The Randwick hut has nicknamed him ‘Might And Power’ and if you’ve seen Esteban win his past three starts by more than 21 lengths, you will know why.
But there’s a little secret about Esteban, who runs in Saturday’s Schweppes Handicap (2000m) at Rosehill Gardens, that most punters don’t know.
On a frosty winter morning at Randwick, and while every other horse trained at headquarters is going through their pace work on the dirt track or B-grass, there’s Esteban over at the bullring.
What’s he doing there?
He’s about to do his favourite activity — jump over logs.
Forget about an evens gallop or a more testing one to ensure he’s up to the mark — the secret to Esteban is to treat him like a kid and let him do “the fun stuff”.
“He loves it, just look at him, he’s two days out from his seventh run this prep but he’s so fresh and bursting with energy,” Esteban’s trainer John Sargent said.
“He reminds me of a young kid playing at the park. If you look at his facial expressions as he’s doing it all — he’s just so captivated by the task — he’s turning himself around to have another go each time. We have to drag him away from the logs.
“You know, like the young kids at the park …‘again, again, again’. But it’s quite rewarding to see a horse so happy in his environment and so keen to get the job done.”
The Group 1-winning trainer remembers the day he made the decision to test the son of Encosta De Lago over the jumps.
Jamie Linwood guides Esteban over the jumps at Randwick. Picture: Gregg Porteous
“He could always turn in a decent gallop at home but he wasn’t replicating that on raceday and after a handful of starts with just one placing to his name, we opted to put the blinkers on him and school him over the logs,” Sargent said.
A few days later Esteban broke his maiden, winning a 2000m event by 7½ lengths.
“So we kept putting him over the jumps and off he went to Beaumont again a couple of weeks later for a slightly harder race,” he said. “It was almost a replica of his first win, he sat on speed and built momentum and by the time they got to the home turn, he had established a margin and just kept going and won by almost seven lengths.”
The acid test would come a fortnight later when Esteban took the giant leap of contesting a class two at the provincials to a benchmark 73 event in town.
“It’s such a huge leap for a horse to take but he was getting better and better at home, he was bucking around during every jumps session — after almost a year of trying to work him out, we found the key,” the trainer said.
Trainer John Sargent believes Esteban could develop into a Sydney Cup horse next year. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Sargent hopes Saturday’s race will help decide what to do with Esteban, who again takes a big step up in class, contesting a benchmark 82 event.
“I thought we might have to tip him out after his last run but as you can see, he’s thriving, he’s full of energy so who knows what we will do after Saturday.
“I might test him at 2400m with a view to a few things next year — you might wonder why we didn’t have a crack at a derby somewhere with him — the answer is he was just too immature.
“He’s such a kid and I think this year’s spring carnival is a bit too soon for him. But the Sydney Cup next year is a race I reckon he might really suit and then if he keeps progressing maybe this time next year we’ll be discussing races like the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup.”