“It only happens to the good ones” is a cliché coined by some trainers when injury brings about the premature retirement of horses destined for bigger things.
By Glenn Davis
Gold Coast trainer Michael Costa joined that ever-growing list when his star sprinter Phobetor’s career came to an abrupt end following the gelding’s brilliant win in the Group 2 Missile Stakes at Randwick in early August.
Phobetor was retired after suffering a relapse of an old fetlock injury after delivering Costa the biggest win of his short career in the 1200m Missile Stakes.
Costa, 33, was a former NSW steward before turning his hand to training and had big plans in mind with Phobetor in Melbourne during the spring.
Costa thought a Group 1 was within grasp for the emerging sprinter whose career was restricted to just 12 starts for an impressive seven wins and a second.
“There’s always highs and lows in racing and I’ve been through it all,” Costa said.
“He was part of the family to us and had he not hurt himself again he would have gone on to the (Group 1) Memsie Stakes at Caulfield in August.
“I thought he would have been a huge chance after the way he won the Missile.”
Phobetor’s breakdown came in the same week he lost Randwick winner Seentoomany, who was retired to stud as a broodmare.
Seentoomany, a six-year-old daughter of Sebring, earned prizemoney of almost $270,000 from eight wins and five placings before her retirement.
Phobetor took Costa on a hell of a ride after he paid $70,000 for him at the Magic Millions June sales in 2017.
“I bought him and Malahide at the Gold Coast sales that year and it was a hell of a lot of money for me back then,” he said.
“But I really liked his pedigree and fell in love with him when I first saw him.
“He had big hips and a lovely loose walk and a kind eye.
“The only reason he was gelded later on was because he got so big and solid.”
Costa admitted he was worried about the huge outlay, although it was well below the sale average.
“I spoke to the vendor before he went through the sale ring and she only had one yearling at the sales and was happy to take $10,000,” Costa recalled.
“I was happy to pay on the spot but he eventually went through the ring and had a lot of interest from buyers so I decided to go all the way and went to $55,000 to get him.”
Phobetor gave Costa an instant return on his outlay, winning his maiden at the Gold Coast in May, 2019.
“I gave him a quiet trial as part of his education at Murwillumbah then tipped him out for a few months,” Costa said.
“He really came on after his next trial at the Gold Coast and was backed from $8 into $3.20 when he won his first start.”
Phobetor ended his first preparation with three wins from five starts before Costa turned him out for a break.
“We had the Magic Millions in mind with him and gave him his first run back at Eagle Farm just to blow the cobwebs away,” he said.
“Going to the Magic Millions was a lot of fun, as we aimed him for The Rising Star the week before the Magic Millions Cup.
“He won the Rising Star when he led all the way, but he never backed-up a week later when he was beaten in the Magic Millions Cup.”
Phobetor was given another break before returning to work a much stronger horse next campaign.
“He came back into work and started off in a 1050m race at Doomben in June last year but I thought they would be too nippy for him,” he said.
“But he caught us all by surprise.
“Unfortunately, he strained a tendon in the off foreleg after his Doomben win and had to have a long time off.”
Phobetor made a successful recovery from the injury setback before returning to work to prepare for another campaign.
“He had a good long spell and came back into the stable weighing 600kg,” Costa recalled.
“He made a full recovery from the fetlock injury and when he came back into the stables, I gave him plenty of swimming and a lot of beach work to get him right,” he said.
After winning two barrier trials at the Gold Coast, Phobetor maintained his great first-up record beating the Toby and Trent Edmonds-trained Peppi La Few at Doomben in June en route to the Listed Ramornie Handicap at Grafton in July.