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Corbett and Charles’ rocky road to New Zealand Cup bid

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Having three runners in Saturday's Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton is testament to the success of Peter Corbett and Terrill Charles' unconventional training methods.

The couple prepare a small team from their Mid-Canterbury farm, preferring to work their horses on the road rather than the racetrack.

The pair, who have been together for some 40 years, will saddle Dee And Gee, Owen Patrick and King Of The Dance in Saturday's feature staying contest, all three horses sent south because they weren't showing enough for their previous northern trainers.

"Dee And Gee, she couldn't get warm when we got her. When we first galloped her, Terrill said: 'send this bloody thing back'," Corbett recalled.

"We ran her in a four-horse trial and she did nothing, but Tanya Jonker said she'd ride her in her next race. She bolted in and she hasn't looked back since."

Dee And Gee has now won five of her 35 starts, among her highlights a second placing in this year's Gr.3 Wellington Cup (3200m) at Trentham and fourth placing in the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie as well as winning last season's Listed Metropolitan Trophy Handicap (2500m) at Riccarton.

She ran second in the same race at Riccarton last weekend to set up a shot at Saturday's New Zealand Cup, for which she is a $5.50 second favourite behind Metropolitan winner Duplicity at $4.50.

Last-start Banks Peninsula Cup (2200m) winner Owen Patrick is at $34 while King Of The Dance is at $51.

"Having three runners in the Cup isn't something we've really thought about. It's just the way it's worked out," Corbett said.

"King Of The Dance is probably a year away but he's fronted up on the way through so we thought we'd give him a go. He'll be a stronger horse next year but we'll take the chance."

The key to getting to this juncture, Corbett and Charles believe, is their training methods.

While the couple are happy to float horses to Timaru for fast work at Phar Lap Raceway, they prefer to vary their training with longer, slower work along the roads of Mayfield and Mt Somers.

They have several training blocks in the area, a few that require the horses to walk down a shingle road and cross the Ashburton River as part of the route.

"They are working without even realising they are working," Charles said.

"Sometimes a horse can go stale just working at the racetrack and we enjoy training the horses this way just as much as they do. We've got seven or eight different-sized blocks but on average they would work 6km a day and up to 16km on a slow-work day."

Working a team of 10 can be time-consuming for Corbett and Charles, who used to farm pigs and rear calves on their property before the shift to solely focusing on the racehorses, but both attribute their time with the horses to having remarkable spin-offs for their personal well-being.

Four years ago, Charles was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and given just four and a half months to live.

At her last appointment, her specialist told her: "You've lasted four years now, there's no reason you can't last another four."

Charles stubbornly refuses to let her cancer affect her.

"And the horses are a big part of that," said Corbett, who has overcome health issues of his own in recent years too.

Their trio of stayers all go into Saturday's New Zealand Cup in prime condition too as the trainers aim to improve on a third placing in the race with She's Insatiable in 2014, that mare having won the Metropolitan at her leadup start and going on to place in the Wellington Cup the following year.

"She was the one that really got us going," Charles said.

So what can Corbett and Charles hope for on Saturday?

"We hope the three of them can all finish in the top 10. Anything above that is a bonus," Corbett said.

"Owen Patrick won the Banks Peninsula Cup (2200m) well the other day and my gut feeling is he will get the extra distance. But we're happy with them all.

"The one sure thing in racing is that you can't win a race if you leave the horse at home in the paddock. You've got to back yourself and have a go.

"There's nothing like having a horse go past the post a winner, whether that be in a maiden or in something bigger. The only difference is we don't get to celebrate them like we used to. The best we get now is a stop at KFC on the way home." - NZ Racing Desk

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