HORSES get to you. Even the toughest, most experienced professionals form strong and emotional attachments to their charges and Robbie Griffiths, one of Victoria's most successful and talented trainers, is no different.
His desperation when triumph turned to tragedy for his gelding Beltrois at Flemington on Saturday was palpable.
Seconds after Griffiths had hollered with joy as his seven-year-old had driven through a gap to get his nose in front to score in a blanket finish in the Red Tempo Handicap, the trainer was plunged into despair as the son of Bel Esprit crashed to the turf and left jockey Ryan Maloney crumpled beside him.
Beltrois had broken his shoulder and stumbled just strides after he had grabbed that tremendous win. Sadly his injuries ensured there was no hope of survival and he was put down on the course.
Maloney was taken to the Epworth Hospital for observation, conscious but complaining of pain in his wrist. X-rays at the Epworth have confirmed Ryan Maloney suffered a fractured wrist. He is having surgery on Sunday.
''It's a great emotional leveller,'' a visibly shaken Griffiths said.
''I was high fiving with my brother-in-law [Reid Balfour] then we heard the commentator say a horse is down and we realised it was ours.
''We hurdled the fence to get to him on the course. It's so sad.
''It's my daughter Madison's first horse, we came straight to Flemington with him. She's obviously upset.
''His stable name is Reid after my brother-in-law. We said we would be happy to keep him in the paddock for the next 20 years [to get better if there was a chance of saving him] but there was nothing they could do
''It was a freakish accident. It had nothing to do with why he had been off the track for a long spell.
''His mother [Vaingt Trois] was the first yearling I bought. She was unbelievably talented but unlucky. Her very last foal was a full brother [to Beltrois] but she died foaling. [The brother] is outstanding looking. You will see him at Flemington.''
The $21 shot was first up, having not raced since November 2011, and the victory was a wonderful advertisement for Griffiths' skills as a horseman and conditioner, and the patience of his owners.
Beltrois showed he was as game as they come in his final moments as he triumphed over the $2.40 favourite Go The Knuckle and $4.80 chance Hotham Heights ($4.80) in a race in which a length covered the first four home.
Earlier in the day a youngster of potential emerged in the shape of the Darley two-year-old Safeguard, who could be a Blue Diamond and Golden Slipper contender if he takes no ill effects from his victorious first outing.
Beautifully bred Safeguard is by multiple group 1 winning sire Exceed And Excel out of Preserve, who took out the VRC Sires Produce Stakes as a two-year-old. Preserve is closely related to former Darley star Denman, who was one of the top colts of his generation before being sent to Sheikh Mohammed's European operation.
''He's very outgoing, he showed that early. He's a natural horse with good speed, he can jump well and put himself there. It was pretty effortless really,'' said trainer Paul Snowden.
Safeguard ($2.80 fav) completed the 1000 metres of the Christmas Season Plate in 57.12 seconds, a decent time for a youngster, and defeated Mount Zero ($4.80) by two lengths with Midnight Rule ($6) 1¾ lengths away third.
Class told in the 1600-metre Skipton Handicap when Mick Price's lightly raced four-year-old Fast and Free ($3.80 fav) defied his 58.5 kilogram burden to score a convincing victory by 1½ lengths from Quick Shakes ($7.50) with a half length to Speckie ($4) third. He won despite a hefty 4.5-kilogram rise in weight from has last start.
Apprentice Damian Lane will not forget the meeting in a hurry either. He rode the Danny O'Brien trained Keep Cool ($9) to a narrow victory in the 2000-metre Comic Court Handicap, seeing off the well-supported Tuscan Fire ($4.60) in a driving finish by a short head.
The win means the West Australian youngster has outridden his claim.