Bush boy set to shake up The Championships
TRAINER Ben Smith is a battler from the bush who on Saturday will watch his horse take on the fastest sprinter in the world.
From a quiet spot alone in the stands at Royal Randwick he will also take a moment to reflect on the enormous sacrifices he has made to get there.
"We did do it tight for a while," Smith, 36, said with characteristic understatement.
On Saturday his Newcastle-based filly In Her Time will challenge Redzel in the $2.5 million Darley TJ Smith Stakes on the first day of The Championships.
And she is a real chance.
In Her Time missed out on a start in The Everest in October but her blistering time in the consolation race was faster than that clocked by Redzel to win the $10 million super-race.
"I am just trying to focus on getting everything right for her and keeping her in her routine," Smith, who confessed to some serious nerves in the lead up to race day, said.
That rock-steady attention to routine has stood him in good stead since he started Ben Smith Racing with his brother Darren and just three horses six years ago.
But things didn't start off as quickly as he would have hoped.
Smith, who grew up in Scone, spent a lot of years working as a barman before taking afternoon shifts with Bart Cummings and rekindling his boyhood love of horses. He went on to work with trainers including Greg Eurell, Greg Bennett and Peter Snowden before launching out on his own in 2012.
"I may have been a bit keen," Smith said with hindsight. "I didn't know too much about the business side of things."
There were not many owners or connections to Smith. One of his first horses belonged to his grandparents and it won its first start. "It was a great way to begin and gave us a taste of what could happen," he said.
When the bills started piling up, he put his head down and concentrated on the horses.
"The water bill was there and I couldn't pay it so I had cold showers through winter," Smith, who ended up with pneumonia as a result, said.
"I was supposed to go to hospital but I needed to keep working at the stable. I got a handful of antibiotics and went back to work."
Food was another luxury - for Smith and his brother, not the horses.
"We never wavered in our standards for the horses," he said.
"Even when the bills were piling up we never gave into the pressure to run a horse before it was ready.
"There were times there where people said, 'Cut your losses,' but I wasn't prepared to listen to anyone or stop. I just dug in and stuck at it."
There was a time at Wyong where he "felt a bit ordinary" and ended up in hospital that night to have his appendix removed. He woke up the next morning and told the nurse to get the discharge papers ready.
"I had to be at the stable in the afternoon. It was stupid really but I had to do it," Smith said.
That intense work ethic and unfaltering commitment finally began to pay off three years ago when In Her Time joined the stable.
Ben Smith Racing went from a maximum of four winners a season to 21 this year so far, with prize money of more than $1.5 million. There are now 37 horses on his books.
Smith himself has gone from driving a battered Commodore ute to a new Toyota Prado. It has taken him six years to become an overnight success.
However, he still has no time for a relationship or anything outside of his beloved horses.
"Getting a little bit of success makes you work harder," Smith, who has all his concentration channelled into Saturday's 1200m race, said.
He has even bought a new suit for the day. Things are looking up.