A TEARFUL Peter Gelagotis hugged his son, Michael, his brother Manny and jockey Glen Boss as he fought back tears of joy and grief to welcome back Norman Robinson Stakes winner Hvasstan, who galloped into the front line of Victoria Derby betting with his brave success in the traditional lead-up race at Caulfield yesterday.
His son, enjoying the biggest success of his 13-year training career, made no secret of the love and respect he felt for his father, who died just weeks before he could see his two boys achieve a lifetime's ambition by saddling up a potential winner of one of the country's most storied races.
The Moe trainer wiped his eyes and choked on his words as he paid tribute to his father, also called Michael, who died last Wednesday.
Gelagotis snr was a Greek immigrant who trained some horses and ran a restaurant business in the country town.
Hvasstan ($6), under the driving of Boss, got up in what was a rough contest, to take the prize in the 2000-metre Norman Robinson Stakes.
He scored by a short half-head from Electric Fusion ($8.50) , partnered by Nick Hall, with the Sydney-trained Honorius ($6.50) a short neck away in third place with Corey Brown in the saddle. The second and third placings were reversed by stewards after a protest.
Most of yesterday's runners will meet again over 2500 metres at Flemington in two weeks, but the Gelagotis brothers will fear no one with their colt who, despite being by the sprinter Fastnet Rock, shapes as a stayer. From six races he has now won three times, twice over 1700 metres and now over 2000.
Leading bookmaker Tom Waterhouse wound Hvasstan into $7 for the classic and he shares the second line of betting with Caulfield Guineas winner All Too Hard. Unbeaten New Zealander Its a Dundeel is favourite at $2.25.
The two placegetters yesterday are next in betting, both at $9.50.
Jimando, a disappointment who beat only one home when well fancied, has been pushed out to $15.
Gelagotis was glowing in his praise of Boss, who rode his second winner of the afternoon on the colt.
''You're a machine, mate, you're the best,'' he told the rider as he hugged him close in an emotional embrace after the champion jockey returned to scale.
''It's been an emotional week. I just wish dad could have hung on for the next couple of weeks to get to the Derby regardless of the result. He's a passionate racing man,'' he said.
''He came with nothing and made a life and he's given us the biggest start you could wish for and I hope we can carry on because he was a superstar and a legend. Whoever knew him would say the same thing.
''His spirit was amazing, second to none. I have never seen a man with a stronger will and a more determined man. Thank you, dad, so much, and mum, she will be at home in tears, be so proud for dad, too. He was a superstar guy.
''Glen Boss weaved some magic for us so hopefully we can progress on to the Derby.''
Gelagotis' brother, Manny, his partner, picked out Hvasstan at the yearling sales.
Manny paid $260,000 for the colt, whose name is the Nordic word for Fastnet Rock, and he is by far the most expensive horse the family has bought.
Both Gelagotis brothers played soccer when young, Manny appearing in the National Soccer League, Peter in the Victorian Premier League, and Peter alluded to that competitive spirit driving their entry into the racing business.
''We put a lot into our sport,'' Gelagotis said.
''We were very passionate sportsmen when we played, when we crossed the line we got the white line fever and we brought that style of play to our racing.
''We wear our heart on our sleeve and we are not embarrassed to show our emotion. There are some magnificent people that we come across in our sporting careers and racing, and it's just great to be part of it.
''It's a colourful industry. Take away the punt and everything, it's one of the best sports in the world.
''It's glitzy and glamorous, but it's open to all players rich and poor. So it's just great to be part of it.''