On a day when the longshots were landing race after race at Seymour, local trainer Peter Smith landed the fair dinkum eagle when his battler Play Master won the $20,000 Avenel Equine Hospital BM58 Handicap over 1200 m.
The performance paid a whopping $34.80/$7.10 — although a few people must have done okay, the horse was backed in from 50/1 in early betting to his 30/1 starting price.
With only two favourites in the nine-race card saluting, it was Smith who took the honours with the biggest payout of the day.
Although how he pulled it off had most people at the track — and plenty watching on racing.com — scratching their heads because after the first 500 m of the dash for cash the winner was running stone cold last.
Rounding the turn the field swung, like a rusty old gate, out across the track giving just about ever horse a crack if they were good enough. Including, incredibly, the 11-year-old veteran campaigner, a winner of 13 of his 67 starts and a prize chest of $473,935.
When jockey Dylan Dunn got down to business at the 200 m mark the old gelding was still surrounded by challengers, but with every stride was picking up more speed and fewer rivals.
In the end he saw them all off to win by half a length and leave battered punters just one more race to get out of trouble.
After the race Smith, who also bred Play Master, said Play Master was almost worth a statue at his home because the gelding has been “great for us”.
“He was clearly unwanted today but I don’t really know why; his recent run at Wang (Wangaratta) was quite good and he was just starting to show he was coming back into a bit of form,” Smith said.
“He had the benefit of working on this track during the week and seems to handle it all right.
“But today was his first race on the new track at Seymour (he had botched a few starts there on the old track) and he did well again.
“He doesn’t handle the turns well in Victoria but here he seemed to get around it a lot better – it was good.”
Smith acknowledged the rising 12-year-old was about to start his last season and that often horses of his age tended to go through the motions — and if you put a young lightweight jockey on them they could have problems controlling the horse.
“Look, he’s won six in Melbourne and I doubt any others in the field today have done that, and he really fought out today’s win, so that’s encouraging,” Smith said.
“He’s still got the ability, they don’t tend to lose that, so for us it’s just a matter of keeping him fit and well.
“Play Master is also our lead pony now, believe it or not, and he leads a couple of mongrel ones out onto the track.”
And when he does retire late next year he has comfortable accommodation already booked at Smith’s stables because he is such a family favourite — and had a rough start, according to Smith: When he was just a two-week-old foal, his mother died.
“He has been part of the family ever since so he’ll be around the game and our stables for a long time.”