Devon Meadows mentor Paul Anderton must wake up each morning this week and pinch himself. In late July, a thirty two kilo dog that he he had reared as a pup called Shifty Sticka, returned to his kennel with two wins under his belt over 395 metres at Albion Park. Four months later he’s in the Melbourne Cup Final, sitting in box one and on the second line of betting.
“Four weeks ago before he ran in the prelude, I wouldn’t have even dreamt of having a dog in the Melbourne Cup. When he won the that, well he was always going to go in it because you get the walk up start with automatic qualification. But at his age, it honestly wasn’t on the radar, he’s very very young.”
The staggering fact about this son of Premier Fantasy and Irish Malt is that he is only twenty three months old. Anderton has plenty of experience as a trainer including big races, but he is certainly under no illusions as to the sense of occasion surrounding this Thursday night’s final.
“I’ve won a Group 2 when we won the Sydney Cup. I’ve had Group 1 starters but that was in the likes of the Laurels, The Sapphire Crown, The Maturity and that sort of thing. I’ve never had a starter in the Melbourne Cup, this is the really big stuff.”
Due to a stint in hospital, Anderton and Shifty Sticka parted ways temporarily, which is how he came to have his first three starts in Queensland.
“I had to get rid of most of the dogs while I was in hospital having the operation and recuperating, so the owner (Anthony McVicker) sent the dog to Mal Cuneo in northern New South Wales during that time. Mal had seen some promise in the dog early and the owner asked me if he could give him a couple of starts. I said I don’t mind and told him it was his dog, he can do what he likes with it”
It was around that time that Anderton points to as the start of Shifty Sticka’s improvement.
“He broke in around the same as the others, which was ballpark but nothing special, but he’s improved a lot during those early stages with Mal and he could see plenty of promise. He had three starts up there, I think he got beat in his first one then won two. Since he has come down here he has done everything right, he has not taken a backward step.”
In nineteen starts, Shifty Sticka is yet to miss a placing with eleven of them resulting in victories. The black and white flying machine has already amassed $54,000 in prizemoney and there’s every chance that it’ll be a whole lot more come Thursday evening.
The story of how Shifty Sticka came to be, traces back to a fortuitous computer purchase from the most revered breeder in the land, Paul Wheeler. That purchase ended up being the dam of Shifty Sticka, Irish Malt, who also raced under the tutelage of Anderton, and he clearly has a soft spot for her.
“I trained the mother. A friend of mine (Joe McCann) bought her off the internet from Paul Wheeler as a pre-trainer, which was very lucky. Within three trials she had improved thirty lengths and I said to Joe that he could have a fifty thousand dollar dog here.”
“After five trials she was running free for all times. I often joked with Joe that if these were the dogs Paul Wheeler didn’t want, imagine how fast the others are. She was terrific, a really lovely, big bitch and very fast.”
But it was a somewhat ill fated career for Irish Malt, who only raced seven times for three wins and another three seconds. In that short career she managed to scorch around Sandown in a flying 29.62.
“She unfortunately broke her leg trailing at Traralgon so she only had the seven starts, that was a shame, but she was off to breed and she is still here with me now. She has a litter around nine months old to Go Wild Teddy, which is a similar mating to the one that produced Barcia Bale. She is also in pup again now to Dyna Lachlan.”
Anderton is humble when it comes to taking any praise for the success of the breed to date. It is this selfless approach that is one of the reasons he is known as one of the genuine good guys of the sport.
“It’s a beautiful, strong line. Her mother Kumar Bale has just been bred with for the sixth time. I certainly can’t take any credit for the breeding, it’s all Joe McCann, I just feed them and put a collar on them.”
The owner of Shifty Sticka, Anthony McVicker, was in the right place at the right time and heeded the advice of Anderton which has proven to be a master stroke. Typically, Anderton puts it down to luck rather than a result of his sagacious suggestion.
“I was rearing a pup for him at the time and he happened to ask that if I found any well bred pups for sale could I let him know. I told him we had a litter out of Irish Malt and she could really run. So he bought two on my very lucky recommendation.”
Shifty Sticka will have his third start from box one in the final. The other two have been at The Meadows and have yielded a win and a second. Anderton certainly wasn’t complaining about drawing the coveted cherry alley.
“I don’t really care where I’m drawn but I’m definitely not going to knock back box one in a Melbourne Cup Final, if we’re not there, someone else is. If I had to be drawn anywhere else I’d want it to be outside Black Magic Opal to get a cart across.”
“My dog is a faultless beginner and goes dead straight. He missed the start a little bit last week so hopefully he’s a bit better this week.”
“I don’t think you can hold Black Magic Opal out, not with the speed he’s got, he’s freakish. We can hope that we fluke the start but in all honesty you can’t think that you’ll hold him out.”
Anderton’s circumspect assessment of how things may pan out was measured and smacked of reality. You could sense that Anderton is just happy to be in the race and really relishing the moment. He has a fit, young dog with the world at his feet and knows that from here on in, what will be will be.
“You just cross your fingers and hope that, god forbid, if my guy can take a sit on Black Magic Opal, that he has the pace to compete at the end, given a clear run.”
Come 9:57pm on Thursday night, if Shifty Sticka crosses the line first, you won’t be able to wipe the smile of Paul Anderton’s face. A dream that he didn’t dare to dream just four weeks ago is now almost a reality.
Shifty Sticka’s Group 1 2013 Melbourne Cup Heat Win