Day At The Track

Famularo's king as pacing princess reigns

07:20 PM 23 Jul 2011 NZST
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Harness racing owner Robert Famularo was as surprised as anyone when Carabella was named Harness Horse of the Year last night, only the second time in 43 years that a three-year-old filly has taken the top award. On a vintage night in Christchurch, to end a vintage season, Famularo, his family and trainer Benny Hill wore a groove in the carpet up to the stage, accepting five awards.

But Famularo was not expecting Carabella, a unanimous winner of the three-year-old fillies' section, to beat his New Zealand Cup winner Monkey King to the pacer of the year title, let alone down Interdominion Trotting champion I Can Doosit to the overall Horse of the Year title.

When Monkey King was announced top five-year-old and older pacer, collecting 14 votes to Themightyquinn's 12, it seemed Famularo's own reckoning that his New Zealand Cup-Free-for-all double in cup week would outweigh his subsequent 10-start losing streak would be shared by the judges.

"Initially I thought Carabella could win horse of the year but when I looked over the tapes of what Monkey did in cup week I changed my mind," Famularo said. "Both Benny and I would have voted Monkey King over Carabella. Winning the cup is like getting three Group Is at once.

"But I suppose achieving what Carabella did would be hard to repeat. She didn't just beat the other horses, she beat the clock, winning in track and race record times."

With 10 wins from 11 starts, including five Group I scalps, Carabella became New Zealand's new princess of pacing, topping the pedestal only reached previously by Elect To Live in 2001-02.

She is only the fourth age group pacer to be rated above the cup class horses, joining the likes of three-year-old Il Vicolo (1994-95) and champion two-year-old Chokin (1990-91) to be named Harness Horse of the Year.

But don't expect Carabella to hit the headlines as much next season - Famularo and Hill have already mapped out her entire campaign, which will be restricted to eight races: five in New Zealand and three in Australia.

"We want to keep her season as light as possible," Famularo said. "All the races she'll run in will be for mares, except maybe one lead-up race, and then, hopefully, we'll have a cup class mare for the following season."

Races on her calendar include two at Auckland in December, two at Addington in February, three in Australia, then the Harness Jewels.

Famularo said history showed that few fillies who raced at two and three fashioned into top-class older mares but if they looked after Carabella as a four-year-old she should have every chance of measuring up in cup class.

Carabella did not need to be tackling the boys in races like the Taylor Mile and Messenger when she would likely meet top mare De Lovely next season anyway - "Hey, that ain't going to be any picnic," Famularo said.

Carabella was due back into the stable in one more week after spending four weeks in the paddock with a couple of good mates.

"We did the right thing in deciding not to go to Australia. We did it for her, not for us," said Famularo. The filly's season bankroll of $507,543 hardly needed boosting.

Indeed, Famularo's Cavalla Bloodstock earned a whopping $1.3m for the season, seven horses contributing to the haul - Carabella (10 wins), Monkey King (3), Power Of Tara (3), Ultimate Player (3), Timeless Perfection (2), Tennis Ball (20 and Dakota Grace (2).

Their 25 wins, including seven Group I wins, two Group IIs and two Group IIIs, ensured Famularo again earned the title of harness racing's owner of the year, the fifth year in the last six that he has set the standard.

The financial rewards were down on the previous season, however, largely because of the mystery ailment which stopped Monkey King from reproducing his previous season record haul of $1.73m.

"He wasn't right from the Miracle Mile on," Famularo said. "We think we got it down to a musculoskeletal problem but we're not sure if we've solved it because it doesn't manifest itself until he's under load."

Monkey King had benefited from chiropractic work but when he is a little fitter, in about a month, Famularo plans to send the horse north to Matamata for nuclear scintigraphy, where an injected radio-isotope can pinpoint hard-to-find injury areas by detecting increased metabolic activity in soft tissue or bone.

"It's a bit of a hassle but we can't afford not to do it," Famularo said. "He's rising nine but he's not too old to still do a good job."

Famularo is actually hoping it's a host of old-timers and former crocks in the Dancingonmoonlight stable at Ohoka which might provide many of the fireworks next season.

Power Of Tara, also rising nine, will be back after a fine season when he bagged $192,000, joined by stable favourite Baileys Dream, rising 10.

Old Bailey hasn't raced for 14 months, after injuring a suspensory ligament, but he is holding together well in the early stages of a new preparation after some "alternative" treatment.

Bailey and one-time boom horse Harley Earl, who twice hurt a tendon, have both had regular sessions with an "old bloke near Timaru" who massages their injured legs with warm round stones, designed to avoid the build-up of scar tissue.

Famularo, never one to knock back trying something new, has also bought a shockwave machine, in conjunction with a Rangiora vet clinic, to treat his rehabilitating horses.

Among that category is Carabella's half-sister Lady Cullen, once rated by Famularo's former trainer Stephen Reid as the fastest horse he'd sat behind.

She has twice succumbed to tendon injuries, and now a mum twice over, is again on the comeback trail. Rising seven, she has not raced for 3 1/2 years.

Famularo knows, however, that he needs to find some new young stars because with the crocks it "can turn to custard in five minutes".

He has an embarrassment of riches in that area, a phalanx of blue-blooded youngsters going through their early schooling under Hill.

"It's early days yet - Benny tends to let them find their own way and it's not usually until they're early three-year-olds that you know if you've got something."

Hill's current favourite, who turns three next week, started out as only average, but has got better and better, according to Famularo.

Named Beach Bunny, the Christian Cullen gelding is a brother to Famularo's former talented pacer Italian Stallion.

"Benny said if he got an offer of $100,000 for him right now he'd turn it down."

Somewhere among the 16 yearlings Hill is educating, Famularo hopes to find his next champion.

"We've got some really classy foals but we haven't got room for them all.

"We sold two rising two-year-olds for $1000 last week and we're going to have a whole lot more like that.

"We'll have another 12 or 15 babies arrive in January so Benny will have to get rid of 20 horses in the next six months."

Famularo said he did not want to get to the position where he was putting his staff under too much pressure coping with too many horses, so calls would have to be made on who to keep and who to sell or lease.

Inevitably, they'd get it wrong with some, but retaining the broodmares meant they'd still benefit in the long run.

"We've got the mares down from 30 to about 24 now but I want to get that to under 20 next season, and ultimately closer to 15. We're trying to get down to quality, not quantity. Ideally we'd like to produce only 10 foals a year."


Other awards last night: Owner: Cavalla Bloodstock Ltd (Robert Famularo). Breeder: Spreydon Lodge. Unsung hero: Barry Johnson. Broodmare: Vicario (dam of Stunin Cullen and Temepara Cullen). Stallion: Bettor's Delight. Trainer: Mark Purdon & Grant Payne. Junior driver: Dexter Dunn. Outstanding contribution: Roy Purdon.

Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times



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