Trainer Todd Willan with Jockey Mitchell Bell. Pictures: Brendan EspositoAS a trackwork jockey working for the likes of John Hawkes, Peter Snowden and John O’Shea, Todd Willan never imagined that he would one day become a trainer – let alone one good enough to have a horse in on Derby Day at Flemington.
Now the Muswellbrook horseman is confident dream horse Artlee will do more than just run around on one of the sport’s biggest days.
From nowhere, Artlee has rocketed through the grades with six wins from 10 starts to win $410,545 in stakes and sit as second favourite for the group 3 Guvera Stakes (1400 metres) on Saturday.
It continues a fairytale rise for Artlee and Willan, who started training only 2½ years ago after first trying his hand at breaking-in and pre-training after finishing his career as a jockey.
“If you’d said to me when I started out that I’d have a horse in on Derby Day, I would have said you were kidding yourself,” Willan said.
“It’s a lot different.
“It’s pretty easy when you just ride those good horses and do all that work for the trainers, but it’s left up to them and they cop all the blame.
“They’ve got to wear all the pressure on race day and now I’m just working out how that feels.
“But it’s going to be a great day and I’m sure he’ll give them a show and run a really nice race.”
Artlee won three in a row, including the Country Championship Final (1400m) at Randwick and listed Luskin Star Stakes (1300m) at Scone, before a third in the Lightning (1100m) at Randwick two weeks ago gave Willan the confidence to take the five-year-old gelding to Flemington.
Jockey Mitchell Bell riding Artlee. Pictures: Brendan Esposito
Willan was happy with the decision on Friday as Artlee worked off the 12-hour trip to Melbourne.
“He’s really good,” Willan said.
“I’m very happy with him. He arrived nice and safe and he ate up as soon as he got off the truck.
“He was a bit docile on Thursday morning, as I expected, after a pretty long trip. But I took him out and worked him this morning and he was back to his usual self, full of beans.
“They are definitely going to know he’s there.
“I’m hoping over the 1400, they’ll just go that touch slower up front, so he can just be a bit more positive this time and it’s not such a task for him.
“I’m pretty sure when [jockey] Mitch [Bell] hits the button on him, he’s going to show that turn of foot he’s always shown.”
He said Artlee was likely to go for a spell after the run and come back for a late autumn/winter preparation.