How McCooly's Lad Made An Improbable Racing Return

At 6.28pm on Tuesday evening, 10 months of relentless toiling will be on full display when McCooly’s Lad makes a stunning return to racing at Horsham.

Adam Dobbin

14 August 2021

AT 6.28pm on Tuesday evening, 10 months of relentless toiling will be on full display when McCooly’s Lad makes a stunning return to racing at Horsham.

Considered one of the sport’s brightest stars, McCooly’s Lad’s blossoming career came to an abrupt halt last December when breaking a hock in a trial at The Meadows, the hit-out in preparation for a tilt at the Group 1 Silver Chief.

At the time a dejected Anthony Azzopardi conceded the racing career of his immensely talented charge was all but over with x-rays confirming the break was a serious one.

“There wasn’t much hope at all,” reflected Azzopardi.

“Dr. Des Fegan took some x-rays and said that it was on the bad side of broken hocks. But he got in there and operated and pieced it together to give us a chance and here we are.

“Des is the main man in all of this. Without his great work we’d have had no chance to start with.”

It was only after a matter of months into McCooly’s Lad’s gruelling rehabilitation that Azzopardi and owner Darren Puleio started considering that a return to racing wasn’t totally out of the question.

“When he went down it really knocked me around as well,” revealed Azzopardi.

“He was going to be my next superstar and it was hard to get motivated with the other dogs there for a while. But as he improved and got better, so did I.

“We’ve formed a real bond in the last year and watching him just continually take step after step forward has made it all worthwhile.

“We haven’t missed a beat and the use of Tvati has played a massive part as well – it’s help in his recovery has been amazing.”


X-ray of McCooly’s Lad’s hock post surgery with the insertion of screws

Before his injury enforced absence, McCooly’s Lad had faced the starter on nine occasions for five blistering wins and two placings, included in those efforts a flying 29.09 victory at Sandown Park.

It was a blossoming resume which had the regally bred nephew of Hooked On Scotch the warm pre-post favourite for the Group 1 Silver Chief and a slate of other age-restricted events, including the Group 1 National Derby.

And while once considered right in the mix for some of the sport’s most prestigious races, Tuesday’s low-key return to the track in a fifth grade GRV Vic Bred series at Horsham is exactly what Azzopardi was after.

“We tossed around a few ideas about where to kick him off but settled on Horsham,” Azzopardi said.

“It’s a big track and the 485m will be good for him because he’s lost none of his run home time. He wouldn’t be at the races if I didn’t think he could win but what’s important on Tuesday is that he gets around safely and builds some confidence.”


Azzopardi has tasted victory in some of the sport’s biggest group 1 races and with that pressure comes a mixture of nerves and excitement.

But the leading conditioner says none of that will come close to the anxiety next Tuesday.

“You can’t help but worry a bit,” Azzopardi said.

“Maybe that’s because the hock is just so good. And that’s come from working on him every morning and night and trying things I’ve picked up over the years including bits and pieces from my old man.

“Swimming, walking, different exercises, Tvati – literally everything you can imagine has been tried along the way.

“Whether he gets back to what he was going to be we don’t know but he’s showing us all the right signs in trials.

“Tuesday’s return is step one and if he wins it will be my most satisfying as a trainer for sure.

“Just because of the work that’s gone into it by our whole team. But it starts and stops with the dog himself – I just love him.”