2Stanhope trainer Gary Pekin always knew pacer Illawong Travel had a generous share of ability, but there have been times when he didn’t think he could prove it.By Gus Underwood
Stanhope trainer Gary Pekin always knew pacer Illawong Travel had a generous share of ability, but there have been times when he didn’t think he could prove it.
After qualifying the gelded son of Life Sign a year ago, a tendon injury suffered soon after resulted in Illawong Travel going to the spelling paddock for several months instead of the racetrack.
And when the owner gave him to another trainer when he was ready to come back into work again, Pekin had his doubts whether he would see the pacer again in his stables.
But a month ago completely out of the blue, Pekin got a call from Illawong Travel’s breeder and owner Martin Hartnett, who races all horses with the Illawong prefix, asking him to take over the training of the four-year-old again.
‘‘I know his previous trainer was disappointed to lose him, but I was pretty glad to get him back as I always had an opinion of him,’’ Pekin said.
‘‘Everything he beat in a trial at Shepparton one night when I had him as a three-year-old went on to win races, so I knew he was pretty smart.’’
And on Monday at Bendigo, Illawong Travel proved he was pretty smart when finally making his racetrack debut.
Despite being forced four and five-wide on the home bend, Illawong Travel dug deep in the home straight to beat Ima Lucky Guy and the favourite Dam Lucky in a busy finish.
‘‘They ran 28.3 for the last quarter, so considering the extra ground he travelled he had to go a lot quicker than that,’’ Pekin said.
Because of an impressive trial performance last week on the same track, punters were aware that Illawong Travel had his share ability and he was a $5.10 on the tote.
‘‘In this game it’s pretty hard to get a winner if you aren’t a big trainer, so I’m pretty rapt because I’ve been having a lean trot. Any win is a good win,’’ Pekin said.
Pekin believes Illawong Travel could be the pacer to help thrust him back in the limelight, but like everything in harness racing — and life — knows he’ll need a fair slice of luck.
‘‘I think he may have some soundness issues, but if I can keep him on the track he’s the best prospect I’ve had for some time,’’ he said.
And it’s not the first time Pekin has prepared a winner for Hartnett and with the Illawong prefix.
‘‘I had a horse called Illawong Fabulous a few years ago who won nine of her 18 starts for me, so it would nice if he (Illawong Travel) can do something like that,’’ Pekin said.
Pekin won’t have to wait long for Illawong Travel to further confirm his faith in the pacer, with him going around in the final at tomorrow night’s Bendigo Cup meeting.
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