Despite the dangers, Snooky Cowan felt no fear soaring gigantic fences as a jumps jockey, but he was a sweating wreck as he watched his smart sprinter Signify leave Trentham's birdcage before Saturday's $250,000 Berkett Telegraph.

He was still shaking - this time with delight - when, 10 minutes later, he welcomed Signify back to present him with his finest moment as a trainer.

The extremely likeable Cowan admits he doesn't handle the emotional side of horse training as well as he did winning races like Ellerslie's Great Northern Steeplechase on Rock Crystal, the Grand National Steeples on Dee Cee Seven and Grand National Hurdles on Bart's Best and Eric The Bee.

He's not the first to say: "When you're riding them you've got complete control, when you train them you've got no control over what goes on out on the track."


On Saturday, Cowan need not have worried - southern apprentice Rusha Cuneen, far from being overawed by the occasion, rode an extremely cool race to arrive on Signify in the last stride to score the narrowest of wins over a brave topweight Start Wondering.

The trainer had more to thank Cuneen for. "After he'd ridden Signify at his last start I told him I was tossing up whether to bring him to Trentham and he convinced me I had to have a go."

It's no surprise Cowan is impressed with Cuneen's cool head. When he was interviewed by Emily Murphy on horseback after just turning Signify around to come back to the birdcage, the apprentice was a mass of composure.

"This horse needs that," says Cowan. "Sam Wynne used to ride him and she's a very good jockey, but she has a hot seat and it gets this horse up and racing too keenly. He needs lazy hands and that's what Rusha has got."

The additional thrill for Cowan is wife Tracey owns Signify. The impressive first prizemoney should guarantee the trainer does not have to do the dishes for a while.

Tracey Cowan wasn't owning up to that when the Herald spoke to her yesterday, but she did admit she and her husband were feeling: "about 50 per cent" after a long night of celebrations. "It was a huge thrill seeing Snooky win the Great Northern on Rock Crystal and those Grand Nationals at Riccarton, but away from that this is the biggest kick I've got out of racing.

"I wasn't as nervous as Snooky because we were the underdogs. I thought if he finished top six I'd be absolutely rapt.

"Our daughter Kate and I watched from the stand and on the angle I thought we'd finished second and was delighted. When we were going down the stairs to the birdcage Kate said: 'Mum, I can hear them talking about the horse, I think he might have won'."

Snooky Cowan can't wait to return south to have a chat with Neil Ridley, a great mate, but a fierce competitor from their days in the saddle. Cowan had his greatest thrill winning the 1986 Ellerslie feature on Rock Crystal and Ridley his greatest disappointment finishing a nose behind him on Lord Venture.

Ridley just happens to be Rusha Cuneen's boss.

Yesterday Cowan was non committal regarding returning north for the $200,000 NRM Sprint at Te Rapa on February 11.

"He was on the Cook Strait ferry this morning. I will get him home and give him some R and R and see where we are."

Start Wondering was huge in finishing second. He possibly was left in front a shade too soon under his 58kg and was vulnerable to a rival finishing fast, which Signify managed.

Co-trainer Evan Rayner said Start Wondering was fairly certain to run in the big sprint at Te Rapa.

Perfect Fit fought strongly for a close third and Melbourne-trained Odyssey Moon settled in the second half of the field from his wide barrier and at no stage worked into a challenging position.

?A trip north this week is on the cards for Travimyfriend who completed a winning treble at Trentham.

The imposing Tavistock 4-year-old began his winning run on his home track at Otaki back in mid-December with a maiden victory over 1200m before making it two on end when stepping up to rating 65 company over 1400m earlier this month.

Saturday's special conditions event over the same 1400m journey saw the gelding installed favourite against a field of mainly maiden gallopers and, despite carrying topweight of 59kg, he didn't disappoint.

Trainer and part-owner Rachel Frost admitted she did have some minor doubts about her charge's prospects on the day.

"I actually said he'd never win a race with a name like that.

"In reality, though, I was a bit worried by the weight he had as he is still a little weak in behind so he's done well."

Frost indicated she may trek north with the horse for his next assignment.

"He may to go to Ellerslie next week for another special conditions event," she said.

"He will only carry a kilo more with both a 1400 or a mile event as an option."

Significant milestone
• Ashburton trainer Snooky Cowan enjoyed his biggest win as a trainer on Saturday.
• His charge Signify headed Start Wondering at the post in the Telegraph Stakes.
• Travimyfriend may head north to race at Ellerslie for another special conditions event.

- additional reporting, NZ Racing Desk