Adam Duggan didn’t take his head out of the catalogue in the weeks leading up to the 2017 Inglis Premier Yearling Sale in Melbourne. The Gosford trainer had a $100,000 “bank” set aside and thought that kind of money might put him into something “half decent” in Melbourne. He also knew that kind of money wouldn’t get him into the action at the Sydney Easter Sale.
Adam enlisted the aid of his old friend Mark Webb, whom he describes as a very savvy racing man, with a great eye for a horse. “I got Mark to go down two days before me to inspect a long list of yearlings I’d marked in the catalogue’, recalled the trainer. “By the time I got to Oaklands Junction he’d got that down to a short list of fifteen or twenty. We looked at them all several times but kept going back to the bay colt by Your Song out of Calpe”.
It was obvious early in proceedings that $100,000 wasn’t going to buy him, but Duggan adopted a “buy now worry later” attitude. “I just knew he was the horse I wanted and I couldn’t keep my hand down” said Adam. “I was relieved when he was knocked down to us for $175,000”.
To this day Adam Duggan doesn’t know what happened to his prized colt on the journey from Melbourne to Gosford. The float driver reported that he’d kicked incessantly, but nothing could have prepared Adam for the sight he was to behold when the yearling was unloaded. “His hocks were double their normal size and he was chronically lame in the off hind foot”, recalled the trainer.
A few days in the stable saw the hock swelling diminish, but the colt remained dead lame in the suspect off hind foot. He was diagnosed with a sequestrum of the pedal bone, simply meaning that a dead piece of bone had separated from the main bone and would have to be surgically removed.
Then followed a trip to the Randwick Equine Vet Centre where the offending sequestrum was removed. “The surgery was completely successful, but it meant he’d be six months behind from then on” said Duggan. “Looking at him today, it might have been a blessing”.
By his mid two year old year, Sir Elton was starting to move like a good horse. Adam galloped him a couple of times with talented horses at Gosford and he was handling them easily.
He had his first barrier trial as recently as April 17th, and easily won an 800 metres scamper on the Newcastle Beaumont track. “Word spreads like wildfire in the racing business and I’m not kidding the phone calls from the Hong Kong agents started before the horse was back in his box”, recalled Adam. “Same thing happened after his next trial win and the calls haven’t stopped since”.
The trainer decided to add blinkers for the gelding’s first race start at Gosford on May 25th. “I just wanted to have him sharp over 1100 metres on the tight track’, said Adam. “Chad Lever said he wanted to over race in front, but still won by a good margin”.
With Chad Lever overseas on his honeymoon, Tommy Berry took over in a Cl 2 at Wyong almost a month later and also reported that Sir Elton had gone a little too keenly in winning by 3 lengths.
Adam made the call to leave the blinkers off at Randwick last Saturday because he knew Hugh Bowman would have to bustle the horse out of the gate. “I thought Hugh might have a job getting him to come back if something else was keen to lead’, said Duggan.
Sir Elton flew the gate and led early, but Jason Collett on Embracer was anxious to push up on the fence and grab the lead. “What a relief it was to see Sir Elton come back to Hugh and travel kindly to the hometurn”, said Adam. “Hugh also said he handled the heavy track fairly well, but felt he’d be much happier on top of the ground”.
Adam Duggan learned the basics of horse management from his uncle Neil Ward who’s been training horses at Gosford for close to four decades. Neil experienced the rare thrill of preparing a top flight horse in the 1980’s when he had a dream run with the talented Riverdale.
Expertly managed and handled by Ward, Riverdale won 9 races with 30 placings for almost $800,000. His two Group 1’s were the 1984 Epsom and the 1984 Ampol Stakes at Flemington. He won the Grafton and Gosford Cups, the Gr 2 Warwick Stakes and was placed in four other Gr 1 events.
Adam spent some time with another astute horseman when Kerry Walker moved his training operation to Gosford for a while. Few could manage a talented horse better than Walker, who enjoyed career highs with two Group 1 winning mares Dinky Flyer and Cimarra in the 1980’s.
One of Cimarra’s five wins was the Gr 1 South Australian Oaks, while Dinky Flyer won nine races including the Gr 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. “How lucky was I to learn from horsemen like Neil Ward and Kerry Walker” said Adam. “They were both outstanding tutors”.
Young Duggan was to spend fifteen years as stable foreman for Kylie Gavenlock. “Not only could she get a racehorse ready to win, but she was a terrific hand with problem horses”, explained Adam. “You’d be amazed how many owners sent Kylie horses that needed some straightening out. I had a terrific working association with her and enjoyed every one of my fifteen years in the Gavenlock stable”.
Twelve years ago, Adam took the intimidating step of going out on his own as a commercial horse trainer. “I had only a handful of average horses to start with and I wondered how the hell I was going to find a winner”, recalled the trainer. “Suddenly Mr. Blue Sky appeared. He was unplaced first start at Wyong, but improved quickly and won his Maiden at Gosford with Andrew Gibbons up. The first of several little injuries appeared after that win and he had to go out”.
Seven months passed before Mr. Blue Sky resumed in a 1200 metres 3YO and upwards event at Rosehill. “I suppose it was a big ask, but I really thought he was going well enough to give it a shake” said Adam. “Andrew Gibbons rode him patiently and he came from well back to run over the top of them. From then on the horse had niggle after niggle. He finished up winning another three races at Gosford before we had to call it quits. He was pretty special to me at that time”.
Frozen Rope was another pretty special horse to the up and coming horseman. The son of King Of Prussia was raced by an enthusiastic group of friends, who had the time of their lives as the gelding built a record of eight wins including two at Rosehill Gardens. Frozen Rope accumulated $236,000 in prizemoney.
Adam regards a filly called Fox as the most naturally talented horse he’d trained until Sir Elton came along. The Snitzel filly ran second first up at Canterbury, before winning two on the trot at Gosford. “Next preparation her form was consistent when she suffered a chronic ligament tear in a hock, and that was that” mused Adam. “You need a big heart in this business”.
Kopite is a great favourite in the Duggan stable. “We call her the black flash and it really suits her”, says Adam. “She’s only 15.1 hands, but as game as they come and usually delivers when a win is overdue”.
Kopite’s current record is forty eight starts for nine wins and eleven placings for $205,000.
Adam’s stable apprentice Jenny Duggan, who just happens to be his sister-in-law, is on the crest of a wave at the moment. “Jenny is totally dedicated to her craft and is a huge help to us here six mornings a week” said Adam. “Her 2kg city claim is bringing her under the notice of many stables at the moment. She deserves all the success that’s coming her way”.
Adam couldn’t be happier with his lot in life at the moment. He and partner Jessica are getting a lot of enjoyment out of eight year old son Jack, whose baby brother Henry arrived just eleven months ago.
The forty three year old trainer enjoys life on the Central Coast where he’s spent most of his adult life. “I’ve got fourteen horses in work currently. I could always handle a few more, but I don’t ever want to be in the situation where I can’t be across every horse, every day”.
It’s unlikely the equine Sir Elton will attain the megastar status of his show business namesake, but he’ll be generating plenty of attention of his own in the racing media.
There’s a certain Gosford trainer who won’t be taking his eye off the son of Your Song anytime soon.