Artlee dominates, handing trainer major windfall

TODD Willan is convinced his fairytale win at The Championships Country Series Final will inspire rural trainers to greater success in the future.
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The 29-year-old Muswellbrook mentor saw his horse Artlee dominate a strong field at Randwick to take out the inaugural $300,000 race on Easter Monday.

“This event is going to mean everything,” he said.

“We don’t normally get the chance to go in restrictive races for that sort of money, so to give guys such as myself a chance means that you’ll probably be hearing a lot more fairytales.”

Willan only began his career three years ago but he has already benefited from the valuable advice of experienced trainers such as Peter Snowden, John Hawkes and John O’Shea.

Despite his early success, he said it was a path he didn’t initially contemplate.

“I never really wanted to train horses, I saw how hard it was,” he said.

“I didn’t want a part of it, but I started breaking in horses in Muswellbrook and from there I decided to take up my trainers licence.”

A former apprentice jockey, Willan said a trainer persuaded Artlee’s owners to give him an opportunity.

“I rode a few horses for a friend, James Balfe, and he told [owners] Gerry and Kathleen Feeney and Peter and Julie Rogers that I ride really well,” he said.

“He asked them if I could have a crack at breaking in a horse and they started me on Artlee’s half-sister, Marlee’s Dancer.

“They decided that I’d done a good job so I just kept going.”

Willan said Artlee, a winner in five of his eight starts, was only getting better with more experience on the track.

The four-year-old gelding was the last to qualify for the country final but never looked like being beaten.

“He was as good as any horse in that field,” he said.

“He’s still immature and very raw, but jockey Mitchell Bell has learned to ride him the more times that he has been on him.

“I think he’s only going to get better as he matures.”

DELIGHTED: Muswellbrook trainer Todd Willan with jockey Mitchell Bell after Artlee’s win in the country final at Randwick. Pic: KATRINA PARTRIDGE PHOTOGRAPHY

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