Damien Lane and Darryl ‘Digger’ McLellan chase feature race success together at Rosehill

They could be classified as racing’s odd couple and on Saturday they’ll head to the big smoke chasing feature race success at Rosehill.

The trainer is provincial up-and-comer Damien Lane while the jockey is the experienced Darryl “Digger” McLellan.

Unless you’re north of 40, like Digger, you probably don’t know that the former champion Sydney apprentice was a go-to lightweight jockey for John Hawkes when he was in charge of the Woodland operation and won races aboard some of the greats of the turf including Lonhro and Saintly.

“It seems a long time ago but they were great days,” McLellan said.

“I’d love to wind back the clock but it doesn’t matter where they are, the winners still give me that great buzz.

“I still wouldn’t prefer to be doing anything else.”

Lane has been around racehorses from the day he could walk – his late father Frank Hodgson was a successful jockey and his brother Cec only retired from training in 2019 and was Lane’s early role model.

Since moving to Wyong, Lane has slowly built his operation to a team of around 40 horses and he’s teamed up with McLellan, the Hunter Valley-based jockey who Lane can’t speak highly enough of.

McLellan wins the 2001 Warwick Stakes aboard Lonhro. Picture: Wally ZytnikSource:News Corp Australia

“He’s been invaluable for my operation being a relatively new trainer,” he said.

“His experience and know how – he takes the emotion out of things and it’s something you can’t put a value on.

“It’s easy to get carried away with horses when you’re as inexperienced as I still am but Digger keeps me grounded. He’s a bloke who’s ridden superstars and he calls a spade a spade.

“I might say something to him about a horse and he won’t sugar-coat it. He’ll just respond with something like ‘you’re dreamin’ and I’ll go ‘OK’.

“I’m looking for that horse whereas he’s already has the horses I’m looking for.

“He does 90 per cent of all my main gallops and the feedback he gives me both at home and on race day is worth its weight in gold.

“He’s taught me so much and half the time he doesn’t even realise it.”

Lane brings a team of five to Sydney on Saturday.

“Numbers wise and quality wise, this would be the best team I think I’ve ever brought to the city,” he said.

“Right now I’ve got by far the best quality team of horses in work and I suppose that’s somewhat reflected on Saturday.

“I’m not bringing down 150 to one no hopers so it’s very exciting for the stable.”

Darryl McLellan celebrates winning the 2002 Sydney Cup aboard Henderson Bay. Picture: Roy HaverkampSource:News Corp Australia

His exciting fillies Sonnet Star and Tidal Impact will clash in the Listed Turangga Farm Woodlands Stakes (1100m).

Sonnet Star finished second at Randwick on debut before winning the time-honoured Wellington Boot while Tidal Impact was a 9¾-length debut winner of the Willington Boot Prelude at Coonamble before being scratched at the barriers in the Wellington Boot.

The daughter of Shalaa tuned up for her return with a comfortable 4¾-length barrier trial win at Newcastle on May 5, the same day Sonnet Star won her trial by 3¼ lengths.

“At home there is nothing between then which has helped me train the pair of them because it allows me to line them up,” Lane said.

“It’s a pleasure to have two quality fillies at the same time.

“Both horses are easy to do anything with, they have good attitudes.

“I’d say Sonnet Star has the better turn of foot but Tidal Impact has a higher cruising speed and will probably stretch to 1400, a mile in time.

“Saturday will give me a good guide as to where we sit in the pecking order. I know they are nice fillies. Saturday tells me how nice.”

McLellan rides Tidal Impact while Robbie Dolan stays aboard Sonnet Star. TAB Fixed Odds rates the fillies’ $15 and $8 chances respectively.

The other black-type runner for the stable on Saturday is Just Field in the Listed Ortensia Stakes (1100m). The daughter of Deep Field goes into the race off an eye-catching fourth in the Hawkesbury Rush last time out over the same distance.

“She was super up in grade the other day,” Lane said.

“She’s done well since the Hawkesbury run.

“She’s got loads of ability and with a bit of luck on Saturday she might be able to pinch some black-type.”

Darryl McLellan in 2017. Picture: Richard GoslingSource:News Corp Australia

Just Field is a $31 chance, the same price as Buckin’ Beauty in the Tie The Knot Benchmark 78 Handicap (1100m). McLellan rides Just Filed while two-kilo claiming apprentice Louise Day lightens the load for Buckin’ Beauty.

“Buckin’ Beauty has been a super mare for the stable over the years,” he said

“She’s won three in town and was the start of my relationship with Peter Colley who’s been a huge supporter. He’s also the owner of Just Field.

“She’s just one of those good, tough and honest racehorses that is no fuss to do anything with.

“She gets beaten by maidens at home but take her to the races and she’s a different horse.

“Just honest, will put herself into the race and try hard.”

Rounding out Lane’s Rosehill assault on Saturday is the last start winner Zorocat which contest the $300,000 Inglis 3YO Guineas (1400m).

“She’s always had really good ability but she can get a bit hot headed,” Lane said.

“It was a good tough win at Wyong the other day.

“This is a big rise in class but $300,000 restricted races don’t come around every day and I think she deserves her chance.

“Pre-race will probably tell the story with her.”

Originally published asOdd couple primed to deliver at Rosehill

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