Aaron Clarke stands by Steel Bolt

KEMBLA GRANGE 

Horses that "crawl along" in trackwork and trainers who rely on penny-pinching purchases aren't often found on racing's big stages.

Training from a property near the quaint village of Braidwood, better known as a potential pit stop from Canberra to the coast, Aaron Clarke fits the bill.

He has relied on the goodwill of clients to build up his team, all the while scouring the sales for horses knocked down at prices that would barely cover a week's feed for racing's big-hitters.

Grinding grey Steel Bolt is a case in point.

Poked and prodded to produce his best in trackwork, Clarke seems to have finally unlocked the key to his potential $250,000 Black Opal runner.

Landing in Clarke's stable at the behest of breeder Les Boag, Steel Bolt's progression has induced Clarke into accepting for Rosehill's two-year-old scamper today, lined with Magic Millions hopefuls.

It may just be a task too stiff at this stage, prompting Clarke to lean towards a start at Kembla Grange's juvenile feature instead.

How he fares will determine whether Steel Bolt will be cuddled towards a March start in the Black Opal, Canberra's biggest race and a traditional Golden Slipper curtain-raiser.

"He's more the type we're hoping to get into the Black Opal," Clarke said. "Just to get in it will be nice.

"Hopefully he can put up a good show down there, get enough prizemoney and have a break before coming back in and trying to get into that.

"He's probably a little bit lazier here at home. If you work him by himself he sort of crawls along, but when he works him with other horses he gets along."

Steel Bolt edged out Chasing Charlie in a barrier trial before the latter turned the tables in a big way in their first start at Canberra.

Steel Bolt and stablemate Spirit Mania, who wobbled down the straight into fifth behind Chasing Charlie on debut, will be the only two-year-olds with race experience at Kembla.

Regardless of how she performs, Spirit Mania looms as a low risk-high reward proposition for Clarke.

"I bought her at Scone and only paid $3500 for her," he said. "She seemed to be a little bit ahead of the other bloke, but he's caught up to her and gone past her now."

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