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Horse Tales: Phobetor ready to move on

“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.

“He ran a great race to run second in the Ramornie after missing the kick. He was trapped wide and it goes down as a moral victory because of the horrid run he had in transit,” Costa said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Costa was unable to travel with Phobetor to watch his Missile Stakes victory next start.

“I was in the Doomben betting ring with my racing manager, Michael Morrison, and even though we were the only two there it sounded like a Doomben 10,000 crowd,” Costa said.

“We were there by ourselves for a while until some of the media guys came over to watch the race with us.”

Phobetor was well supported to win the Missile Stakes following his close second to the John O’Shea-trained Southern Lad in the Ramornie Handicap.

Although Phobetor was thrown into the deep end in the Missile Stakes, Costa was always hopeful he could upstage the bigger Sydney names.

“It was an awkward time for him after the Ramornie so I gave him five days off,” he said.

“After he came back to the Gold Coast for an exhibition gallop, we decided to pack our bags and head to Sydney for my first runner in a Group 2 race in the Missile.”

Costa conceded he got an early shock when Phobetor jumped sluggishly out of the gates in the Missile Stakes.

But he sensed Phobetor was a winning chance when the gelding cruised up to settle in the box seat behind Fasika and Kolding.

“Kolding had him in a pocket but I couldn’t believe how well he was travelling and he just pushed Kolding out of the way and won well,” he said.

“When he came back to Queensland after winning the Missile he was coming along nicely when his leg just blew up after a gallop one morning.

“The vets said his recovery time would be long but we thought if it happened once and happened twice it wasn’t work risking him again.

“When he’s ready he’s going to make a lovely show horse later on."