Trainer David Payne hoping he has a few more aces in the pack

The racing industry’s indecent obsession with speed and the quick return almost makes David Payne an anachronism.

The training maestro prefers preparing stayers — an admission that probably belongs to a different era when there definitely wasn’t the emphasis on sprinters there is today.

"I enjoy training the stayers, they are more challenging," Payne said. "Sprinters are easy to train in comparison, you just need to keep them fresh and sharp. But with stayers, some of them need plenty of work, others need variety with their exercise, some don’t take a lot to keep fit."

As Payne pointed out, every horse needs to be treated as an individual and that is the very art of racehorse training. On this theme, it will be worth watching the debut of Payne’s three-year-old Regal Rage in the Schweppes Handicap (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.

Payne has given Regal Rage five barrier trials this year to prepare for his race debut and to be fair, the gelding hasn’t exactly had a flashing light on him. He has been unplaced in every trial, running last in three of them — but Payne senses the latent staying talent in the young horse.

"I wouldn’t take too much notice of his trials," Payne said. "The distance of those trials were too short for him. But there was one trial when we put the blinkers on him and he actually got within about four lengths of a smart horse in Calculated.

"Regal Rage is a stayer. We bought him in New Zealand and he is by Reliable Man. I’ve got two by the sire and they are both staying types.

"We are starting Regal Rage off at 1500m because anything less is too short for him. There would be no point running him in a sprint.

"I still think this is too short for the horse, I think he needs 2000m now, but if he runs a competitive race I will be happy because he is going to keep improving."

Payne also has topweight The Mighty Fed in the Schweppes Handicap and conceded that three-year-old is better suited at 1500m. The Mighty Fed showed promise last season, winning twice at Warwick Farm and Randwick, the latter defeating subsequent stakeswinner Debonairly, but he has struggled with five unplaced runs this spring.

"He had a setback earlier in his preparation then we ran him in some good races but this is his chance (Saturday)," Payne said of The Mighty Fed.

"I thought his run at Randwick last start was a better effort. The filly that won that race (Warranty) then ran a very good race at Flemington on Cup Day. The Mighty Fed looks well and I’m putting the apprentice Lee Magorrian on to claim 3kg and that will help."

Payne also saddles up the ever reliable Be Like Dad in the Hyland Race Colours handicap (1800m). Be Like Dad won’t go down in the annals of the all-time greats but is one of those horses you would like to own as he comes up every preparation and earns his keep.

From 34 career starts, Be Like Dad has only four wins but he has another 11 placings and has earned more than $210,000 prizemoney. Payne said Be Like Dad’s last-start second to Shield Wall at Canterbury indicated the gelding was close to another win.

"Be Like Dad has needed a few runs to get fit but he is coming right," Payne said. "The track is going to have some give in it which will suit him and he is knocking on the door."

Be Like Dad is part-owned by popular Sydney racing identities, Wayne and Sue Aldridge who have been long-time supporters of the Payne stable.

"I actually trained for Wayne’s father back in South Africa many years ago when Wayne was still at school," Payne said. "Then I trained for Wayne and won Group 1 races for him. We won the Durban Gold Cup with Milleverof and The Metropolitan with Imperious Sue.

"Wayne and Sue moved to Sydney about six or seven years before I did and they have had horses with me from the time I started here."

Be Like Dad, a handy middle distance horse, but he won’t realise Payne’s dream of having a Melbourne Cup runner. The trainer’s outstanding colt, Ace High, might be that horse.

Ace High, raced by another loyal Payne stable client, John Cordina, has emerged as the dominant stayer of his generation this spring with his Victoria Derby win last Saturday complementing earlier successes in the Gloaming Stakes and Spring Champion Stakes.

Payne achieved a career ambition when Ace High won the Victoria Derby, his first major race winner at Flemington.

"I’ve watched the Derby win a few times and it was an impressive effort," Payne said. "When you look at the overhead shot you realise how much extra ground he had to cover.

"It wasn’t Tye’s (jockey, Angland) fault he ended up three wide but he rode it well. He kept the colt in a lovely rhythm and for stayers that is important.

Payne said Ace High is already in the spelling paddock with the immediate focus on preparing the colt for the Rosehill Guineas and ATC Australian Derby double during the Sydney autumn carnival never year, two races the trainer won with Criterion four years ago.

Payne has already had a memorable week producing another promising three-year-old, the filly All Too Soon to score at Randwick on Tuesday.

All Too Soon is also owned by Cordina, who bred the filly, a product of a mating between Black Caviar’s half-brother All Too Hard out of former top mare Gallant Tess.

Payne trained Gallant Tess to win five races including the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes but the mare had a frustrating number of near misses at Group 1 level, running five minor placings in majors — Epsom Handicap, George Main Stakes, Chipping Norton Stakes, Coolmore Classic and Champagne Stakes.

As a broodmare, Gallant Tess is also excelling for Cordina with All Too Soon her latest impressive winner.

"I like All Too Soon a lot," Payne said. "She looks like she wants further. The longer that race went on Tuesday, the stronger she got — she has an exciting future. She left the stable (Thursday) for a spell. We will give her a month off and look at the ATC Australian Oaks in the autumn."

Payne’s penchant with stayers means the trainer is starting to get an understanding that he might carry the hopes of a nation next year with primarily Ace High and maybe others like All Too Soon he could develop into Melbourne Cup contenders to take on the annual northern hemisphere invasion each spring.

The Melbourne Cup result earlier this week underlined the lack of staying talent in Australia with eight of the first 10 to finish were all trained overseas with the Irish leading home a Cup trifecta when Rekindling defeated Johannes Vermeer and Max Dynamite.

"We just don’t breed stayers out here," Payne said when asked to comment on the Cup result. "The internationals will keep coming back because they have such good stayers and our prizemoney is so much better than they have in Europe. You can’t blame them.

"I’ve got Ace High and some nice young horses coming through so you never know. We will concentrate on the Sydney autumn first. You need to be patient with stayers, give them a chance to develop — I’m in no rush."

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