WANGARRATA trainer Phillip Clark will experience a career highlight this Saturday when his promising sprinter Set Point lines up in the opening heat of the Group 1 Australian Cup (525m) at The Meadows.
Despite being involved in the industry for more than four decades, Clark has never had a runner compete at the highest level of racing, but says he and his charge are ready for the challenge which lies ahead.
“Box eight makes it a bit hard – he’ll have to get across early because he won’t want to be parked wide around the first corner – but if he can begin and get across he will be right in it.
“He should break 30 if he gets any sort of luck – but he will need to because there are a lot of good dogs in his heat.”
Set Point comes up against a cracking field including Sleek Master (box one), Pantera Nera (box three) and Pepper Fire (box seven).
The son of Nolen and Set To Talk will also be giving away plenty of experience to his more seasoned rivals, having faced the starter just 11 times for five wins and two minor placings.
The black dog is owned by leading breeder and stud master Geoff Collins, with Clark explaining he has always shown ability.
“Geoff is a great mate of mine from back when he was the president of the GTOBA – one day we got to talking and he asked me if I wanted to train a dog for him.
“We have gone from having one together to having half a dozen and they all seem to be able to run – on top of that he is a very good bloke to train for.
“When he first started racing he was very injury prone – he is three years old and he has only had 10 starts – but we seem to be on top of things with him now and he has just gradually got better and better.
“He is 100 per cent now.”
With six race dogs in work as well as 10 youngsters and more pups on the ground, things are very busy for Clark. However, he says he wouldn’t have it any other way after making the switch from owning to training two decades ago.
“I have been in the industry 40-odd years, but I only started training around 20 years ago with one or two dogs.
“Before that I was only an owner before my son asked me ‘why do you give the dogs to someone else to train? Why don’t you have a go?’ I told him I knew nothing about it and he told me ‘you’ll learn’ so away I went from there.
“I love training and I love the dogs themselves – they are beautiful. People tell me I’m a mug but I love to sit in their kennels with them and lay down and cuddle them – that’s just what I do.”
Clark, who has trained some handy performers including Catch Fire and Mo Town San, said it would be an enormous thrill to make the $250,000 final, but says that is the least of his priorities heading into the race.
“It is a terrific feeling to be in the heats let alone the final and I am just going into the race hoping he goes around safely – if he doesn’t win it won’t matter – as long as he makes it back in one piece I’ll be the happiest man in the world.”
The Group 1 Australian Cup heats kick off in the first event at The Meadows this Saturday night which is set to jump at 7:12pm.