‘Tough old horse’ makes it back-to-back cup wins for Melissa Dennett

Ballast kicked off his winning run under the guidance of apprentice jockey Jackson Searle at Gilgandra last month. Photo: Racing Photography.

He might have been on the brink of retirement last month, but the Melissa Dennett trained Ballast has turned his form right around, winning three on end, including back-to-back feature race victories in the Barraba and Manilla Cups. 

“He is just a tough old horse,” Dennett said. 

“He was do-or-die for retirement come Gilgandra. He wasn’t racing great there for a start or two and we had no excuses for him, and the owners said one more run but we found the perfect race at Gilgandra, and he won.”

Since his 1600m Benchmark 50 Handicap victory at Gilgandra, the nine-year-old has won back-to-back cups, winning at Barraba on September 18 before backing up with Manilla Cup success at Gunnedah on September 25, proving age is no barrier. 

“He is enjoying his racing now and he has a new lease on life,” Dennett said. 

Funnily enough, it was a postponed meeting at Wellington earlier this month that pushed Dennett towards the Barraba Cup in the first place.

“We had him in at Wellington, but it rained, and he hates the wet and we had no idea if Barraba would go ahead,” Dennett said. 

“We got the all-clear the week before that Barraba would race, and the club and Racing NSW were good enough for the races to go ahead without a crowd and we won there, then we won again at Gunnedah and yeah, it has been a good run.”

The 71-start veteran and winner of 11 races has had apprentice jockey, Jackson Searle, in the saddle for all three victories, and Dennett explained it was no easy feat riding the Hard Spun gelding that nearly didn’t get the chance to race, after having a run-in with the ambulance before his Manilla Cup victory.

“He is a lovely old horse, but he is not an easy horse to ride and there is no changing him. He is too old and stuck in his ways,” Dennett laughed. 

“He took off on Saturday and the ambulance and stewards’ car were right there and he ran straight into the ambulance and dinted it.

“He got the all-clear to run afterwards, but he is a bit like that and just does what he wants sometimes.”

Connections are now considering their next feature-race target, which is made all the more harder by Ballast’s improved rating.

“His rating will be through the roof. For him to be running around in a Benchmark 66 on a TAB day, he will struggle, so we aren’t too sure,” Dennett said. 

“The owners have asked for us to take him to the Coonamble Cup, which is something we will possibly have to go with.”

Regardless of his next target, this will be the old stager’s last preparation, with Ballast set to enjoy retirement sooner rather than later.  

“The minute he says he’s had enough, or if he pulls up sore, he will be retired,” Dennett said. 

“To make it three wins in a row at his age is pretty good and we can’t ask for much more.”

Racing fans wanting to check out the full results from Gunnedah’s Manilla Cup meeting can click here.