Peal Of Bells to make big noise

Unfashionable cup hope Peal Of Bells was so unwanted he couldn't attract a bid when put through a sales ring as a weanling and had his owner-breeder on the cusp of "giving him away" after just one race start.

Now Will Watkins is scrambling to up his insurance premium on the high-flying gelding ahead of the staying highlight of the autumn carnival at Randwick.

So disillusioned was he with the horses from his broodmare Pearl Quest that Watkins shuffled Peal Of Bells' full brother out of his Willyn Dynasty Stud without receiving a cent.

In addition, Peal Of Bells' half-sister was sold for a miserly sum to be used as a hack and another half-brother reaped just $2800 as an untried racehorse.

It's a story not too dissimilar to that of Peal Of Bells, who was passed in for just $2250 as a weanling.

"It's a real budget job," Watkins said. "I looked at my insurance cover today and I only had him insured for $6000. I thought I better up that."

A maiden just eight weeks ago, dominant Queanbeyan Cup winner Peal Of Bells can surprise as a lightweight chance in today's two-mile classic after four straight wins.

"He's just been a revelation," Watkins said. "As you know Gwenda [Markwell] is a very good trainer and 12 months ago he went in a barrier trial and she sent me an e-mail which said, 'hard-ridden, beaten three lengths, not impressed, we better have a talk'. She never rang me. If she did, I didn't answer the phone.

"She nommed him for the Sydney Cup after he won his maiden. That's a big call.

"In the back of my mind I was thinking 'what does Gwenda see in this horse?'

"[But] he's the type of horse that if you look at his races, you raise the bar and he says, 'how high do you want me to jump?' Then he jumps it. I've just shaken my head and I can't believe it myself."

But the formula is one Watkins is becoming used to with Markwell. The master horsewoman also prepares the Watkins-owned Agent Bauer, the recent Murrumbidgee Cup winner who was once beaten by 26 lengths in a Wellington maiden.

He still can't believe he will be watching one of his horses in a $500,000 Group 1 race before even tasting success in Saturday metropolitan company.

"Agent Bauer ran second in a Saturday class at 80-1 and I thought he would be the one to get me there first," Watkins said.

"[But] he's [Peal Of Bells] just leapfrogged all these other things and gone straight to a Group 1.

"That's not like Gwenda, so she's obviously seen something there she likes.

"Win, lose or draw, he's only four and he can come back," Watkins predicted.

Markwell agreed there were always easier targets for Peal Of Bells if he didn't measure up to the likes of seasoned Melbourne Cup runners Precedence, Niwot and Drunken Sailor.

"Peal Of Bells has definitely excelled at country meetings," she said. "He's up in grade and we can always go back if needed."

The woman who has had a monopoly on the Kembla Grange trainers' title has also stuck solid with jockey Peter Wells.

The former champion Sydney apprentice will head to Randwick with just the one ride, looking to add to his only Group 1 win aboard Newport in The Metropolitan in 2008.

"It's very nice to see a trainer has a lot of faith in a jockey to put them on the big stage if they're doing the right thing in the country and on the provincials," Wells said.

"I really respect her for that. That's why she's had so many horses and been so successful. She's a person with a lot of honour and I do understand that she could have had anyone on the horse in a Group 1 too."

Peal Of Bells, listed at $51 in Sydney Cup markets, will be one of nine horses to carry the limit weight of 53.5kg. The others include Kerry Parker's locally-prepared duo Nextanix and Planet Purple.

Article by Adam Pengilly | View the article at the Illawarra Mercury website

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