The battler who turned an $80,000 horse into a million-dollar winner

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While many of Saturday’s Cox Plate contenders were dining out at the Valley’s Breakfast with the Best on Tuesday, small-time Cranbourne trainer Enver Jusufovic was measuring feed for his boutique stable of horses.

Pinstriped, the rank outsider in Saturday’s race, is the best of his lot, an $80,000 weanling purchase who has become a winner of $1,131,500 in just 18 career starts for the battler trainer.

Enver Jusufovic, the Australian trainer with Cox Plate underdog Pinstriped.Credit: Eddie Jim

Jusufovic, who goes by the nickname EJ, doesn’t resent the fact he couldn’t send Pinstriped to the Valley on Tuesday for the key lead-up event ahead of his first tilt at a Cox Plate.

“It’s like when I do go to the races, I like to wander off on my own and watch it near the public,” Jusufovic says.

“That’s where I came from, and I enjoy just taking it all in and having a look at the crowd and seeing what it means to them.”

The son of migrant parents from Bosnia and Slovenia, Jusufovic grew up in Footscray, taking on St Kilda as his favourite football team aged five after they won the 1966 VFL premiership, and idolising champion jockey Roy Higgins. He played trombone in the Hyde Street Band regularly at half-time of matches at Western Oval, and ran onto the ground in 1970 when Ted Whitten played his final game for the Dogs.

Horses like Gunsynd (1972) and Bonecrusher (1986) come to mind when he’s asked his favourite Cox Plate winners.

“I used to ride my bike to Moonee Valley and watch Roy Higgins ride,” Jusufovic says.

“I used to sneak under the fence, and they had a betting ring on the inside of the running rail as well, and I’d get an old lady to put a bet on for me. It was certainly a passion of mine, I really enjoyed it.”

Jusufovic’s father worked as a truck driver for Four’N Twenty, and his mother worked in the factory, and as Jusufovic puts it, his father slotted into the Australian way of life “very, very easily”.

Enver Jusufovic with his horse, and Cox Plate outsider, Pinstriped.Credit: Eddie Jim

“He’d work, go to the pub and have a punt,” he says.

“That’s how I got it [the bug]. I used to go to the TAB with him on a Saturday or so, and occasionally, if I had to go get him out of a pub, there’d be an SP there with a place card, and he’d give me one, and I’d fill it out.

“Also, on a Saturday night, you’d watch the trots at the Showgrounds on The Penthouse Club, and I’d make sure on a Thursday I’d buy the Truth and try and pick the last five winners. I never picked the last five winners ever.

“The broadcasters, the trainers, the jockeys, the horses, they were cult figures in those days. It was ingrained in me as a young kid living in Footscray at the time that it [the Cox Plate] is such a great race and such a great sport to be involved in.”

Naturally, Jusufovic got his own job at Four’N Twenty when he was old enough to start working.

“I left school and I was playing sport, and I didn’t know where I was going with my life or what I wanted to do,” he said.

“I got a job as a driver at Four ‘N’ Twenty pies, and was there for about four years. But they were really good to me, the people were great, and I believed in the product. Last night I had a Four ‘N’ Twenty pie, I enjoy it.”

It wasn’t until a chance encounter with Mick Bell, trainer of retired cult horse Jungle Edge, when the idea of actually working in racing became a possibility.

“I met Mick Bell at a milk bar, he actually worked for Tip Top at the time. He had his picnic licence and we got chatting. He said, ‘Why don’t you come out one day?’,” Jusufovic says.

“He had a property at Tooradin, so I did, and I got hooked. I started learning to ride horses at a riding school, and then I left my job and got my first job with Greg Eurell, who at the time had one horse in work and was predominantly a breaker and pre-trainer.”

Jusufovic hasn’t trained a group 1 winner, let alone a Cox Plate runner, and even when Pinstriped guaranteed his spot in the race by winning the exempt Feehan Stakes, EJ wasn’t sure he was going to take his place.

“There was doubt,” he says. “Although I put a nom in early days, it was more I suppose to keep the owners happy that there was a goal at the end of the spring, if by chance he does have success in the preparation.

Pinstriped has gone from being an $80,000 weanling to a winner of more than $1 million in prizemoney.Credit: Edie Jim

“Once he won the Feehan, it came to fruition, and then the goal was the Cox Plate. But it was still one run at a time and see how he pulls up.

“It’s just important that I have this horse right. He’s still maturing, even though he’s a five-year-old. If you don’t do it properly, he will lose muscle tone, so it takes a lot of care before he works and a lot of care after he works, and a lot of care in the afternoon.”

While it’s a “childhood dream, really” to have a Cox Plate starter, Jusufovic – who pledges to buy a new suit before the race, probably a pinstriped one – says it won’t change him.

“I’m probably one of those, if I was a general in the army, I’d be on the frontline with the troops,” he says.

“I wouldn’t be in the office doing stuff, I’ve got to get out there and muck out a lot of boxes every day. I’m really hands-on; I enjoy walking past the horses and seeing their mannerisms and temperaments during the day and that gives an indication on how they’re coping with the rigours of training.

“For someone of my stature, where I don’t have a huge clientele, it’s difficult. You’ve got to think about how you do things, and run your business, and prepare a horse to get the best out of it. With the larger stables, it’s obviously a numbers game, whereas with me, I’ve got to make every cent count and do it properly to try and get the support and respect from the industry.”

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