In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
In 2008, McArdle was the underbidder (at $105,000) for a well-bred colt who sold at the yearling sales for $110,000. That colt was named So You Think and went on to win two Cox Plates before being sold in 2010 to an international breeding giant in a deal that valued the horse at about $60 million.
But in racing theres always another story. In 2002, McArdle bought a horse called Hollow Bullet for $10,000 and syndicated to friends for $1500 each. The horse won about $1.5 million and was sold in 2006 for $1.3 million.
Its the ups and downs of the game and McArdle, 40, has been in it long enough to still be smiling, and to know that the next champion might be in front of his eyes.
But making champions is hard work. On the eve of the spring carnival, and with McArdles stables near the beach in Mornington, weve visited to ask him about working horses in the sea. This form of training has always made beautiful photographs and its super cute when they roll in the sand but what is the real benefit to the horses?
McArdle takes horses to the beach most days when weather permits. I think footballers poached it from us, he says. They get to the saltwater, which has very good recovery properties. Its also quite cool. At this time of year the water is cold so its like icing them.
Its something different for them, something different from running around in a circle every day. Footballers dont run laps every day. As much as it is very good for horses with bad knees, its general recovery from racing and galloping, its also a mental stimulant.
For the horses its a much-needed change of environment. Its not unusual to see dolphins, McArdle says. The horses reaction when they see them initially is fright, but once theyve seen them a few times they like to see them. They see the boats and other people. Its a different surrounding.
Some of the nervy ones do get nervous. Its actually quite incredible to watch them. Once they get in there we take them down in groups and their mates get in there, they think, This is all right and it feels nice and cool on their legs and its nice and relaxing. Its just a nice day out for them.
At the beach there are variables that the trainers dont see at the stables. Had one stand on a flounder and threw me in the water, McArdle says. Weve gone down there and its been a bit choppy and the weather changes while youre down there and the waves start to come in. We had one horse, Danger Looms, a very good colt, he loved it, he used to let the waves crash over the top of him and his rider used to get knocked off every now and then. He would actually go for the waves. He would fortunately walk in with the waves and let us catch him.
At Safety Beach it gets rougher than you think. We take the horses out chest deep in water so it doesnt take much of a wave to come over the top of the horse.
Swimming is an important part of a horses training in a pool and at the beach, the benefits of which McArdle first saw on the beaches around his home town Warrnambool. (At Warrnambool) we used to lead horses off the back of a row boat and wed row around the breakwater and theyd swim behind us, he says.
Weve had one get loose and sort of swim out a bit and you think Erggh. But it turns around and comes back. Theyre usually pretty intelligent. They know where they came in, so they come back.
Some sprinting horses (as opposed to stayers) dont deal with the regular work. Wildly was a very fast sprinter who didnt cope with work, so we used to take him to the beach every day.
Every second day Id put him chest deep in water and hed trot for about 500 metres in the water, then hed walk back for a kilometre, then hed trot another 500 metres and then wed give him a roll (in the sand). And that was his work, thats all hed do.
It suited him. We worked out he had a very great aerobic capacity but he didnt cope with work. He was naturally fit, so we didnt have to work him, so we just swum him all the time. He loved it.
McArdle grew up on a cattle farm outside Warrnambool with a passion for horses. He was eight when he first climbed aboard one. At 16 he came to Melbourne to work for trainer John Sadler. He later worked as trainer Lee Freedmans foreman based at Caulfield.
When Freedman moved his operation to Rye, Freedman asked McArdle to go with him. McArdle and his wife Bernadette bought a house in Rye. In 2003, he and business partner Brent Clayton started Redgum Racing and moved to Mornington four years ago.
The stable can hold 40 horses but McArdle likes to keep numbers down. Im very much a hands-on trainer so I like to be able to know each individual horse, he says.
Of the 27 in work on the day we visit 13 are two-year-olds and still to race, and seven are unraced or have had one or two starts.
We train a lot of young horses. Weve got a good record with two-year-olds. Im probably like the Greater Western Sydney or Gold Coast (in the AFL). A lot of young players who show potential but until they do it, you dont know.
The variables with horses, as with humans, are endless. People say Why did it do this? And Ill say Sometimes they just have a bad day. Equine athletes can have bad days like human athletes. Even the great ones. Black Caviar had a bad day in England, but shes that good that she
still beat them. My wife looked after Maykbe Diva and she had bad days.
He says that an entire (a male horse not gelded, so a colt or stallion) can have high testosterone levels, which will affect their behaviour. Theyre an aggressive animal by nature because they protect their herd and they can be a little more temperamental. They have different personalities. You have quiet ones, you have bouncy boisterous ones, you have ones that are nasty, ones that are very kind.
The life of a trainer is hard work. Im here just before four every morning. I leave between 9am and midday, back at 1.30, here till 5pm. If you dont live it, dont do it. Theres a very high burn-out rate. Ive had in nine years as a horse trainer 3½ weeks holiday. Im awake 4am on my holiday and I ring back here to make sure everythings OK.
I love being around horses. Most horse trainers are the same. Youre sort of born into it. Most of us have grown up in it. If you dont have a passion for it, you wont last. In the middle of winter Im out of bed just after three. Sundays, I get a sleep-in, I get up at five.
There are several reasons for the early start. The track opens at 4am and we want to be the first ones on, to get the best use of it. We have to be off the track for the staff preparing the track from 9am.
We work them early in the morning because its cooler. The reason we still do that in winter (as well) is because theyre a creature of habit.
In his long drives to race events the day before we met he did an eight-hour round trip to Stawell to watch one of his charges McArdle has a lot of thinking time, which he uses to fine-tune his training techniques. When Im walking my dogs you do think Can they win that race? I think about them constantly. We do a lot of driving to the race meetings. You do think, Am I doing the right thing with that one? What can I do differently with that one? Will a gear change work? Should riding tactics change? Thats probably what keeps most horse trainers awake while theyre driving those long hours.
Bernadette worked for a year as a strapper for the champion three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva. She led her in, in her second Cup, the first one for the Freedmans. It comes with a bit of pressure. She had to make sure her legs were right. It was a great experience working with one of the greats, something shell never forget.
Redgum has two three-year-olds with a chance at spring carnival glory. Arrised, a colt, will be nominated for the Derby and Shes Streets Ahead, a filly, will aim towards the Oaks.
Maybe all those days at the beach are about to pay off.