Portelli pair poised to present king of the kids with his crown

Mar 17, 2017

If you stop and think about it, we have all experienced that sliding doors moment when life changes forever.

For trainer Gary Portelli, you could argue it has happened to him twice in recent months — and it could provide him with a coveted Golden Slipper.

Because if the circumstances had been different, Portelli would not be training either She Will Reign or Single Bullet, two of the leading chances in the $3.5 million Longines Golden Slipper (1200m) at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.

She Will Reign, the $20,000 yearling purchase, is the Cinderella filly of the Slipper field. Portelli has trained her to win three of her four starts including the Silver Slipper Stakes and more than $500,000 prizemoney.

But even Portelli admitted he is lucky to have She Will Reign in his stable.

The daughter of 2009 Golden Slipper minor placegetter Manhattan Rain was purchased by Scott Darby Bloodstock and originally given to Michael Costa to train at Warwick Farm.

But when Costa made the decision to move his young family to the Gold Coast during the spring it left Darby with a decision where to place his filly.

Portelli had never trained for Darby Bloodstock prior to this season and had his first runner for the syndicator, Ibanez, place third in the Victory Vein Plate at Randwick on debut back in October.

Darby had been impressed by Portelli as a horseman and also the feedback the trainer was giving clients so he decided to transfer She Will Reign to him.

“I didn’t know much about She Will Reign as the day Michael had her entered for a barrier trial, she came down with colic,’’ Portelli said.

“When the boys walked her into my stables, I remember having a look at her and thinking she was a nice type. Then when she started work, I realised she had a lot of potential.’’

Portelli had to do a double take one morning when She Will Reign “broke the clock” in a solo track gallop before her first race start.

“I timed her to run the final 400m in 21.9 sec and I remember taking a photo of my stopwatch and sending it to Scott Darby,’’ the trainer said.

“This filly was running ‘stupid‘ time and on her own mind you. She was that fast I thought she could not possibly be a Golden Slipper horse.

“This was high-end 1000m speed and I didn’t think she could run 1200m — but I was happy to be proven wrong.’’

Portelli admits he has empathy for Costa and his colleague’s decision to leave Warwick Farm which has cost him the opportunity to train She Will Reign.

“I feel bad when I talk to Michael,’’ Portelli said.

“But he has been good about it and wishes me luck. He says you are known as the trainer and I am the pre-trainer.’’

Single Bullet was placed in his first three starts before breaking through in last week’s Pago Pago Stakes to qualify for a Golden Slipper.

Portelli was an admirer of the colt as a yearling but had to wait six months and two yearlings sales before finally getting the horse.

“He was a very nice colt and I had him down on my list to buy at the Magic Millions Sales in January last year but I didn’t have a client to spend over $100,000,’’ the trainer said.

“The reserve was $150,000 and I remember the colt being passed in for $130,000. I was disappointed I couldn’t get him.

“Then I went to the June Magic Millions Sales and the colt was in the catalogue again.

“I went and had a look at him and couldn’t believe how much he had come on (developed).

“When he came into the ring, I didn’t have a client but I decided that I could not let this horse go again — I was not leaving without him.

“I had to go to $155,000 to buy him then it took me a long time to get him syndicated but it has been worth it. He has won over $170,000 and he is in the Golden Slipper.’’

The trainer said Single Bullet was a “sweet mover from day one and always carried himself like a good horse.’’

“What I like about Single Bullet is his competitiveness,’’ Portelli sid.

“He has always had to be in front of the others when he gets close to the winning post in his track gallops, he had to make sure he was in front and that is something you can’t teach them.

“The filly is the same — they both have this will-to-win so we are going to the Golden Slipper knowing we have two horses that will be trying their heart out.’’

Portelli is renowned as a master trainer of juveniles, a reputation that has been enhanced by this effort to get two youngsters into the elite 16-horse Slipper field on Saturday — and he only has 14 two-year-olds on his books this season.

The Warwick Farm horseman has also had two-year-old wins with Falconic and Sebring Express in what has been his best-ever season since he gained as trainer’s licence in 1990.

Portelli’s stable runners have already earned nearly $3 million prizemoney this season, a career-best for the trainer, including a brace of $1 million races, the Group 1 Manikato Stakes with Rebel Dane and the Magic Millions Cup with Testashadow — but nothing would compare with a Golden Slipper win.

“This is the race I have been aiming at since I got my trainer’s badge in 1990,’’ Portelli admitted.

“I love training the ‘babies’, they are a product of their environment and what you teach them.

“I’m buying the yearlings that the top end doesn’t want and I’m pretty happy to get two good chances into the Golden Slipper.’’

Call it fate, coincidence or synchronicity but the events that have led Gary Portelli to Slipper Day could be life changing.

Story: Ray Thomas, Daily Telegraph