Highly promising three-year-old Betternbetter returns to Tabcorp Park Melton for the first time in almost eight months on Friday night, but if it wasn’t for a stroke of luck and a vigilant trainer he wouldn’t have made it back to the track at all.
The Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby hopeful, who will line up from outside the front row in the Pridmore Electrics 3YO Final, looked to have the world before him after winning the Group 2 Empire Stallions VicBred Platinum Home Grown Classic for two-year-old colts and geldings on May 19 last year.
Trainer Keith Cotchin said Betternbetter had just returned from a freshen up when he noticed something wasn’t quite right.
“We were just getting him ready for the sires (Vicbred Super Series); everything seemed well and he seemed all right in himself, (but) he just looked a little bit dopey and not quite himself,” Cotchin said.
“We were going away so I thought I would take him down to the vets and leave him there overnight.”
His ‘better be safe than sorry' move turned out to be a life and death decision as Betternbetter was soon undergoing emergency surgery at the Bendigo Equine Hospital.
“By the time I got him there he had colic really bad and couldn’t stand up,” he said.
“(The hospital’s) Sarah (Jalim) and Mike (Whiteford) said cases that came so quick and severe as what he got … they don’t usually get to them in time.
“They did a great job and we wouldn’t have him if it wasn’t for them. He was in the right place at the right time so we were very, very lucky.”
Cotchin said Betternbetter’s post-op recovery was slow – and not without its setbacks.
“We had to have him locked in a box for a month and he got a bit too active, had a buck and busted one of the internal stitches, so he ended up in the box for longer, a couple of months,” he said.
“Then he went out to the paddock; he didn’t look as good as we wanted, he lost a lot of muscle tone.
“It has been a long, slow recovery but he seemed to – just like his name – get better and better as time has gone on.”
Despite the gradual improvement, Cotchin said they didn’t know if the horse that looked like taking his two-year-old season by the scruff of the neck would get back to the track.
“We weren’t quite sure what way he was going to go, whether we would have to put him out again or if we would get back to the races,” he said.
“He is a sort of a frustrating horse in that he doesn’t do much at home so wasn’t setting the world on fire (and) you never know what really is going to happen when they have a trauma like that.”
But all that changed when he gave Betternbetter his first trial at Bendigo.
“He ran a half in 55.7 I think and he was a different horse,” he said.
“He showed that sparkle (and) we knew we were back in business.”
Betternbetter took that form into his 3YO Pace heat at Kilmore over 1690m, in which he won seemingly comfortably in a 1:54.7 mile rate.
“He went really well and to get a run like that under your belt is good, especially when you are not the best trackworker in the world,” Cotchin said.
“The best part of that race was that he has come home and pulled up well, he has eaten everything.”
Cotchin said the Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby heats – which will be run during PETstock Ballarat Cup night on January 19 – was firmly in his sights if Betternbetter continued his remarkable return.
“If he goes really well on Friday night then you would go around in the heats of the Derby; I know it is going to be a big step – there are some really nice three-year-olds around – but hopefully he can acquit himself well up against them.”
Cotchin, who tasted Victoria Derby success with Tabini Bromac in 2008, said such horses were “very hard to find”.
“You can have some nice horses but sometimes they don’t go to the heights that some of the others can,” he said.
“It is when you go to the races and they are all fighting it out down the straight, that’s what sorts them out.
“We think (Betternbetter) has that bit of x-factor to find the line and want to win. He has done a great job so far.
“It is incredible to have this horse. It has been special to get another good horse at the end of my career.”
He said Betternbetter came to his stable through “good friendship” after his dam, Cee Cee Sheffield, lost a Shadowplay foal in 2013.
“I said to (breeder and co-owner Dennis Pangrazio) that he could have the service fee, we are not going to breed anymore, we are finished,” he said.
“So he took the service fee and said to my wife, ‘well, me and you are going to breed and race this one’ and he put a little bit of extra money with it and went to Betterthancheddar.
“Something that was a disaster for us and everything has ended up being a blessing in disguise. We were very lucky that (Dennis) did that or we wouldn’t have Betternbetter.”