Battler bids to keep Cup record intact
The lead-up to Black Opal Stakes Day
Track work in the lead-up to Black Opal Stakes Day, Breakfast with the Stars.Photograph by Katherine Griffiths Photo: katherine.griffiths@fairfaxmedia
He's the battling trainer scraping money together to pay his stable rent, but if Len Hodgson gets his chance in the Canberra Centenary Cup he's confident he can trump his big-name contenders at Thoroughbred Park on Sunday.
And while he has just two horses in work and four on his books, the veteran is aiming to keep his perfect Cup record intact.
Nominations for the capital's blockbuster day of racing closed on Tuesday morning and the potential arrival of Melbourne Cup duo Niwot and Maluckyday was a tantalising prospect for organisers.
Thoroughbred Park hopes that a crowd of 10,000 will help celebrate Canberra's centenary, with a record $766,000 prizemoney up for grabs.
Both Niwot and Maluckyday are trained by the Hawkes family but Michael Hawkes confirmed on Tuesday that Niwot would be the family's only contender in Canberra, with Maluckyday to race in Melbourne.
But unfazed by bigger rivals, Hodgson is waiting to see if his star Asclepius will get his chance to shine on Sunday.
Hodgson won the 2002 and 2003 Canberra Cups with Benmanang and Mooring's Melody - his victory in 2002 breaking a 30-year drought of Canberra horses winning the race.
A decade on and Hodgson's stable has shrunk after he moved back to Canberra in 2005 to be closer to his family and seeing some of his best horses go to rival trainers.
But Asclepius could be a chance for him to turn the corner.
Hodgson is hoping the four-year-old gets a place in the 16-strong field when acceptances are taken on Thursday.
''I would classify myself as a battler … it's been a struggle to be honest, but things are good at the moment,'' he said.
''You rent stables and you try to have them full to pay the rent.
''It is always pretty tough with rent, staff, feed, track fees and insurance.
''It's just the way it is … you've got to love it or you wouldn't do it, and I definitely love it.
''It's not about [being a battler], it's about the horse and we're all on equal footing on the day.
''I'm not even worried about Maluckyday or Niwot until acceptances come out … we're not even certainties to get in the race.''
Fields for the Canberra Centenary Cup and the premier race - the Black Opal - will be finalised on Thursday.
ACTTAB took more than $500,000 in bets for the meeting last year - $90,000 on the Black Opal and $75,000 on the Canberra Cup.
There are just 14 spots up for grabs in the $256,500 Black Opal (1200 metres) for two-year olds. Twenty-nine horses were nominated.
Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse has nominated Mr Jackman, while Peter Snowden, who won last year's Black Opal with Epaulette, has nominated Sidestep and Aspen.
There are 24 horses vying for a spot in the Canberra Centenary Cup, and Waterhouse has nominated Fast Clip, a barrier trial winner at Rosehill on Tuesday, while Snowden has entered Peck and Sindarin.
But Fill The Page won't get a chance to defend her crown and will instead contest the National Sprint (1400 metres).
Trainer Paul Jones said on Tuesday that injury had prevented Fill The Page from going back-to-back in the Cup.
''We were disappointed not to defend, but we had to give her time to get over the injury, which has shortened things up,'' he said.
''Canberra has put the money up to attract the best horses, and if you want to win the major races you've got to expect a few [Sydney trainers] to come down here.''
Black Opal Stakes Day at Thoroughbred Park. Gates open from 11.30am, first race approx 1pm.