IT'S been a long and, at times, bumpy road back to the winner's circle for Savoie, but at Stawell last Friday, the hard work of Maldon co-trainers Ashley and Brian McKnight finally bore fruit.
The six-year-old gelding and one-time 2018 Victorian Derby favourite was able to break a 1199 day drought between wins with his victory over 1600m on the Wimmera track.
That it was in a benchmark 58 race - a far cry from his Group 2 placing in The Vase at Moonee Valley in 2018 and subsequent Group 1 appearance in the Victoria Derby - did not matter to Ashley McKnight, who trains in partnership with his father, and has spent years rehabilitating the once-promising middle-distance performer following a tendon injury.
He said the win was easily one of the most satisfying since their father-son training partnership became formalised in 2016.
"It's not always easy bringing horses back from injury, but in saying that, we do have a pretty good success rate of getting them back to the races," he said.
"We have plenty of tools to help get them back racing again - the water walker, treadmills and good vets. So it's a pretty good program.
"It is time consuming, which is what probably stops a lot of people from getting them (back) there, but sometimes, if you believe in the horse's ability, you just have to be patient.
"I always thought we'd win a race with him.
"You'd love to think he gets back to the level of his city performances, but to be fair he probably won't.
"He might be able to realise a midweek race back in town, at the right venue, but I'm happy enough to keep poking around the provincials."
Savoie showed more than early promise in his career, but things turned pear-shaped soon after his disappointing Victoria Derby run, when he failed to stay the 2500m distance.
He was sent by his former trainer Darren Weir to Tony McEvoy, but soon after suffered a serious tendon injury.
After nearly eight months of rehabilitation at the McKnights, the gelding was transferred to Patrick Payne's stable at Ballarat, but just when he was about to make his race-day return at Bendigo, the tendon again flared up.
Savoie was again sent to the McKnights, this time with the promise they could keep him if he ever made it back to racing.
That moment arrived in May last year, when 130 weeks after his derby run and a further 38 days on from his last win in the Victoria Derby Trial (1800m) at Flemington, he lined up in a 1300m benchmark 84 at Sandown.
Last Friday's breakthrough win came at his 10th start back from injury, following a mix of efforts, his best efforts a fifth on the synthetic at Ballarat in July in a benchmark 78 and a fourth at Ballarat in November n a benchmark 64.
Those runs were encouraging enough for the McKnights to run Savoie in the $70,000 Donald Cup, where he at one stage in the straight loomed up to the leaders and looked a winning chance, before peaking on his run to finish sixth.
The benchmark 58 at Stawell was the lowest-rating race the gelding has lined up in since his maiden days, with McKnight optimistic he can again climb his way back up a level or two.
Regardless of where he eventually gets to, Savoie has been a labour of love for Ashley McKnight, and his fondness for the horse.
"It wasn't the wort tendon injury I've seen, but it was significant," he said.
"It did take a long time to get him going again - he's a bit of a good 'doing' horse, so he carries a lot of condition and to keep the weight off those horses, you have to work them hard.
"That's not easy to do when you are trying to look after a leg."
I always thought we'd win a race with him.Ashley McKnight
McKnight deflected much credit for Friday's win to mature-age apprentice Sheridan Clarke, who piloted Savoie to victory in her first ride for the McKnights.
The 27-year-old jockey has started 2022 in blazing fashion with five of her 10 career wins coming in the new year, including one the previous day at Geelong and a follow up at Mornington on Sunday for Kyneton trainer Sue Naylor on Paris Gem.
McKnight said Clarke was all but certain to retain the ride on Savoie at his next outing, likely to be over 1700m in a benchmark 64 at Warrnambool on January 20.
"To her credit, she rode him perfectly to instructions and gave him the best chance she could and he was able to put them away," he said.
"She had a good week with four winners. She's just starting to hit her straps a bit as one of the new brigade of apprentices.
"She will probably ride him again, she deserves the reward after winning on him.
"We look forward to his next start and hopefully it's given him enough confidence to put another one on the board.
"Sheridan thought he was quite happy with himself after the race and felt he had a lot of confidence about winning and that sometimes can be the secret to going on with it."
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