Popular North West racing identity Paddy Cunningham was thrilled to get one over his rivals at Tamworth on Tuesday, with his 70/1 chance Dune and Dusted winning the 1000m Class One Handicap.
Ridden by Cobi Vitler, the Glen Innes-based galloper was ridden behind the early speed battle as a wall of four horses ran the field along at a good clip.
Vitler then peeled six-wide on the Tamworth straight, and the four-year-old, running around as the despised outsider, didn’t race according to his lofty odds.
Instead, the Hidden Dragon galloper raced like the well-supported favourite, flashing strongly to win by a head from the Cody Morgan-trained Mr Wallace (Braith Nock, $9), while in third and a half-length off the pace was the Todd Howlett-trained Everylittle Breeze (Andrew Gibbons, $2.35).
Cunningham admitted the result was somewhat surprising but certainly not out of the realm of possibilities, as proven by the win.
“He was big odds, and I wasn’t over-confident, but the horse has always gone alright,” Cunningham said.
“He’s starting to finally mature physically and in the head.”
Vitler, who is only 18 wins into his burgeoning career, was the defining factor in the result, with the Englishman riding well above his three-kilogram claim.
“It was a very good ride,” Cunningham said.
“He has been a bit of a hard horse to handle, and he can go too hard and do things wrong, but Cobi did a good job and rode him a treat.”
Tuesday’s triumph was Cunningham’s third since September after Our Girl Eve won back-to-back races at Coffs Harbour and Tamworth, and he was just pleased to have the wins ticking over.
“It’s really hard to win a race; it doesn’t matter where you go,” Cunningham said.
“Especially going to Tamworth, you are more or less taking on provincial horses, so it’s good to get a win there.”
Incredibly, Cunningham has continued to train winners, all while receiving treatment for leukaemia.
Earlier this year, the 65-year-old nearly fainted when leading a horse and was struggling for energy before eventually being diagnosed with cancer.
Still, a good prognosis, along with early intervention, has Cunningham confident he will beat the illness.
“I’ve got leukemia, and there’s no good leukemia, but as it turns out, I’ve got the best sort,” Cunningham said.
“I found out about two and a half months ago, and I’m still getting treatment, but I’m feeling as good as I could be.
“I didn’t have to get too much chemo (chemotherapy), and now I’m basically on tablets, and it hasn’t affected me too much.
“I’ve just started riding work again, but I’m one of the lucky ones; I was crook for a little while, but everything seems good.”
If anything, a favourable prognosis has Cunningham working harder than ever.
“They said that treatment might go for six months, and that exercise was the best thing for me, and I wasn’t going to worry about walking along the road, so I thought I’d get back to riding work and get on a few quiet ones,” Cunningham laughed.
The busy trainer will trek to Moree on Saturday, but with a warm forecast, Cunningham doesn’t believe the predicted good surface will suit his team of runners.
He has Rocky Ride (Wendy Peel) engaged in the Class Two Plate (950m), Mimessi (Scott Sweedman) racing in the Maiden Plate (12300m), and Albanjo (Wendy Peel), Sportspak (Chelsea hillier), and Casino Moe (Braith Nock) all taking on the Benchmark 50 Handicap (1200m).
“Most of my horses are wet-trackers,” Cunningham laughed.
“They’ve got to have a run somewhere, and the (Glen Innes) Cup meeting is coming up, but they are fit and going well, and we’ll see how they go.”
Cunningham will then turn his attention to a busy season closer to home, with Inverell racing on December 26 and January 1 before Glen Innes race on January 13 and the Deepwater meeting on January 27.