From 13-start maiden to Wagga horse of the year

Stand Your Ground. Photo: Trackpix Racing Photography.

It was a true rags to riches story for Canberra trained galloper Stand Your Ground that was recently named the Murrumbidgee Turf Club 2020/21 horse of the year.

The four-year-old was an unheralded 13-start maiden when she returned to racing in December of last year, but would go on to win three races at the track, while running multiple minor placings to secure top honours on count back over Huntly Castle, Magnavale and Willybeafactor.

Stand Your Ground’s trainer Norm Gardner was over the moon for connections, explaining that his galloper took time to mature before showing her true worth on the track.

“She had a terrific year, we are very happy with her,” Gardner said. 

“She matured and we learned how to ride her, which is really quiet, and she just kept on putting in good runs.”

After a slow start to her career, Stand Your Ground kicked off the season in fine fettle, running an eye-catching second at Wagga on December 24 following a 21-week spell. 

The mare then strung two very nice victories together for jockey Madison Waters at Wagga.

Firstly, she won her maiden in a fillies and mares event over the 1200m on January 7 before backing up and winning a fillies and mares Benchmark 58 Handicap, again over the six furlongs on January 19.

After a trip to town, where she was beaten only 3.3 lengths in a TAB Highway Handicap, Stand Your Ground again returned to Wagga, running second in a 1400m Benchmark 58 Handicap on February 20.

After a short let-up, the Fighting Sun mare that is out of In A Whisper returned with a bang at Wagga, winning the Queen of the South Prelude over 1300m on April 18 and again, it was Waters guiding her to victory.  

Stand Your Ground finished down the track in the Queen of the South final on May 7, but it took nothing away from an impressive preparation, where the popular Southern Districts horse earned a reputation for her flashing finishes.

“We just worked her out. She doesn’t like to be near horses, so we take her out the back and let her finish strongly,” Gardner said. 

Stand Your Ground was in the paddock up until Monday and Gardner is now setting her for a first-up return in town.

“She is back in work today (Monday),” Gardner said. 

“I would like to get her into a (TAB) Highway first or second up.

“Last time, we went 1000m first up and finished second and this time we will aim for 1200m first up and try and get the win.”

It was a big year for the Canberra trainer, with the stable finishing with multiple feature race victories. 

“With the number of winners we got, it has been the same as the last couple of years but they were better winners and no non-Tabbers,” Gardner said. 

“We won the Ted Ryder Cup, Gundagai Flying Handicap on Snake Gully Cup Day and the Narooma Town Plate – we have won some nice races.”

In other Murrumbidgee Turf Club (MTC) 2020/21 awards, Gary Colvin was named the leading trainer with 13 victories, finishing three ahead of Matthew Dale with 10.

Norm Gardner rounded out the top three with nine victories.

Blaike McDougall was an easy winner in the MTC jockey’s title, booting home 35.5 winners, finishing more than 20 ahead of Nick Heywood on 15 and Mathew Cahill on 12.