Not many trainers could boast better credentials than Dan Shepherd when they open their stable for the first time. The son of outstanding jockey Peter Shepherd, he had more than 15 years working as foreman for several of our best stables behind him.
Shepherd spent about 10 years working as stable foreman with Stuart Gower and another four with Dan O’Sullivan, before working with the late Andrew Dillon for two years. When Dillon passed away with leukaemia, he took over many of the trainer’s horses and now trains primarily for owner Ian Bell of Campolina Racing.
He may have learned plenty from the three trainers, but Shepherd was born to be a racehorse trainer. He is already making his own mark for his conditioning and astute placement of his horses to achieve one of the best strike rates of any trainer in the state.
“I was born into racing,” he says. “Dad was a jockey, my aunties and uncles all trained horses. Racing is my life and I’m happy where I am but also wanting to build on it. It’s a small stable that I hope to increase by 50 per cent or even double in the next few years but it’s big enough for me on my own right now, with the help of my lovely partner Leah (Reid).
“I don’t really need a foreman at this stage but I have the right people around me. Ian has been a great support and I’m able to call on the services of Dom Tourneur, Jason Holder and Joe Bowditch for most of the rides.”
With 10 boxes at Morphettville always full, Shepherd is getting the best out of his small team and he’s made a very impressive start to the calendar year. He landed a treble at Penola in January with promising three-year-old Autmed, Snake Farley and That’s A Slab in the Coonawarra Vigneron’s Cup, before the very smart three-year-old So Skilled announced his arrival at Morphettville.
“That was a good day for me at Penola, three from three,” he says. “It doesn’t happen too often like that. Autmed only won a maiden but he has talent, which he showed two starts later when he ran third in the Tasmanian Derby.
“I have a few nice horses coming through but So Skilled is at the top of the pecking order. I think he’ll get to 1400 or a mile, he’s easy to train, just a really lovely horse.
“I was going to give him a let up but there was some interest in him from Hong Kong. To get his rating up, which is necessary for horses being sold to Hong Kong, I thought it was better to look for a suitable race or two during February. If nothing eventuates there, it’s a case of no harm done because there will still be suitable races for him over the carnival.”
While So Skilled has all the makings of a very good city galloper, Shepherd will be looking for metropolitan assignments for several of his horses following good recent country or provincial wins. He has particular enthusiasm for recent Strathalbyn winner Any Beat.
“She won at Strathalbyn at her fourth start like a horse with something to offer,” he says. “It was only a maiden but she’s an Any Given Saturday four-year-old with a lot of ability and I’m sure she can make the grade. She’ll get 1400m and I think we can even pick up some Black Type with her over the carnival.”
For Shepherd to be talking Black Type with the mare and possible carnival races with So Skilled, he must genuinely rate the pair. The trainer makes no secret of the fact that he will place horses to advantage rather than chase races too ambitiously, with strike rate - which has been hovering around 20 per cent for much of the season - very important to him.
“Placement is everything, you have to make sure your horses are in races they can win,” he says. “I was always taught to keep your horse in the worst company and yourself in the best. The reason strike rate is important is that horses pay their way and owners get their money back.”
The knack of placing them to advantage came to the fore again in early February when Toorak Toff filly Arazitoff lined up in a Bordertown maiden on debut. The three-year-old showed she would have probably won in better company but Shepherd took the option of giving his newcomer a confidence booster and pocketing $6000 for little more than a barrier trial.
That’s a stable full of moneyspinners and at least four horses that could start delivering consistent wins in the metropolitan area. If any of them don’t measure up to the stronger company, though, Shepherd will have no hesitation dropping them back for the right race.