the Adelaide Cup by stewards, who subsequently charged Campbell for the race day treatment of the horse, banning him for three years, a penalty the trainer has appealed.
In the meantime, Eastender has joined the bulk of the Star Thoroughbreds team at Chris Waller’s Rosehill stable and will have his first start for the trainer at Saturday’s Kensington track meeting.
“He’s only just maturing now as a late five and six-year-old so we have high hopes he can measure up here in Sydney and Victoria in some good races,” Martin said.
“Chris is happy with the horse. He said he came with substantial residual fitness, he’s a very relaxed individual and he’s just slotted into Chris’s training regime at Rosehill superbly, so here we are at Randwick on Saturday.”
Eastender’s ownership group is from all over Australia and half of them plan to be trackside for his Sydney debut.
All of them have pencilled in a trip to Randwick for the Metropolitan Handicap meeting on October 5, a race they never dared dream their little Tasmanian horse might reach.
“It would be amazing if he won a Group One, the horse I was going to give away as a riding horse,” Martin said.