Wagga trainer Tim Donnelly celebrated a home track double on Saturday, and it was two Gundagai bred and owned gallopers, Dolphina and Pontmain, flying the stable’s flag.
Dolphina, bred and owned by Sandy Tait and Jill Nivison, competed in the pair’s less renowned green and white country silks, but showed some staying promise when finding the line strongly to win the 2000m Class One Handicap.
The four-year-old was stepping up to the 10-furlong trip for the first time in her burgeoning career after winning her maiden over 1600m at Albury on September 3, and the extra 400m didn’t seem to worry her as she cruised to the winning line with Jordan Mallyon in the saddle, winning by a comfortable 1.33 lengths over Jeddalet and Tan Line.
“I was very confident she would go well. The thing with her – she is the gamest little horse you could ever want,” Donnelly said.
“She is only a little pony, and I knew with the small field, and if we rode her conservatively, she would have a bit of turn of foot in the end and she showed that.”
After opening up at $4.80 fixed odds with NSW TAB, Donnelly was surprised to see the Casino Prince mare drift to $8 before winning.
“It was surprising that there was only one horse longer than her in the market,” Donnelly said.
“I understand their thinking. She ran a very slow last 600m when she won at Albury, but there was a lot of early pace in that race, so there was a reason for it.”
Dolphina looks set to be Donnelly’s Wagga Stayer’s Series horse in 2021/22 and envisions getting the ‘tiny’ mare out over more ground in the long run.
“I think now that she has had a race over 2000m, she will keep improving over 2000m and over longer distances,” Donnelly said.
“Jordan Mallyon thinks we can even ride her closer next time, so I think she will improve.
“She is no great shakes of a horse, but she is very genuine, and Sandy owns the now retired half-brother, Sir Lopez, and he was a good jumps horse, so there is no reason she won’t get over more ground.”
Donnelly already has sights set on his next target with Dolphina.
“There is another 2000m race at Wagga in two weeks and after that there is a 2500m race at Wagga two weeks later, but whether we go to that second race I don’t know,” Donnelly said.
“She is really relaxed and being so genuine, there is no reason why she wouldn’t run the 2500m.”
Donnelly’s second winner on the seven-race Wagga program came in the 1600m Benchmark 58 Handicap with Pontmain greeting the judge first.
Under the guidance of Kayla Nisbet, the lightly-raced Le Havre gelding was ridden quietly in the second half of the field before peeling wide and storming home down the Wagga straight to win comfortably from Mahsinger and The View.
Pontmain, owned locally by Tony and Bill Barton, has been a story of perseverance and patience for his owners and trainer, with the eight-year-old starting only eight times since making a winning debut at Wagga in early 2019 before running second in a TAB Highway Handicap.
Soon after his city debut, Pontmain suffered a tendon injury and wasn’t seen at the races for more than two years.
“He had 26 months in between runs. He didn’t start until he was five, where he won and got beaten in a (TAB) Highway next start but then he broke down,” Donnelly said.
“We had to take our time with him. He tore his tendon, but he came back and ran a ripper race at the (Wagga) Cup carnival but then the next four starts, they were on wet tracks, and he never went well.”
Pontmain could have been anything according to Donnelly, and while it is nice to see him running and winning, the Wagga trainer has often wondered what could have been of the Gundagai owner galloper.
“He is a really good horse. When I first got him, I said to Tony and Bill, ‘You will never own a horse as good as this bloke’,” Donnelly said.
“I would say since I’ve been at Wagga, he is the best horse I’ve had but because of his injuries, we will probably never see the best of him.”
Donnelly will continue to try and get the best out of Pontmain and has pencilled in two potential targets in the coming months.
“Like a nearly retired footballer, he might have a blinder one week, but he will be stiff and sore for the next couple,” Donnelly laughed.
“He is fit and sound now. He proved yesterday he likes being fresh. He was six weeks between runs and that worked out well.
“I’m going to run him over 1600m after four weeks and if he wins that, he will run five weeks later in a 1600m (TAB) Highway at Kembla.”
Donnelly, who has a good affiliation with locally bred and owned gallopers, was pleased to see the Barton’s being rewarded for sticking by their talented gelding.
“It’s most satisfying and also, you are so pleased for the owners; there is a lot of money involved and patience required,” Donnelly said.