Evergreen galloper Sampson will kick-off his 11-year-old season at Hawera on Saturday and trainer Howie Mathews said his pride and joy is training like a horse half his age. “The way he is and his demeanor he is like a five-year-old. He does not show his age and the way he track works you wouldn’t think he is getting on in years,” Mathews said.
The multiple stakes winner defied his age last term when placing in the Listed Marton Cup (2200m) and Listed New Zealand St Leger (2600m) and he will be out to try and replicate those feats this season. The son of Dubai Destination will kick-off his campaign in the See You Saturday October 10th (2100m) at Hawera after pleasing his trainer when placing in his two recent trials over 1000m and 1200m.
“They were only over short distances but he trialled really well,” Mathews said. “Tony Allan rode him and said he was full of himself and he was really pleased with him. “We can’t fault him. His track work has been very good. With two trials under his belt we did think of a mile but he really hasn’t got great form over a mile. “He loves the middle distance so you just have to bite the bullet with the way things are and go where you can.”
Sampson will jump from the ace barrier on Saturday and carry 59kg with the assistance of apprentice jockey Temyia Taiaroa’s 3kg claim. “I was absolutely rapt initially, until I looked at the weather forecast. I am in race 12, drawn one, and it’s supposed to rain all day Friday and Saturday,” Mathews said. “In early spring that track is usually very good and that’s what we are counting on, so let’s hope we don’t get too much rain.”
Mathews doesn’t have any set targets for Sampson this spring and he said a strategy to box him through the wetter months has meant the gelding is a lot more forward than originally planned. “We will just take it run by run,” Mathews said. “He is not a winter horse, but I have had him up early because last year I had a lot of trouble with his feet. “I decided to box him through the wet months and keep him ticking over. After those two trials he showed me that he is looking for a run.”
It’s been just over a year since Mathews campaigned Sampson in Australia and the Otaki conditioner said it was a once in a lifetime experience. “That was fantastic,” he said. “It was more for me than the horse. I am 67 this year and I know I am probably young compared to a lot of trainers in New Zealand but I just wanted to have a horse that I thought was good enough to compete over there and get around and see a lot of old friends.
“Running in the Warrnambool Cup was something I had always wanted to do and I thought Sampson was capable enough. He only finished 2-1/2 lengths away from the winner. “Going up to Brisbane and staying with friends and having five runs up there was quite amazing. He went such a brilliant race in the Ipswich Cup and we nearly had it. “He spelled up there for another five weeks and he came back amazing.”
Mathews is looking forward to the coming season with Sampson, but being in the twilight of his career he said it will be a sad day when he has to retire his good mate. “Apart from the odd foot issue, we have never had any major leg problems or health problems with him,” Mathews said. “I think he has had great longevity because of that. “He will be sadly missed when I do take the head collar off and say ‘this is the end of it boy.’ “It’s like your favourite toy – you just don’t want to put it down.”