Black Forge Eyes Elusive Group Success

THERE’S few greyhounds going around more deserving of a group race victory than the Darren Sultana-trained Black Forge, something the Londonderry conditioner hopes he can...

Adam Dobbin

12 March 2019

THERE’S few greyhounds going around more deserving of a group race victory than the Darren Sultana-trained Black Forge, something the Londonderry conditioner hopes he can remedy when the Group 2 Maitland Gold Cup Series (450m) gets underway this Thursday afternoon.

On the third line of all-in betting for the $40,000 to-the-winner series at $7.00, Black Forge takes his place in the third heat from box eight on Thursday, fresh off his narrow second in Friday night’s Group 2 Richmond Derby Final behind Catch Me Curly.

Before his terrific Richmond Derby showing, the son of Fabregas finished third in the Group 2 Cyril Rowe Gold Plate Final at Bulli behind Pindari Express and Nervous An Weird, who incidentally lead the Maitland Cup all-in market at $4.80 apiece with bookmaker Bet365.

“He really does deserve a big race this dog – he just keeps running big races and flying under the radar but that’s fine by me, it means less pressure going into these races,” said Sultana on Tuesday.

Spending the best part of three months on the sidelines after going amiss at Maitland last October, Black Forge returned to racing in breathtaking fashion in late January, breaking the then Bulli 400m track record in a blistering 22.16.

“What made the record Bulli run even better was that he wasn’t even fit, I don’t think enough got made of his effort that night – I was stoked with how he’d returned,” said Sultana.

“To this day we’re still not 100% sure what happened at Maitland but all we can put it down to is that he’s torn some stitches he still must have had internally when he was in the boxes.

“He’d gone into the race at Maitland eight weeks after we had to scratch him from the Black Top Final at The Gardens which was shocking luck.

“He won his heat of the Black Top on the Friday and I was driving home from Bulli on the Monday with Gordon Scibberas after we’d got a double and I said to him that we were in for a good week.

“I got home from Bulli and saw Black Forge lying on his bed and he didn’t want to get up which was odd for him. Then I saw he’d sliced open his back muscle from trying to dig a hole under the fence out in the yard, it needed 10 stitches and he had to be scratched from the (Black Top) final.

“I had to call his owner Colin Hall and tell him we were out of a $40,000 race we were a big chance in, it wasn’t a call I wanted to make but he couldn’t have been any better about it, he just said ‘it’s not your fault, move on,’ he’s a champion bloke, Colin.”

At his four starts since breaking the then Bulli 400m record in January, Black Forge has finished in the placings in heats and finals of the Group 2 Cyril Rowe Bulli Gold Plate and Group 2 Richmond Derby, but as Sultana explains, it wasn’t all smooth sailing getting his star galloper back to his peak.

“After Maitland there was a time he just wouldn’t go, his confidence was shot,” declared Sultana.

“It took me about four weeks to work out it was all in his head, he was scarred from what had happened at Maitland in the boxes. I slipped him a few times after that and he flew so I knew he was physically okay. It took plenty of work to get him feeling comfortable again in the boxes again – but since he has he hasn’t looked back.”

Set to tackle heat three on Thursday afternoon from box eight, a draw he’s yet to miss a place from in six starts, Sultana says he’s looking forward to getting the son of Fabregas back to Maitland, a track he’s flown at in the past, recording a flying 24.81 for the 450 metres.

“I wanted either box one or eight so I’m really happy where he’s drawn – he just needs room to move early and he should get it out there,” added Sultana.

A finalist at group race level on four occasions, Black Forge has finished in the money in three of those, runner-up in last year’s Group 2 Bendigo Cup, along with his recent placings in the Group 2 Richmond Derby and Bulli Cyril Rowe Gold Plate.

The only time he failed to collect a cheque was an eye-catching fourth in the Group 3 Warragul St. Leger Final behind Aston Kimetto, an event where very little went right in the run.

“He’s been in a few big races now and gone well, as I said he’s a bit underrated if you ask me,” added Sultana.

“He should have won the Warragul St. Leger last year, he just hasn’t had a lot of luck in the big ones but hopefully his time will come soon.”

Winner at 16 of his 34 starts, boasting the very impressive winning strike-rate of 47%, Black Forge is a son of Fabregas from marvelous producer Hail Queenie, her stock winning over 200 races and $250,000 in prizemoney, but even more impressively at a winning strike-rate of 28%.

“I’ve actually broken-in all four of Hail Queenie’s litters and each litter has just seemed to have gotten quicker and quicker,” added Sultana.

“Black Forge is the first dog I’ve trained for Colin. I broke him in, and then Colin asked me to spell him, and then pre-train him and eventually he asked me to train him as well.

“I remember when I first started working Black Forge I trialed him at Richmond over the 330m and he went 19.20 and improved next time to 18.80. Then I took him to Bathurst over the 307m and he went 17.70 first go before running 17.40 – I thought to myself then, I’ve got a rocket here.

“As he’s got a bit older he’s turned into a real race dog, he just thrives on competition. He doesn’t trial anything flash now. I remember one day at Wenty I gave him a post-to-post on the Tuesday and he went 24.80 which is terrible but I’d already nominated him for the Saturday.

“I thought, I’ll have to scratch him off that but I got him checked over and there was nothing wrong with him so I left him in. He came out and won in 29.80. That’s just him.

“The plan after Maitland is to target the Easter Egg but there’s a lot that can happen between now and then.”