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Image: Bruno Cannatelli

Racing’s habit of throwing up tales of unlikely heroes seems to be on a never-ending conveyer belt and that is so good for the industry. These feel-good stories are abundant, at all levels of the game, from Group 1 glory on crisp, well tended green grass to the dust choked battles in the bush, but they all too often are cast into the shadows in the background by those who prefer to use more sensational headlines which seem to suit their purposes better.

Which is why … when a headline act comes along that simply cannot be ignored AND is a feel good story … well, then true racing enthusiasts can feast on the coverage.

Such is the case with the ruling Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup favourite, Incentivise … a home bred horse, raised and initially raced in Queensland by Steve Tregea before his intoxicating level of performance brought dizzying offers to purchase rolling in.

He was no multi-million dollar horse who left a sales ring amidst a lot of fanfare and future expectations … and Incentivise certainly wasn’t riding on the back of a Godolphin, a Waterhouse or Waller bandwagon. He was just stuck away quietly in Toowoomba with his down to earth, reserved and ever-humble trainer Tregea going about his business as normal.

Tregea would never dream of blowing his own trumpet even if he was being smothered in plaudits … but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There was no reason for anyone to trumpet anything in the early part of Incentivise’s career … and even before that.

“There was nothing much to like about Incentivise when he was born,” said Tregea, talking to Racenet.com. “He was knock-kneed. He wouldn’t eat as a foal, very underdeveloped, I was hoping he would develop, but he didn’t really.”

And Incentivise’s initial entry to racing didn’t bring much hope or optimism either. In fact, after Incentivise had raced three times, for three lack-lustre, unplaced runs, nobody would have bet on his career going much further and as Tregea has said, ‘you wouldn’t have paid two bob for him back then.’

How wrong we all would have been!

Incentivise won his next six starts in a row for Tregea, coming out of the clouds for his Maiden win at the Sunshine Coast on April 11 to surge through his grades in spell-binding fashion, going next to Class 2 company, then to a BM70, then a BM75, then a BM80 (for his only metropolitan win up until that time).

That was four in a row now in the lower grades … but it wasn’t where Incentivise was winning but how he was winning that was suddenly gaining a lot of attention … to the degree that Tregea was left fielding offers to purchase, one of which he accepted before Incentivise went out to contest the Winter Provincial Stayers Final on Ipswich Cup day. (Tregea still kept a half share interest in Incentivise).

Incentivise duly won that Ipswich assignment as well to extend his winning sequence to five in a row.

In the last three of those wins Incentivise had saluted by 7.30 lengths, 9.00 lengths and 9.50 lengths … for a stunning winning average over those races of 8.60 lengths.

But astoundingly, we hadn’t really seen anything yet in terms of Incentivise’s capability.

In his last start with Tregea as his trainer, Incentivise jumped up to Group 3 company in the Tatt’s Cup, backing up just a week after his Ipswich triumph, and… wait for it … he slaughtered his opposition coming home twelve lengths clear of those he left behind, increasing his winning average over his last four starts to a staggering 9.45 lengths.

It was a simply astonishing win and now Incentivise was even more firmly in the national focus than before … as bookmakers ran for cover when setting his odds for the 2021 Caulfield Cup and 2021 Melbourne Cup.

But wait … there’s more.

Incentivise was then transferred to the Peter Moody stable to prepare for his campaign in Victoria.

Last Saturday, Incentivise came out for his first run for Moody, first-up after just shy of a three month break and jumping straight into Group 1 company against the likes of Mo’unga (already a Group 1 winner of the Rosehill Guineas and The Winx Stakes), Sir Dragonet (last year’s Cox Plate winner), Tofane (The Stradbroke and Tatts Tiara winner) and Collett (the Golden Eagle winner) … to name a few.

The deep end doesn’t come much deeper than that!

But, again, Incentivise turned in a spine chilling performance to take his unbeaten record to seven straight wins while also adding a Group 1 win to his resume when taking out the Makybe Diva Stakes in style.

This time it was not about how far Incentivise won by, but rather how strongly he resisted all of his high-profile challengers in what looked like a punishing and prolonged battle in the home straight.

The scary part of that … for his future opposition at least … was Peter Moody’s post-race comment in which he stated that he has yet to see Incentivise have ‘a blow.’

From a lowly Maiden win to becoming a scintillating Group 1 winner in exactly five months. From nowhere … out of left field … to centre stage. From a small, owner breeder operation to mixing it with, and beating multi-millionaire racing operations.

That is what the fuss is all about!

It is the type of ‘Aussie underdog comes good’ story that brings a smile to everybody’s face.

Just as importantly, the story also brings a glow to the racing industry itself and, for that, all of those associated with the ugly duckling who has become a national hero in the racing world, can take a bow!

 
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