Carrot-loving Smokin' Joey lives up to consistent reputation
WHATEVER else Wez Hunter does as a trainer, Smokin' Joey will always be the horse that made him.
On Saturday, the seven-year-old got up in the last stride to deny Atherton gelding Daph 'n' Alf victory in the $175,000 City of Ipswich Eye Liner Stakes (1350m).
For Hunter, who trains at Mornington, Smokin' Joey's win was the latest in a wonderful journey.
Smokin' Joey started his career with Lee Freedman, who had trained his brother Our Smoking Joe, before his owners then sent him to Caulfield trainer Mick Price.
"I got him off Mick Price about three years ago," Hunter said. "He'd won about $350,000 and Mick suggested the owner retire him.
"The owner (Joe Lanteri) rang me. A friend of mine had suggested he give me a go with him and he's won over a million bucks since then.
"He's pretty happy he didn't retire him and I'm happy I got him because I went from having no horses to having lots of horses.
Hunter said with a smile: "He's everyone's favourite. He's a real dude. He's quirky, he plays up a bit but he gets away with it because he's the golden child.
"I've got a few nice ones at home. I've got one going to the spring too, Disposition, but the only reason I've got him is through this horse.
"He's a really smart three-year-old headed for the Cox Plate, the better races.
"Without Joey, I never would have got the opportunity of a horse like that.
"There's one horse with most trainers that changes everything and he's definitely that for me."
When Smokin' Joey came into Hunter's stable, he said they "just played around with him". "There was nothing wrong with him," he said. "He was just looking for a bit of love; a bit of one-on-one, a bit of beach work and he just sort of clicked.
"He was trained at Caulfield in a little box and we got him out in a paddock and that suits him.
"But he's a funny old horse; you've got to mix everything up. If he does the same thing all the time he gets stale.''
"But we just look after him. He's part of the family. He's got a fetish for carrots so he gets them all the time and he'll go for a bit of a break now."
Smokin' Joey had only won seven times from 51 starts before Saturday but Hunter said luck in running played a big part in his performance
"He generally races pretty consistent; it's just a matter of how the races are run. He needs everything to go his way and he needs to be - like he was today - flowing," he said.
"When he gets held up he can't just pick up and go.
"I compare him to a semi-trailer; if you lose your momentum, it takes forever to go through your gears again."
That's why he wasn't worried when Smokin' Joey was wide most of the way in the Eye Liner.
Before the race, he had issued what might be called unusual instructions to jockey Damian Browne.
"I told him to 'slaughter' him and if he did he'd win," he said.
"I said: 'Whatever you do, don't go back inside them' and he did it perfectly."
Hunter said winning the Eye Liner was good consolation for a last-start eighth in the Stradbroke Handicap at Doomben.
"It's nice to win another nice race and I haven't been to Ipswich before, so that's something too," he said.
"I thought his run in the Straddie was pretty good. He only finished two lengths off second and I think if he had an uninterrupted run like he had today he would have finished a lot closer.
"But then if he'd done that he might not have been here."
Hunter said there was no reason to even start thinking of retiring Smokin' Joey. "He's shown no sign of soreness in any way. It's just management issues with his hamstrings and muscles but structurally he's perfect," he said.
Before the Eye Liner, his strapper was walking him around on the sand while the rest of the field was still being saddled up.