13 December, 2023

‘Pass’ the Baton…’WOW’!

On the road to stardom… Terrific tyro Pass The Buck with Anthony Azzopardi 📷 Clint Anderson

It’s well-documented Australia’s sprint queen Wow She’s Fast is chasing an unfathomable three-peat in the $1.65m The Phoenix (525m) – Race 10, 9.50pm – at The Meadows on Saturday night.

But as the sport’s monarch inches ever so closer to abdicating the throne and relinquishing her crown – enter a king-in-waiting. Pass The Buck (December ’21 Bernardo x On The Runway) looms as an heir apparent – amazingly, after eight wins and one second from only 10 race starts. He celebrates his second birthday on Thursday – thus a Phoenix win would be a monumental, slightly belated birthday gift! It’s an interesting parallel as Wow She’s Fast won the inaugural 2021 Phoenix at start No. 7, aged 22 months.

Trained at Rowsley by Anthony Azzopardi, Pass The Buck has the coveted ‘red’ alley (Box 1) in the $1,000,000 to-the-winner race. Subsequently he’s second elect on Sportbet’s Phoenix market at $4.50 – behind Alpha Zulu ($4.40).

“Box one is a big advantage in this type of field… I’d rather be underneath trying to hold them out, rather than see him trying to go around them.”

Incredibly, Azzopardi has won around 20 Group 1 finals – including a Melbourne Cup with Whiskey Riot and an Australian Cup with Fernando’s Riot. So, it’s high praise indeed when the forever conservative Azzopardi says he rates Pass The Buck an equal of the abovementioned feted litter brothers at the respective age/stage of their careers.

“110 per cent. He’s right up with them, probably a little quicker. I can guide him, but he needs do it. He must take the next step.”

With that in mind, it’s scary the heights Pass The Buck may reach with natural improvement and maturity.

“He’s definitely got the improvement to go to the top,” Azzopardi added.

“Whether it’s now or later, we’ll find out on Saturday night. But it’s just a huge achievement for him to be in it.”

Azzopardi is also respectful of Pass The Buck’s standing in Phoenix betting.

“I can’t believe it really. It shows how the box draw has played out. If he was in ‘eight’, he’d be 10/1. The ‘red’ gives him the chance to strut his stuff.

“He’s almost faultless out of the boxes. And his last two trials leading up to the Phoenix have been exceptional. He’s ticked all the boxes.”

Pass The Buck was selected by Tabcorp as their ‘slot’ in the Phoenix and Azzopardi was quick to compliment the betting behemoth.So, who was the brainchild of TAB’s decision making?

“It was Nathan Grech,” said Azzopardi simply. “What attracted him was his early speed and that he was such a young talent.

“He caught his eye when he ran a 5.02sec first split in a semi-final of the (G3) Great Chase along the way to a 29.67sec (Best) win at The Meadows. He then ran 4.97sec to the first marker in the final but sustained a shoulder tendon injury at the first turn.”

Azzopardi has ‘been there, done that’ in the sport but says a Phoenix win “would mean the world to me” – for a couple of reasons.

“It would mean a lot to win this. The Puleios (an astute father-and-son breeding team, Michael and Darren, who own Pass The Buck) have supported me with dogs all the time. In fact, Darren is one of my best mates.

“And TAB, they took a risk. He was off the scene, but they’ve been with me every step of the way.

“When they contacted me, they put their faith in me. I’ve built a great relationship with TAB.”


Always a team player, Azzopardi also paid tribute to partner Kylie Osborne.

“There’s no person that “Marley” (Pass The Buck) loves more than Kylie. She whelped the litter and reared him, and I pre-trained him. He goes ballistic when he sees her.”

Will the ‘boy’ arise into a ‘man’ in The Phoenix?That’s the million-dollar question,” Azzopardi stated succinctly.

“He’s got that touch of class, but whether he’s a sprinting heir apparent. Well, we’re going to find out on Saturday night.”


Article courtesy of Peter Quilty, GRV. 📷 Clint Anderson