Winning the Bluegrass Derby is the dream of every Sim trainer.
In the first 18 runnings, only one trainer had won it twice: the Super Stables. They won it in 2006 with VIRTUOSO, then in 2012 with RAS EL HANOUT.
And now Punter, a humble ozzy trainer from Melbourne, Australia, has done the unthinkable. He has won the Derby two years in a row!
Last year, Punter won it on the front end with the speedy CARL’S SHAMELESS.
This year, he won it again when GODBLESS THIS MESS ($28.20) closed from ninth to win by two and one-half lengths.
A thread on the main message board quite properly congratulates Punter on the amazing achievement of winning two straight Bluegrass Derbies.
Several veteran trainers have posted to the thread to offer congratulations and wonder. Many of us have played for about as long as the 20 years we’ve been running the Bluegrass Derby, and never even got a horse near qualifying for the race.
Now, Punter has won it twice in a row.
“It feels a bit surreal to be honest,” Punter said. “There are so many bigger and better trainers in the Sim, so to win it once was huge, but to go back to back is amazing.”
Also amazing is Punter’s Hall of Fame Storm Cat mare MAGPIES CAT, who foaled Godbless This Mess. If ever a Sim mare was on a hot streak, it is Magpies Cat. Four of her last six foals are Grade 1 winners. Among them are a Bluegrass Derby winner and an End of the Year award winner. While Godbless This Mess was busy winning the Derby on Saturday, the 2yo filly by Ghostzapper, out of Magpies Cat, broke maiden at first asking.
“Hopefully, she will keep the tradition going in the future,” Punter said.
After having won the 2017 Derby with Carl’s Shameless, Punter arrived at the 2018 Derby with a two-horse entry. In addition to Godbless This Mess, he also qualified with STORMY MO. He did not really love either one.
“I thought they both should have been 25-1,” Punter said. “I thought Godbless This Mess was the better chance and could sneak a place as his last two starts were pretty good. There is a fair bit of luck in the Sim and you need your horse to peak at the right time. I have been very lucky to have that happen two years in a row.”
Godbless This Mess did a sight better than sneaking a place.
“I was away for the weekend, so I couldn’t watch the race until Sunday afternoon (Aussie time),” Punter said. “I wasn’t expecting too much going into the race, but started getting excited just before the halfway mark when he looked to be going OK. Once he kicked, I kept waiting for something to come from the back, but they never came. The last furlong seemed to go on forever. I celebrated with a little fist pump and then had a beer.”
Punter, whose real name is Gav, is from Melbourne, Australia and started playing the game in its early years, in November 2000. He used to have four or five friends who also played, but they lost interest. Punter took only a brief three-month break about six years ago. Otherwise, he has been training Sim horses non-stop since November 2000.
Wonder what he might have for the Bluegrass Derby next year?
The runner-up in the 2018 Bluegrass Derby belonged to the only other trainer in the race with more than one runner. Like Punter, Stockswami ran a two-horse entry and collected the considerable place money when GOLD WAR FRONT got up for second. In third was the Equinics winner OTTO OVER EASY, trained by Kaner.