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Image: Darren Winningham

On Boxing Day 2021, an unheralded gelding by the name of Thelwell finished second behind Coolangatta, the boom two-year-old of the moment, in the Group 3 B J McLachlan Stakes, at a starting price of $101.

Nobody expected Coolangatta to be beaten on the day. Similarly, though, nobody anticipated the fact that the Sharryn Livingstone trained Thelwell would be good enough to convincingly take care of some of the other big stable representatives in the race … such as the likes of the $7.50 second favourite Swiss Exile (trained by Annabel Neasham), the $10 chance Bright Blue Sky (Jamie Richards) or the last start Phelan Ready winner Pallazzo Spirit (an $11 chance trained by Steven O’Dea and Matt Hoysted).

But Thelwell did just that … comfortably, with the $46 250 second prize pushing him right up the $2 million Magic Millions Two-Year-Old Classic Order Of Entry.

Revisiting Thelwell’s form leading into the B J McLachlan became an immediate priority for all serious punters and they would have found there was little to fault.

THE FORMLINE

Thelwell finished third on debut, 1.45 lengths behind Heroic Son over 1050m at Doomben in a Two-Year-Old Plate before stepping straight into Listed company where he finished fourth in the Phelan Ready over 1000m behind Pallazzo Spirit, Hard To Say and Swiss Exile, just 2.75 lengths behind the winner.

Fitter now and with more race experience under his belt, Thelwell took the step up both in Grade (from Listed to Group 3 company) and distance (from 1000m to 1200m) and went from good to soft going in the B J McLachlan which all could have amounted to a substantial challenge … factors which were probably in the punter’s minds at the time … but Thelwell, in spite of still racing greenly, easily brushed aside those concerns to claim that well-earned second place behind Coolangatta.

In the process he turned the tables on Swiss Exile (a 2.75 length turnaround in Thelwell’s favour) and Pallazzo Spirit (just short of a massive nine-length turnaround).

However you evaluated that race, Thelwell left the B J McLachlan arena with an enhanced reputation and with the mark of a horse on the rise … and, excitingly for the stable, leaving Livingstone to plot a path to the Magic Millions.

THE NEXT STEP

Two factors were now of prime consideration … making certain Thelwell had enough earnings to keep his place in the Magic Millions line-up, in other words, did he need another prize-money top up for that purpose … and, secondly, how best to place Thelwell if he did run again, both in terms of the opposition he would ideally take on and the turnaround between runs going into the Magic Millons.

“We had to give a bit of thought to both of those aspects,” confirmed Livingstone. “When the race was done, after the weekend, I went through every nomination for this coming week, to see who was in where … what prize-money each horse had … what they needed to do to get above us (in the Order Of Entry) … how they could be placed to do that …. because obviously, for me, this is a big thing.

“The major deciding factor was when the race at the Sunshine Coast on Friday night only had five noms, we thought … let’s use it as a trial and put the blinkers on, rather than go straight to the big race with blinkers, to see if he would run straighter up the straight with them.

“That was the reason behind the Sunshine Coast run,” continued Livingstone. “The track wasn’t ideal … I mean, being a bit of a heavy track … so that was me freaking out, but the result worked out well. I knew he liked a soft track and now I know he can handle a heavy track as well.”

The blinkers will come off again for the Magic Million though, jockey Justin Stanley confirming that point and given a reason fir that decision.

“He just went too hard with them on … he raced perfectly … went straight as an arrow … but he just went too hard and that told on him over the last 200m,” said Stanley, “so Sharryn will take them off and just go back to how he was in the Bruce McLachlan.

“We just hope we can draw a gate,” added Stanley. “If we can draw a gate … he still faces a difficult task, but he is not the worst chance.

“He is some sort of a hope. You have got to be in it to win it.”

Thelwell will be Justin Stanley’s first ride in the Two-Year-Old Classic.

THE BACK STORY

So, here we are. Sharryn Livingstone, a trainer with only five horses on her books and only three currently in work, will take her place line-up in the $2 million Magic Millions Two-Year-Old Classic, pitting her skills skills against several of the elite training establishments in Australia, including, amongst others, the likes of the Maher / Eustace training partnership and Team Snowden.

And the difference between the powerhouse, up market trainers and Livingstone doesn’t end with the number of runners in the stable.

Most big stables have a bustling behind the scenes team of experts addressing every aspect of the yearling selection and purchase process, from going over every aspect of the studbook … studying pedigrees, cross referencing relationship details before moving on to the actual viewing the yearlings, searching for faults, ticking off the positives, comparing the possible early impact and potential future residual value of those who make the short list to determine the best possible buy.

But, above all of that, the biggest stables have a deal closing power which probably as much as ninety percent of the ‘opposition’ do not have.

They have a budget to hack their wish-list!

So just how did Thelwell come to be in the Livingstone stable?

“My best mate Shane is the main owner,” said Livingstone, taking up the story. “We went to the last day of the sales last year. We actually went to look at the Epaulette that we bought … and then we had a bit of time to kill so we went and had a look at a few others.

“When we went to look at Thelwell, the girl at his box said, ‘look, he’s been out all day. he is really tired.’ Anyway they went to get him up and he sat like a dog … I mean sat like a dog … and he sat like that for about ten to fifteen minutes.

“I just nudged Shane and said, ‘we have to buy this horse. He is the coolest horse ever!’

“Eventually we got him up and walked him. He is not the most perfect put together horse, hence that why when he went through the ring, he got passed in … so Shane rang up and bought him over the phone. He just paid the reserve price of $25 000.

“Honestly, he has been a godsend. He came home. He settled in … I broke him in myself. It does make it so much better when you have done it all from scratch … and with Justin (Stanley) riding him … he is a horseman … I am so lucky to have him supporting me. It makes my job so much easier.

“Thelwell is a huge character. He is cheeky. I really have to look after him because he is so playful, he could hurt himself.

“It’s going to be a long week leading into the Magic Millions.

“I’m know I’m like the under, under-dog,” said Livingstone, “and I don’t mind that at all.

“I know punters follow big stables so they will probably leave us alone, but that side of it doesn’t bother me.

“I’m just over the moon to be here.”

The Thelwell / Livingstone story ultimately outlines what the real romance of racing is all about.

It might be known as the sport of kings, but essentially, in spite of the way the odds might be stacked, there is always room for the underdog to bite back.

So far, Thelwell and Livingstone have done just that!

 
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