Fireburn out to win the Triple Crown, and trainer Gary Portelli says she is thriving


Brenton Avdulla stands up and raises his whip as Fireburn blitzes the Golden Slipper field last month.Credit:Getty

“Now she is a short-priced favourite, it makes it more nerve-racking.”

Mihalyka paused when talking about Fireburn’s defining victory – overcoming a check with a scintillating burst to win the Golden Slipper – as if to remember her mother Mull Over in the sale ring.

However, the Golden Slipper memory is overriding.

“What started with a twinkling in the Golden Slipper – 12 seconds changed her life and [our] own lives,” he continued.

“To go from where Fireburn was in [running in] the Slipper to where she was a chance, and then the winner was incredible. It sort of sums up the filly.”

There is not much conventional about the Fireburn story. In the days of million-dollar horses from famed Hunter Valley farms, Fireburn is more of your working-class product or new-age girl.

Silverdale’s Steve Grant and Mihalyka raced and owned her sire Rebel Dane and went looking for the right mares to send to him a few years ago. They found a So You Think mare, Mull Over, at the Magic Millions Broodmare Sale for just $22,000. It began what would be the unlikely rise of Fireburn.

Fireburn as a foal, with her dam Mull Over.

Fireburn as a foal, with her dam Mull Over.

“She was always a nice filly on the farm,” Grant said. “But we always thought she would need time like her dad. It wasn’t like we thought we had an early runner when she was on the hills of Silverdale.”

The Southern Highlands farm has only been open for a couple of years but is earning a reputation for quality bloodstock, with a 15 per cent stakes winners strike-rate and Fireburn as their first group 1 success.

Unfortunately, Grant and partner Kenny Lowe sold their interest in Mull Over and Fireburn, when she was a weanling, leaving Mihalyka to syndicate her.

“We trade horses and I’m not upset about the decision, you can’t be,” Grant said. “We had a lot of Rebel Danes and needed to cut back on some stock.

“I’m delighted for Louis and she carries the Silverdale brand, and when she won the Golden Slipper I couldn’t have been more excited. And to have the breeders trophy, for me, that’s like owning her.”

Trainer Gary Portelli and jockey Brenton Avdulla after Fireburn’s Golden Slipper win.

Trainer Gary Portelli and jockey Brenton Avdulla after Fireburn’s Golden Slipper win.Credit:Getty

Trainer Gary Portelli can’t remember Fireburn arriving at his stable, but he remembers her as always doing enough. She wasn’t supposed to be a Golden Slipper horse; Portelli thought he had the Golden Slipper winner, and it just wasn’t Fireburn

“We weren’t expecting this – we thought Serjardan was the Golden Slipper horse, he had all the pressure on him,” Portelli said

“Serjardan and Snitcat were the two boom horses in the stable; Fireburn was just there. She has just come from nowhere.

“It was like her Golden Slipper win, they didn’t see her coming. But they definitely saw her going.

“This filly is such a tradesman, she just knows what she is out there to do and does it.”

Fireburn has won five of her six starts and is a long way from where Portelli had her pegged in his pecking order, which is now clearly at the top.

“She was always just an unassuming type of filly that wasn’t showing a real lot, and was just doing enough to keep herself in the stables for ages,” he said.

Jason Collet guides Fireburn to victory in  the Sweet Embrace Stakes last December.

Jason Collet guides Fireburn to victory in the Sweet Embrace Stakes last December.Credit:Getty

“She just kept coping with every little thing we put in front of her without jumping hurdles; she was just skimming the bar.

“She definitely wasn’t clearing them easily, like most good horses do early on.

“We went to her first start and nearly fell but still ran fourth, which was good. But I wasn’t thinking she would be here, I was just hoping to win a race.

“Then she started the winning streak, and it’s still going.

“Everything has just been OK with her along the way. Her first win was OK, her next win was OK.

“We weren’t thinking the Golden Slipper until the Sweet Embrace win, and she has just gone to another level at every run since.”

Portelli watched Fireburn work with Avdulla in the saddle on Tuesday morning, and her killer instinct was there on the track. It is something that has continued to develop throughout her preparation.

“Probably her best work, she picked up her work buddy so quickly and put it away,” Portelli said. “She is actually doing what we thought she would, getting better as she steps out in trip.

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“We just didn’t expect her to have won a Golden Slipper along the way.

“It’s the best sort of surprise.

“I have no doubt that the wet tracks have helped her, but she did win her first two on the dry before the autumn and did beat the Blue Diamond runner-up [Revolutionary Miss] on a dry.

“I have learned not to underestimate her and I can’t wait for Saturday.

“The only thing is I’m unsure about the mile, and you can’t be until they run it. It will be a different tempo, but she has given every indication that she will run it out.

“If she does it will be like every other race because she is so determined to win.”

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