SYDNEY filly Dear Demi stamped herself a stayer of promise when storming to victory in the $1 million Crown Oaks at Flemington on Thursday, giving owner John Singleton and trainer Clarry Conners a triumph to savour.
Dear Demi ($5) was partnered by Jim Cassidy, who had been given a reprieve after being sacked by Singleton when he was beaten on the filly in the Wakeful Stakes on Saturday.
She reversed the form with her conqueror that day, Darley-owned Zydeco who started $2.40 favourite, finishing second, 1¼ lengths adrift under Kerrin McEvoy. Craig Williams finished third on Mick Kent's Summerbliss ($8), having only her third start.
Trainer Clarry Conners with jockey Jim Cassidy after the latter rode Dear Demi to win the Oaks. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Singleton, who is never averse to having a shy at the stumps in big races, declared that the Dehere filly could well be a cups contender next season. Stamina is her strong suit and the further she has gone in her races the better she has been.
Singleton compared her favourably with another Conners-trained filly he owned, Zagalia, who won a Queensland Oaks and then performed with credit in the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup as a four-year-old, while Conners said she bore comparison with Research, another great staying filly he trained in the late 1980s who won an AJC Derby and Oaks.
Conners described his feat in preparing Dear Demi to peak on her big day as equal to any other achievement in his training career given that he had targeted the Oaks early this year, when Dear Demi was still a two-year-old.
''She has had no luck on race days,'' he said, referring to his filly's habit of finding problems in running. ''We set her for the race six months ago and this is her seventh run this campaign but she has got a heart as big as anything. She has raced in all the big races and she's had no luck in her last four starts but she keeps on trying,'' Conners said.
''It was a very gutsy win today because she had to go back and at the 800 metres she was a long way from them. The timing was perfect in her work, everything was right and this morning she was pig-rooting coming off the track and the boys there said she was ready too early. I said there were a couple of hours to go.''
Singleton, one of Australia's biggest racing personalities, marks his birthday on Friday but was delighted to begin celebrations a day early while, for Conners, whose wife Maree had her birthday on raceday, it was cause for a double celebration.
Cassidy admitted after his defeat on Dear Demi last Saturday that he had been at fault, and Singleton made it clear as he embraced the rider after his triumph that he felt very differently about him following the Wakeful Stakes.
''I've never seen him ride so bad - except on purpose, I reckon! He was asked to speak to me, Clarry asked him. Wisely he didn't ring me until Sunday. I told him how bad it was. There was no friendliness exchanged. I said we'd sack Jimmy and replace him with Nash [Rawiller], and Nash got suspended [after the Victoria Derby] … so Jimmy got himself back on.
''And he rode it like he was asked to - just go wide, just like Kiwi [his Melbourne Cup winner in 1983]. [There was] not much to remember: sit on the horse, don't fall off, and go wide, that's all.''
Cassidy carried out the instructions to a tee and was doubtless relieved. Now one of the veterans in the jockeys' room, he made his feelings clear when he returned all smiles to scale, incanting his ''ring-a-ding-ding, the Pumper's the king'' chant, modified this time to ''ring-a-ding-ding, Pumper rides for the king''.
''I promised Clarry - 'see how I turn it all around today'. It's magic when you can do it. Singo's stuck with me for a long time. I'll be honest, I've never had a lot of luck for Clarry in big races, but I was very confident today,'' Cassidy said.
''Today was the big pay day. Yeah, I copped me pay [for Saturday's poor ride]. I'm only five feet two, but I've got big shoulders, I wore it and worried about today. I had to turn it all around and I did.''
He and Singleton embraced and the emotion spilled over.