The story of Gary Portelli and Rebel Dane goes much deeper than one trainer with a bloody good horse. They represent a great Australian racing story of the tremendous relationship that can develop between owner and trainer, between trainer and horse.
Rebel Dane was bred by Laurel Oak Bloodstock, as was Rebel Dane’s dam Texarcana, trained by Portelli to win three races. Texarcana’s dam Cottonfields, again bred by Laurel Oak, was unraced, but some of Rebel Dane’s current owners also raced Rebel Dane’s great grandmother, Georgian Gold, winner of five races.
Having intimate knowledge of a horse’s family can often help a trainer, but in the case of Rebel Dane, Portelli admits that at first, it may have hampered him. Having trained his dam Texarcana, who was a 2,000m plus horse through and through, Portelli thought that he had a potential Cox Plate horse on his hands when the young Rebel Dane entered his yard. The colt started favorite for last year’s Randwick Guineas but failed over the mile trip.
On paper, Rebel Dane defies his pedigree in many ways. There is only one other Stakes winner within the first four generations of his maternal family – the Listed winner Bold Tie, a son of Rebel Dane’s fourth dam Georgian Knot, who herself was unplaced from three starts.
While Portelli says that Rebel Dane’s dam Texarcana had “a lot of ability”, she never reached her full potential on the track following a bad neck injury that resulted from clipping heels with another horse during a race.
It seems that Rebel Dane’s preference and ability over the sprinting trips is influenced by his broodmare sire More Than Ready, the sire of Texarcana. A highly successful sire with sixty-four individual Stakes winners to-date, More Than Ready was a Group One winner in the US over seven furlongs (approx.1,400m). As a broodmare sire More Than Ready is passing on this sprinting speed – his daughters having also produced the Group One winning sprinters Atlante and Miracles of Life.
Rebel Dane’s sire California Dane also excelled over shorter trips – he is the winner of two Group Two races over 1,000m and 1,200m. Again though it is a case of Rebel Dane out-performing his pedigree – California Dane’s only other Stakes winners are the Listed-winning Lake Sententia and Fire Thunderbolt.
Beaten into second place two lengths behind the world’s top rated sprinter Lankan Rupee in the Group One TJ Smith Stakes last Saturday, Portelli is now aiming Rebel Dane at the All Aged Stakes Saturday week, stepping the colt back up in distance to 1,400m – the same distance as the Group One Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes won by Rebel Dane last year.
Rebel Dane is likely to improve from this first up run, having twice before won second time up for his trainer. Lankan Rupee is out of the equation, having gone to the paddock for a spell, while Zoustar’s next racecourse appearance is likely to be in England. Rebel Dane’s main rivals in the coming months will most likely be Buffering, who finished two lengths behind him in the TJ Smith, and Snitzerland. The BTC Cup and the Doomben 10,000 in Brisbane are possible targets for this trio. Portelli will tell you that Rebel Dane is the best he has ever trained. However he considers Gold Trail to be his best training achievement.
A Group Two horse in reality – Portelli trained him to many Stakes successes in Australia, plus the Group One Railway Stakes in New Zealand. He traveled to Singapore for the Group One Krisflyer International Sprint, finishing a creditable fourth.
Portelli was invited to travel to Royal Ascot with the gelding. Gold Trail gave Portelli and his team the opportunity to travel the world to some of the best sprinting races around, an accomplishment that Portelli is extremely proud of.
Portelli also holds a soft spot for Forest Express – his very first Group winner. However there is another horse that is surely up there with Gold Trail and Rebel Dane when it comes to the trainer’s greatest achievements, and that is Marwin Gold.
A $7,000 yearling, Portelli trained Marwin Gold to win twenty races and place eighteen times, with over $600,000 in earnings. Marwin Gold won on his eighty-fifth, and final start, aged eleven.
Portelli likes to source all his horses as yearlings and is involved in the selection of every horse that walks through his gate. With thirty five horses in work at present, in recent years Gary has been concentrating on keeping his numbers between thirty and forty. By keeping his numbers small, Portelli has a very close relationship with his owners (Elite Thoroughbreds and Laurel Oak Bloodstock have been great supporters of his), the horses themselves – he knows exactly what every horse is fed – and because he has been involved in the selection of all the horses, he takes it personally “if they don’t turn out any good”. Portelli helps Adrian Alan of Elite Thoroughbreds with his yearling selections and Gary says his preference to buy yearlings over tried horses is so that he can put the time into educating the youngsters – giving them every possible chance to succeed.
Looking to the future with Rebel Dane, Portelli’s plan with him is to keep him in Australia, to keep him sound and to keep him racing. Although he is a colt, because of having what many would consider an unfashionable pedigree, there is no pressure on Portelli to travel abroad to help boost Rebel Dane’s value as a future stallion. Instead, Rebel Dane’s owners are happy to continue to see their star colt run on home soil.
Rebel Dane’s story started at least three generations ago with a dedicated group of owners wanting to breed and race their own horses. In Gary Portelli they found a trainer who has helped this become a reality. Gary’s philosophy of ensuring that every horse gets the individual attention that they deserve, whose ambition to be involved with every one of his horses, right through from when they are ‘kids’, all the way through to the end of their careers, is one of the hallmarks of Gary Portelli’s success as a trainer. Speaking with the man, you get a genuine sense not only of the care and commitment he has for his horses, but also for his owners and staff. Gary Portelli, Rebel Dane, and this wonderful group of owners represent all that is great about Australian racing.