Clearly a Case of Triumph Over Adversity

March 2, 2018Liesl Wickson

Caption: Clearly Innocent  (Not a Single Doubt-No Penalty (NZ) by Zabeel (NZ))

The day before Clearly Innocent was due to take his place in the $500,000 Country Championships at Randwick he suffered a setback with a lameness issue, which meant he might miss his grand final day. Thankfully, due to the diligent and extensive efforts of his Scone-based trainer Greg Bennett, his farriers and staff, the four year-old bay gelding was cleared to run and went on to win in the most impressive fashion.

Clearly Innocent (Not a Single Doubt-No Penalty (NZ) by Zabeel (NZ)) is no stranger to overcoming setbacks and his early days are a catalogue of reasons why he never should have made it to the track, let alone earn more than $400,000 in prizemoney from his six wins in just eight starts. When all the leading commercial buyers were trying to select the next champion in the run up to the Inglis Australian Easter Sale, inspecting and reinspecting, looking for conformation, type, pedigrees, and clean x-rays, Clearly Innocent proved that the exception is the rule with his win in the Country Championship Final (1400m) on April 2.

Bred at Cressfield, Scone, there were multiple reasons why Clearly Innocent was never nominated for a sale. As a foal he was a less than impressive type. Adjectives like, weak, rangy and awkward were used to describe him. He also spent much of his early life either boxed or in a small paddock due to persistent lameness. Compounding that, weanling survey X-rays revealed he needed arthroscopic surgery to both hocks and follow up x-rays some months later revealed he also had extensive OCD changes to a stifle. So extensive were these changes it was thought he would have soundness issues throughout his life. Therefore, this immature colt with a number of skeletal issues was sent to that mystical cure of a paddock “on the side of a hill” to see if the tincture of time would improve his prognosis.

After a lengthy period in a paddock it was decided that he would be broken in and see if he was able to withstand the increase in work. He stayed sound throughout the breaking process however not long after being broken he was heard to be making a ‘noise’ as he trotted up to his feed bin in the paddock. An endoscope revealed yet another setback, he was a roarer.

So here he was, this lanky, under muscled, OCD plagued, roarer. But a Cressfield-owned horse is a lucky horse and he was given another chance with a tie back surgery. Unfortunately not even this was straightforward with the surgery site succumbing to infection and requiring the tie back suture to be removed. All this, and yet Cressfield’s owner Bruce Neill, general manager Wayne Bedggood and his staff pushed on.

After recovering from his surgery it was decided he needed a patient trainer, one who would give him the time to mature and nurse him through his various issues. Greg Bennett, a trainer with whom Cressfield has a long-standing relationship of mutual respect, was selected for the task. Being in the Greg Bennett stables allowed Cressfield to have input into his training schedule, plus the added benefit of being local as Clearly Innocent needed many preparations and spells at the farm to mature.

He initially struggled to hold condition in work and it was nearly 18 months from his tie back surgery to when he was deemed ready to have his first race start. That was in Scone, on his home track, on August 9, 2015, in a 900m maiden he won by 1.25 lengths. He won again there next time out on August 28 (1100m) before heading for a spell and he remains unbeaten in four starts at Scone, his other two successes “at home” coming at his two starts leading up to the Randwick victory, which was his fourth win in succession, beginning with a two-length win at Mudgee on February 7. His record now reads, six wins and a placing (a narrow second at Rosehill) from eight starts and he is the winner of $423,175.

In racing there are many good back stories, and this is the story of Clearly Innocent, a most unlikely athlete, a story of a horse never destined to make it to the track. His story is a testament to the value of patience and the merit in giving every horse a chance . . . or three.

Published: May 2016

Liesl Wickson

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