Azzaland with regular track rider and Richie Stephenson’s stable foreman Allan Miller.
Azzaland with regular track rider and Richie Stephenson’s stable foreman Allan Miller. Nev Madsen

Azzaland swings back into action

WHEN Azzaland’s bone-chipped fetlocks underwent surgery last year, you would have taken long odds about him re-emerging as one of Queensland’s best sprinters.

The then five-year-old had carved out impressive career figures for trainer Richie Stephenson with 10 wins – including his first five in a row – from 17 starts.

But everything went on hold for Azzaland following his Eagle Farm victory in January last year.

He found himself under a serious injury cloud and, faced with an uncertain future, his connections couldn’t have been blamed for starting to think “what might have been”.

Fifteen months later, Azzaland is now staring at what might be his best year yet on the track as he prepares to join a list of Toowoomba hopefuls chasing a slice of success at the Brisbane Winter Carnival.

Azzaland’s climb back up the ladder began with a return Eagle Farm win on April 2 followed by his first 1200-metre victory in the Listed Bribie Handicap at Doomben a fortnight ago.

That comeback continues tomorrow at Eagle Farm where Stephenson will get another gauge on the gelding’s winter prospects when he tackles the Group Two weight-for-age Victory Stakes (1200m).

Stephenson – who has trained race horses for 45 years – has been taken with Azzaland’s recuperation.

“You live in hope they can all come back from this sort of setback, but very few do,” Stephenson said this week.

“He had some small splinters in his fetlocks operated on but then every time we tried to get him back to racing, it was too wet.

“The months kept getting away from us which resulted in him being out of racing for over 14 months.

“But he’d been well looked after spelling down at Bob Woods place at Haigslea and Glen Laws from Oakey vet hospital was a great help to him as well.

“Then when we finally got him back, he came straight to the party.

“He scored an easy trial win before he won first up over 1000 metres.

“He then won for the first time over 1200 metres and you’d have to say it looks like he’s come back from his problems going better than he was before.

“It’s something you don’t expect but it’s a real pleasure to have a horse like him get the chance to realise his ability.

“He’s the fastest horse I’ve had to perform so consistently.

“We’ll give him his chance at the carnival now and see where he finishes up.

“He’ll be entered for the BTC Cup, 10,000 and Stradbroke.

“We might be grasping at straws but you at least have to be ready if you decide to take the plunge.

“But we’ll be dodging Black Caviar wherever we can.

“The way she’s going, it looks like she could tow the barriers and still win, especially at set weights.”

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