Challenge Stakes 2021: Stephanie Thornton joins her favourite horse on the big stage in Sydney

Stephanie Thornton will experience one of the biggest moments of her career when she rides in Sydney for the first time on Saturday and is thankful she will do it on the back of one of her best mates.

Thornton and Queensland sprinter The Odyssey have forged a special bond, combining for six wins, including last start, the richest win of Thornton’s career when the Kelly Schweida-trained galloper won a $1 million race on Magic Millions day at the Gold Coast.

On Saturday, horse and rider will be striving for the highlight of both of their careers when they race in the $500,000 Group 2 Challenge Stakes (1000m) at Randwick.

Queenslander Thornton knows it is a case of being thrown into the deep end, up against the brilliant five-time Group 1 winner Nature Strip as well as other formidable opponents.

Stephanie Thornton will have her first ride in Sydney at Randwick on Saturday. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

Thornton admits she will be nervous riding in Sydney for the first time and on such a big day but she is grateful she gets to do it on The Odyssey, a horse she says “means the absolute world to me”.

“He probably couldn’t be more special to me, he has given me most of my biggest career wins and I’ve won six races on him,“ Thornton said. “I just love the way he goes about things, his personality is great and he loves his job and he is really good at it.

“He is an absolute gentleman but he has his little traits and things that he likes to do on raceday which I think makes me appreciate him more.

“I can tell when I’m behind the gates whether he’s ready to go or not.

“He can get a little bit prancy behind the gates and once he is in the gates it doesn’t matter whether he is in there for a minute or 10 minutes, he has got to stand there and paw at the front and pretty much let you know that he is ready to go.”

Connections of The Odyssey – a winner of 10 from 25 starts and $1.7 million in prizemoney – were hoping there may have been rain in Sydney late this week to give the four-year-old his best chance to shine on the big stage.

The prospect of a rain-affected track now looks unlikely but Thornton says the galloper can perform on all surfaces – it’s just that he is adept on wet tracks whereas some of his rivals may not be.

Stephanie Thornton has won six races on The Odyssey. Picture: Grant Peters, Trackside Photography.Source:The Courier-Mail

She knows The Odyssey like the back of her hand and says she will just ride her own race and not be worried about some of the big guns she is facing.

“It’s very exciting and a bit nerve-racking because it’s such a big day – but I’m going down there on a horse that I know, so I’m just going to ride him and not worry so much about the others,” the former Victorian Thornton said.

“He handles every kind of track, but it is more so that some of the others probably don’t handle rain-affected tracks the way he does. He can’t have done anything else to prove he deserves a chance against these horses so hopefully we can be more than competitive.

“Obviously Nature Strip is in the race, he is a very tough horse to come up against first time going down there for me.”

The Odyssey has drawn barrier seven in the eight-horse field and have him at $34 to cause a Challenge Stakes boilover.

Nature Strip, coming off an imposing first-up victory in the Group 1 Lightning Stakes, is the $1.45 favourite.

Originally published asThornton’s special Odyssey to Sydney for ultimate Challenge

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