It’s been a whirlwind last couple of months for John Blackadder.
Last year the Rangiora trainer elected to take a chance on a formerly retired Hong Kong galloper and on Saturday he will have his biggest thrill in racing when he lines that horse up in the Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham.
The horse in question is Eptimum who has been a labour of love for Blackadder over the last few months.
While it will be a first tilt at Group One level for both horse and trainer, the big stage is nothing new to Eptimum, having won the Gr.3 Red Anchor Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate Day in 2017.
The son of Snitzel also had 19 starts in Hong Kong, however, he didn’t favour the racing environment in the Asian racing jurisdiction, failing to place in any of his starts.
He was subsequently retired to Landsdowne Park in Waikato where he spent 18 months in the paddock until farm principal Dave Duley gave Blackadder a call to see if he was interested in reviving the gelding’s racing career.
“He gave me a phone call and told me about Eptimum and asked me if I wanted him and I told him ‘not really’,” Blackadder said.
“He has given me a couple of horses before, another one was I Am A Rock. After another month he gave me another ring and I said that time that I would take him.”
Blackadder is now thrilled that he changed his mind, with the seven-year-old gelding going on to win two races from six starts for him to date.
While those wins were special for Blackadder, it was a fourth-placed run at Riccarton on New Zealand Cup Day that put the wheels in motion for a tilt at the Telegraph.
“Vinnie Colgan rode him at Riccarton and he said he was a very good horse,” Blackadder said.
“I asked him whether he would shape up to the ones up north and he said he would, no problems at all. Vinnie has ridden a lot of good horses so I said to Henry Gillies, who has a half share in him, ‘will we press on?’ and he said ‘definitely’.”
The pair now have a shot at Group One glory, but a long shot by their own admission.
“I think he will be quite competitive and Joe (Kamaruddin, jockey) is in good form,” Blackadder said.
“We will be going in the first two or three and keep him on the pace.
“There are a couple of really smart horses in there, you have got to be realistic, but racing is a funny old game, and anything can happen.”
Eptimum takes an eighth placing in the Listed Hazlett Stakes (1200m) and fourth-placing in the Reefton Cup (1400m) into Saturday, but Blackadder said he has been thriving in his work on the beach since.
“He had a run at Reefton and the small track didn’t suit him and he got too far back in the Hazlett but he had the fastest sectionals of anything in that race, he went a very good race,” Blackadder said.
“Since Reefton he has had a couple of runs down at Woodend Beach, I do all of my training down on the beach there.
“He is paddock trained and I keep him out of the boxes. He is a happy horse now.”
While a win on Saturday would be exceptional, Blackadder said it is just a dream come true to have a horse good enough to compete in the feature sprint.
“It is a great thrill, I am very happy,” he said. “I have never had one (horse race in a Group One) before so it is a dream come true.”