VETERAN horseman Jim Delaney has been around thoroughbreds for most of his 70 years, and he's seen some top horses pass through his yard.
But the deeds of current stable flag-bearer Universal Belief, likely favourite for tomorrow's 1516m Tarraray Pet Retreat Sawtell Cup at Coffs Harbour, never cease to amaze the Taree trainer. Universal Belief is a racing conundrum.
The rising seven-year-old smashed a knee just after barrier-rise in a ratings 0-76er at the Grafton carnival three years ago, but somehow still managed to finish third behind Gazza Guru.
"It happened at the start of the race but he went the whole journey and was still finishing over the top of them with a broken knee," Delaney said.
Universal Belief underwent surgery, had three screws inserted in the smashed knee and was sent bush for nearly three years.
"He was out for two years and eight months and I had him in work for 24 weeks before I even barrier- trialled him," Delaney said.
Universal Belief was reacquainted with racing in early March and has since gone from strength to strength - crook knee and all.
The six-year-old, owned by Delaney, his wife Celia and good friends Athol and Avril Miller, has won six races this preparation, including three feature cups.
In late April Universal Belief came from well back to win the Tamworth Cup from Save a Buck and multiple country cups' winner Prussian Secret, then two starts later captured the 1400m Beef Week Cup at Casino from Haslington and Instant Success.
Delaney produced Universal Belief on the final day of the Grafton carnival last Sunday to win the 1400m Maclean Cup from Nothing Like Luca and Save a Buck.
"He's still on the same prepa- ration. He hasn't been turned out yet," Delaney said. "He's just a marvellous old horse."
Port Macquarie hoop Peter Graham has been there every step of the way and partners Universal Belief again tomorrow.
The gelding carries 59.5kg top weight and jumps from gate nine.
Graham has missed only one ride on him this preparation, when Universal Belief won at Wyong with apprentice Sam Clipperton aboard.