TRAINER Neil Dyer hasn't had many jumpers go through his Kyneton stable, but he hopes he has stumbled upon a handy one in Stanley.
The six-year-old gelding was having just his fourth start over the hurdles at Casterton on Saturday, but produced a performance that would lead you to believe he had been plying his trade in the jumping caper a lot longer.
Superbly ridden by Dylan McDonagh, Stanley led for all but a few brief moments of the 3480m journey and pulled clear after negotiating the final two jumps in the straight to win by 3.2 lengths over the Eric Musgrove-trained favourite Little Phoenix, with Tony Two Chips close by in third.
The win continued the son of Group 1-winner Stratum's steady improvement over the jumps, after a third at Warrnambool earlier in the month and a second at his next start at Ballarat.
A jumping career was the furthest thing from Dyer's mind when he acquired Stanley at the end of 2019.
"We bought this horse for a crack at the Darwin Cup last year, he had real good Saturday afternoon Brisbane city form," he said.
"We expected him to head to Darwin and do well and thought we'd have a horse who might be able to race in Melbourne, Friday nights at Moonee Valley, midweekers and that sort of thing.
"He had two runs in Darwin over 1200m and 1300m to start him off and they were both good. He got back and he really hit the line and we thought it was just a matter of getting back to the right distance and away we go.
"But that wasn't the case ... he put up the white flag and we knew something was not quite right.
"The vet up there looked at his throat and thought he was flipping his soft palate in his mouth and was blocking off the air.
"We sent him home to have the operation done and we put him out for a spell, but when he came back he was the same horse and was still putting up the white flag at the 700m mark.
"It was looking like it was all going to be a flop until we put him over the jumps.
"Every time he's been out over the jumps, every performance has just got better and better, until the stage on Saturday when he won by three-and-a-bit lengths.
"He's a faultless jumper - he doesn't make mistakes - and he's got his zest back for racing."
Stanley had eight runs in total for Dyer between June 2019 and April this year before making his debut over the jumps at Cranbourne in May.
According to Dyer, the biggest thrills from the win were reserved for Stanley's owners, who include Corey Booth and Alison Boyte, the son and life partner of former jockey Roger Booth, who tragically died after suffering a cardiac arrest following a race at Darwin in 2017.
Booth, 55, was riding a horse (Senor Juez) trained by Dyer before collapsing in the mounting yard. He was transported to Darwin Hospital, where he suffered a heart attack from which he was unable to be revived.
Fellow owners include Corey's partner Molly Mitchell and his cousin Jamie Hartley and his wife Liz.
It was the group's first jumps success.
He's a faultless jumper - he doesn't make mistakes - and he's got his zest back for racing.Neil Dyer
Dyer, who is this year foregoing his annual pilgrimage to Darwin for the first time in 13 years, was excited at what a further 12-months development over the jumps might reap for Stanley.
"For a horse who was looking like he was going nowhere, he could definitely be going somewhere," he said.
"In 12 months' time, these hurdlers, it's like an apprenticeship, they just get better at it. Hopefully we will be at Warrnambool next year racing in some pretty good races, if things get back to normal.
"I don't know what he will do back on the flat, but he is going to have to have a few (runs) from time-to-time to get him fit."
Dyer estimated it had been more than 20 years since he had trained a jumper of note.
Likely his best-performed horse over the fences was the city-class performer Shaka Ruler, who disappointingly had to be scratched from a Hiskens Steeplechase at Moonee Valley in the mid-90s, after his jockey Willy Harnett fell and was injured in an earlier race on the program, and no replacement rider could be found.
"It's been a while, but I like the jumps ... it's a good way to go to the races," Dyer said.
"They excite you, there are no worries about that."
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