It was only four months ago former AFL coach Denis Pagan was granted a trainers’ licence and since then he has made an extraordinary transition to his late-career passion.
Pagan has already trained a city winner and on Saturday at Flemington, he finds himself with a runner in the Group One Victoria Derby.
He will be taking on trainers of the calibre of Melbourne Cup-winners Danny O’Brien and Mike Moroney, as well as Mick Price and Trent Busuttin, when Johnny Get Angry becomes just his 12th starter in a race.
Success is something Pagan is used to as he won two AFL premierships as North Melbourne coach in 1996 and 1999.
He also won five under-19 premierships with the Kangaroos and an Essendon reserves premiership as a coach.
During his time in the AFL, Pagan was rarely emotive but he is when it comes to having a Victoria Derby runner.
“I’m very excited. It’s a bit of a dream come true,” the 73 year-old said.
Pagan said he had raced a lot of slow horses over a 30-year period as an owner before he took out a trainers’ licence.
“I started with eight horses in work and he’s the last one standing,” he said.
Pagan said he couldn’t thank fellow trainer Troy Corstens enough for letting him indulge his desire to try his luck as a thoroughbred conditioner.
Pagan sublets boxes at Troy and Leon Corstens’ Malua stables at Flemington and he has access to their staff, veterinary surgeon and farriers.
Troy Corstens also purchased Johnny Get Angry for $50,000 as a yearling in New Zealand on Pagan’s behalf.
Pagan said he’s certain that Johnny Get Angry, who is by Tavistock out of a Zabeel mare, will run the 2500 metres of the Derby right out.
“He’ll keep on going. It’s just a matter of how fast he does it,” he said.
Pagan has added blinkers for the first time and a barrier extension to the giant gelding for the Victoria Derby.
Johnny Get Angry finished third to Cherry Tortoni in the Vase at Moonee Valley last Saturday when he missed the start by four lengths.
Jockey Lachlan King told Pagan the horse went up in the air at the start as his back legs were touching the rear of the stalls.
Pagan has stuck with King in the Derby and says he is happy to give the hoop his chance at Group One level as he has been a great help to him.
Johnny Get Angry is yet to win a race but three maidens have saluted in the Derby in the past 30 years – Fire Oak (1990), Redding (1992) and Preferment (2014).