Final act

Damien Oliver on Happy Trails (middle) beats home Fawkner and Secret Admirer.
Damien Oliver on Happy Trails (middle) beats home Fawkner and Secret Admirer.

A SPRING that has provided cause for concern and fodder for frustration in equally abundant measure offered up a final act on Saturday that everyone should have seen coming. The favourite was beaten in the last feature race of the carnival, and Damien Oliver rode the winner.

Precious few ''good things'' have saluted in recent weeks, but if the tip that Oliver could be charged with betting against a rival horse as early as Monday comes good, he can hardly be accused of failing to make the most of his last days of freedom.

On Saturday, Oliver added the Emirates Stakes to the VRC Derby and Thousand Guineas, giving him victory in three of the carnival's 15 group 1 races.

Having only ridden in nine of them, his personal spring big-race strike rate sits at 33 per cent, for earnings of roughly $90,000.

''He was strong; he loves a fight, this horse,'' he said of Happy Trails, his mount in the Emirates. Were he blessed with Mr Ed's vocabulary, the gelding might have retorted that the same could be said of the jockey.

Happy Trails' trainer, Morphettville small-timer Paul Beshara, reckoned the feeling was better than sex, ''and a good one for Damien too''. Flipping a question oft asked of trainers and owners of late, he said the jockey had always stuck by him, despite his meagre standing relative to racing's training gurus. ''He'll always come out, Damien will always come out,'' Beshara said of Oliver's water-off-a-duck's-back knack. ''That's why they made a movie of him - he's D. Oliver, that's him.''

The win took Oliver within a couple of 100 career group 1 wins, and was a first for Beshara and husband-and-wife owners Peter and Erica Dickmann. Oliver made a beeline for Erica Dickmann for a hug and kiss, and she predicted more good would come his way if he stuck with her bargain-basement horse.

''I like Damien. I'm glad he won for his sake as well,'' Erica Dickmann said, her head spinning to think she'd paid $11,000 for Happy Trails, and he had just won a $1 million race.

In a business where seemingly no amount of money is enough for some, her primary concern as an owner has always been for the horse.

Since a filly named Flaxen Fury was pushed through the Cheltenham running rail nine years ago and had to be put down, and her jockey Cheree Buchiw was so badly hurt she lost her lower leg, Dickmann hasn't been able to watch her horses run. She stood head bowed in the mounting yard on Saturday, listening and hoping.

Only after she had checked that Happy Trails was OK was she able to rejoice. ''He's safe and he's happy, that's very important to me.''

She had picked Happy Trails out at the sales because he held his head high, as if he thought he really was a million-dollar horse.

''He didn't know what he cost, he just stood there proud as anything. I said, 'I want him!'''

Punters were again left wanting a winner, after only two favourites on the nine-race card lived up to their billing.

The turnaround since the running of the Caulfield Cup has been a wallet-draining experience for the high-rollers - 11 favourites won the 20 races before Dunaden's win three weeks ago, and only nine in the 57 since.

Having flown south with what was regarded as her best-ever team of spring carnival runners, Gai Waterhouse heads home without a single winner, but the consolation of knowing that her bookmaker son Tom has filled his boots. Gai's carnival had a suitably grim end, when she had to put Vlad Duric on her Emirates runner, Fat Al, at the last minute, after regular jockey Tommy Berry was waylaid by a cancelled flight.

Oliver could soon find himself grounded, too. But from go to whoa in this extraordinary carnival, he was flying.

This story Final act first appeared on WA Today.