Carlton premiership forward Ross Ditchburn and a group of mates from Kukerin had their faith in stayer Cougar Express rewarded when he scored a shock win in the $120,000 XXXX Gold Bunbury Cup (2200m) this afternoon.
Ditchburn, the Blues’ leading goal kicker in their 1982 premiership campaign, bred Cougar Express with his mates.
Despite sending the gelding to the far north of the State in pursuit of a breakthrough win two years ago, connections stuck by Cougar Express.
Relishing the addition of blinkers yesterday, Cougar Express ($9) led all the way to score a career-best win in the Listed feature.
“Many years ago we were providing some oats and hay to an ex-Kukerin farmer and we ended up with a horse called Classic Enigma,” Ditchburn said. “She won three races then bowed a tendon so we thought we’d breed with her.
“The first two were no good, the third (Cougar Express) didn’t look good early, but now he’s blossomed and it’s been one hell of a ride. They reckon that winning a grand final is a bit of a buzz, but certainly winning the Bunbury Cup is huge.”
Ditchburn and the other owners are involved with their home football club, the Kukerin-Dumbleyung Cougars, which led them to naming the horse Cougar Express.
Ditchburn said master trainer Lindsey Smith was a catalyst in rejuvenating the horse. Backing up after his fourth at Ascot last Saturday, Cougar Express fought tenaciously for Joseph Azzopardi to beat Tonto ($4.20 equal favourite) by a neck. Cougar Nights ($8.50) finished third.
The win was Smith’s second Bunbury Cup success after he prepared Belarus in 2007.
“I was hoping the blinkers would do the trick,” Smith said.
“He has more courage than he has ability. He’ll go for a well-earned rest now.”
For 20-year-old Azzopardi, Cougar Express gave him a third stakes win in four weeks.
Dreamtime Dancer gave Azzopardi his first ever stakes win in the Challenge Stakes (1500m) at Ascot last month.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going,” Azzopardi said.
“Everything panned out today and the horse went super.”
Tower Of Lonhro, who started equal cup favourite with Tonto, was slow to recover after running 11th.
Jockey Danny Miller was suspended for 17 days for careless riding on Kirov Boy, who ran fifth in the cup.