Former wild Boy following in footsteps of Takeover Target
NOBLE Boy just might be the best horse to come out of Queanbeyan since Takeover Target.
A decade has passed since Takeover Target was racing but there are some remarkable similarities to their stories. Both were unraced four-year-olds when they entered the stables of their then-unknown trainers.
Takeover Target finally got his race career underway with successive wins in the country, both on his home track of Queanbeyan, before winning his third start in the metropolitan area.
Noble Boy also began racing in the bush with wins at Albury and Goulburn before scoring in the city at his third start.
After 12 races, Takeover Target had seven wins on the board. Noble Boy goes into the $1 million The Gong (1600m) at Kembla Grange on Saturday with exactly the same career statistics.
Takeover Target trained on to become a champion sprinter, winning 21 races including eight at Group 1 level and feature race wins in Australia, England, Japan and Singapore, earning more than $6.3 million prize money.
Former Queanbeyan taxi driver Joe Janiak suddenly became a household name in world racing as the trainer of Takeover Target.
Noble Boy may not reach the heights of Takeover Target on the racetrack but he has already changed the life of his trainer, Todd Blowes.
The 38-year-old now has a thriving training business and arguably the hottest property in country racing in Noble Boy.
It's been a meteoric rise for horse and trainer. Noble Boy only made his race debut 13 months ago, giving Blowes his first career winner.
Before Noble Boy came on the scene, Blowes had been working in the racing industry as a pre-trainer and riding trackwork at Queanbeyan for leading local trainer Joe Cleary.
Noble Boy's breeder, Donna Smart, heard that Blowes had applied for a trainer's licence and contacted him to inspect her unraced four-year-old.
If first impressions count for anything, Blowes might have felt like politely declining the offer to train Noble Boy - but the gelding's fluent stride interested the fledgling trainer.
"He was big, raw, had hair on him an inch long, he wasn't much to look at,'' Blowes said.
"It wasn't until I saw him move around the paddock that I thought, 'he has something, this horse'. So, we put him on the truck and took him home.''
Blowes had his work cut out with Noble Boy. The gelding tested the young trainer's horsemanship skills and his patience.
"Noble Boy was a real handful to start with,'' Blowes said. "He would bite, he would strike out, he would always try to put it over you. I spent a lot of time with him just trying to get him to relax around me and around other horses.
"When I'd take him for a pick of grass in the afternoon, I'd take extra time with him. I'd talk to him, try to keep him calm. I wanted the horse to get to know me and trust me.''
As the days rolled into weeks then months, Noble Boy's demeanour changed. The fluent action that Blowes first noticed in the paddock was starting to emerge on the training track.
"Noble Boy was in work a long time before his first trial,'' Blowes said.
"He went OK (third at Canberra) but the difference between his first trial and his second trial (winning at Moruya) was just incredible.''
Noble Boy has since taken that trial form to the races where his latent potential soon became very obvious.
The powerfully built chestnut demonstrated his ability with an outstanding win in the Country Championships Final at Randwick in April and already he has earned more than $640,000 prize money - which as Blowes said is "not bad for a country horse".
Noble Boy has also been a great advertisement for the trainer's business. As the sprinter kept winning, Blowes gained new clients and now he has 10 in work at his Queanbeyan stables.
Blowes doesn't want to get much bigger at the moment as he juggles racehorse training with parenthood. He is the father of two boys, Ryan 13, and Ben 10.
"Training is seven days a week, early mornings and late nights, but we are a family that is right into our sport and we always find time for the boys and their footy,'' Blowes said.
"They both play rugby league in winter and OzTag in summer.''
Blowes was a handy footballer in his day, playing five-eighth or fullback for the Queanbeyan Blues until a shoulder injury forced him to retire at 27 years of age. But it was always his destiny to have a full-time career in thoroughbred racing.
"My grandfather, Peter Blowes, was a well-known horseman around the Crookwell and Goulburn area,'' he said. "I've been riding horses for as long as I can remember and I did a lot of breaking and pre-training.
"I was always thinking about training and one night, I was talking about it with my wife, Kristy, and we decided 'let's do it'.''
Blowes prefers the hands-on approach to training and because of his restricted numbers he can still rides most of his team in their trackwork each morning.
The trainer put Noble Boy through his paces on Tuesday morning at Queanbeyan and said the gelding will go to The Gong in peak condition.
"I worked him over 1000m and I was really with the horse,'' Blowes said.
"He has those two runs back-to-back there so I gave him a quiet few days last week but he feels in great shape.''
Noble Boy hasn't won in three starts this spring but each run has been full of merit - his closing fourth to Handle The Truth in The Kosciuszko, a similar placing behind Quackerjack in the Goulburn Cup before his last start third to Reykjavik in the Group 3 Chatham Stakes at Flemington during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
"I was very proud of the horse at Flemington, he went super,'' Blowes said.
"Last preparation we always had little niggling muscle issues with him but this spring I can't fault him. He pulls up so well after every run.''
Noble Boy is going to 1600m for the first time in The Gong but the five-year-old races like the extra distance will suit him.
"I will never forget the words of James McDonald after he won on Noble Boy at Rosehill and he said I can't wait to ride this horse over a mile,'' Blowes said.
"I've always kept that in the back of my mind but with the Country Championships and then the Kosciuszko I've kept him to the shorter trips. But now I can try him at 1600m and if he comes through The Gong all right then we might look at the Villiers Stakes.''
If Noble Boy does contest the Group 2 $250,000 Villiers Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick on December 14, he might finally achieve something that eluded champion Takeover Target.
In the Villiers of 2008, Takeover Target was first over the line but, in a controversial stewards decision, lost the race on protest to Honor In War.
Noble Boy has to prove he can run a strong 1600m in The Gong tomorrow and then he could get the opportunity to avenge Takeover Target and finally bring the Villiers trophy back to Queanbeyan.