Nobody on course at Cambridge on Thursday night was as excited about Prince Envy’s upset all-the-way win as trainer-driver Nicky Chilcott and her stable workers Leah Hibbell and Jordyn Bublitz.
That’s because no horse is more loved around the White Star barn than the gentle seven-year-old black beauty they call Envy.
“He’s a gorgeous looking horse but more than that he’s such a darling,” says Nicky. “You wouldn’t get a lovelier animal. He’d never kick or bite.”
If you happened to stumble and fall when leading Envy, Nicky says he’d never stand on you - he’d more likely stoop and offer to help you up.
“When little kids come to the barn he puts his head down on the ground so they can scratch his ears. He hasn’t got one chink in his personality.”
That’s probably just as well as Nicky says truth be told Envy doesn’t have that much ability.
“If he was a mongrel you wouldn’t carry on with him but he’s such an easy horse to have around the barn. Anyone would fall in love with him but he’s no star and he could go another 20 races and not win until the stars align again.”
Thursday night’s win, the fourth of Envy’s 48-start career, and third in the White Star orange silks, was one of the most enjoyable of the season for Nicky.
“It was only a low class race on a freezing cold night but we were all jumping out of our skin. It was a big thrill and I was screaming at him near the finish.”
The call of congratulations afterwards from Melbourne owners Merv and Meg Butterworth only served to make the moment even more special.
“I love it how they can own a champion like Copy That who’s won $2 million but still get a huge kick out of winning an $8000 race with Envy.”
Nicky had two huge influences on the result - one a decent gamble before the race and one during the running.
Frustrated by Envy’s seeming loss of form, she made more radical changes to his shoeing - lighter shoes, flip flops, bell boots and another tweak on his already unconventional plates.
“It was a bit of a risk. I hadn’t even worked him in them before the race. They were put on only on Tuesday and on Wednesday he walked on the treadmill.”
Nicky also made the decision to pre-race warm the horse for the first time but says he didn’t go fast enough bowling around earlier in the night to tell if the shoeing change would help.
“I’m not sure that he trotted that much better to be honest, he’s always a bit rough-going. You certainly earn your driving fee on him, he’s definitely not a kids’ horse.”
Nicky’s knowledge of Envy’s quirks in the running also proved crucial.
“He runs out in the straights and on the bends he runs in real bad. But I set him up to get round the bends by letting him run out about two carts in the straights. When you’re in front you can do that.
“If you hit the bend hard on the fence he wouldn’t get round - when you’re pulling on the rein they get dirty and that’s when they can be thrown off stride.”
Without a doubt the winning of the race, however, was at the start when Nicky got Envy away from the blocks like Usain Bolt, the horse enjoying not being distracted by others in front of him.
Envy began so fast that he had a four-length lead within the first 100 metres, one which he pretty quickly extended to at least eight lengths.
“I didn’t know how far I was in front and never looked behind me. I wouldn’t have cared if I’d been 200 metres in front.
“I just drove my horse so he’d keep the same rhythm. They might have nearly caught me down the back straight but I think you’ll find I was still running 31 quarters.
“If they’d got closer to me I’d have been too scared to pull the hood in case he galloped. He’s a funny horse, he goes through stages - one minute he’s charging, the next he drops the bit - but he kept going.”
At the line Envy still had one and a quarter lengths over Alana and Sonsofthemerch, only having to trot the last 800 metres in 61.3 and 400 in 31.6.
His overall mile rate was only 2:05.3, with the 2200 metre trip cut out in 2:51.3, the Christmas at the Raceway Trot proving just that for White Star’s favourite son. - Barry Lichter