The fact that Lee Freedman was anxious to show me photos, on his phone, of his soon to arrive Cups hope Exosphere (Beat Hollow) suggests a level of enthusiasm for this horse – beyond what you might expect from a man who’s already claimed five first Tuesday in November Cups.
Or perhaps it’s just the vibe of these Monday morning trials which have more buzz and banter, and probably more bodies, than a midweek race meeting these days.
In between jump outs you can rely on Pat Carey and Robbie Laing to astonish you with their recall of the pedigrees of every good horse they’ve seen, not to mention those of almost as many who raced before their time; while local trainer Shawn Mathrick will happily stir up anyone who has the misfortune to pass within earshot.
The talk is of Winx (Street Cry) and Jameka (Myboycharlie); the trials at hand; the expectations with the two-year-olds who step out mid-morning and Mick Price’s fall from horseback, and grace, at the Australian Show Jumping Championships at Werribee Park. That brings a smile to the face of trainer David Brideoake who represented Australia in the Show Jumping arena.
And the appearance of high profile horses like Xtravagant (Pentire), whose effort was entirely inconclusive after being eased down late but still a tad disconcerting, and The Quarterback (Street Boss), who won his heat impressively, drew a handful of media representatives. The Quarterback’s trainer Robbie Griffiths told them that ‘it was just possible’ that his sprinter might have improved despite now being a six-year-old. “He’s lightly raced…it’s possible,” Griffiths said.
Leading players Freedman (training, of, course in partnership with brother Anthony) and Robert Smerdon are regulars at these trials – often sending large numbers of horses despite the need to float from their respective bases at Flemington and Caulfield.
It was no different this week when 20 trials, with good sized fields, were conducted at the training centre. They’re competitive quasi races and that’s the key according to Smerdon as much as getting access to a grass track in good order despite Melbourne’s recent heavy rains.
“The principal reason I come here is to simply see the horses in something of a competitive environment. It’s as simple as that. You can easily delude yourself at home, as to how they’re going, when you watch a couple of stablemates working together,” Smerdon said.
Freedman concurred: “There’s nothing like a trial or a race to tell you how exactly where a horse is at, where he fits in. You need to see them compete. It’s not rocket science,” he said with a hint of self deprecation.
The trainers’ morning began in contrasting fashion as they each had a runner in the opening heat at 1550 metres. Smerdon was pleased to see Maurus (Medicean) win the trial while Freedman was a little more circumspect about Shimrano (Monsun) who finished a fading fifth after leading.
“We expected Maurus to need the run first up and then he peaked on his effort second up. Craig Williams rode him and his feedback was positive although he said he did appreciate the conditions (heavy track). I’m hopeful we’re back on track with him now,” Smerdon said of the Ipswich Cup (Listed, 2150m) winner.
The German Group Two winner Shimrano (Monsun), who failed at his Australian debut on 10 September, is a likely acceptor for Saturday’s Harry White Classic (Listed, 2400m) at Caulfield on Saturday despite his lack-lustre trial. “I’m quite sure he has good ability but just as sure he probably needs gelding so that will happen if he doesn’t lift at his next run,” Freedman said.
Freedman was, understandably, more bullish about two of his later triallers Estaminet (Lonhro) and Plymouth Road (Tavistock) along with spring prospects Exocet (Smart Missile), Battlecamp (Shocking), Tom Melbourne (Dylan Thomas) and the Cups contender Exosphere who was formerly trained by Sir Michael Stoute.
Estaminet won trial five and Freedman is pleased with her progress. “She tied up very badly at her last run at Flemington in March but she’s a very good mare and she’s coming to hand well as you saw this morning. The good mares sprint in (Melbourne) Cup week could be a target for her,” he said in reference to the G H Mumm Stakes (registered as Begonia Belle Stakes) (Gr 3, 1100m). She is nominated for Moonee Valley on Friday.
Plymouth Road ran third to Group One sprinter The Quarterback in trial three at 990 metres. “He’s a nice, handicap stayer in the making who improved many lengths in his last prep and we’re hopeful he can improve again,” he said.
Freedman won with two Smart Missile (Fastnet Rock) three-year-old fillies last weekend and is optimistic about the future for both Exocet (who won at Caulfield) and Gran Tryphena (a Sunday debut winner at Pakenham).
“Exocet keeps improving and she won eased down and there’s nothing to say she wouldn’t have won so well anyway,” he said when asked whether her win was flattered by the bad luck suffered by others runners. “Gran Tryphena will step up in trip and acquit herself well,” he said.
Freedman is looking forward to the 1 October arrival of UK Group Two winner Exosphere. “He’s a lovely horse and the form around him is strong. I think he profiles well for here. Brother Anthony’s gone over to supervise his preparation through his quarantine in the UK,” he said. This is not entirely dissimilar to 2011 when Lee travelled to the UK to oversee Lucas Cranach (Mamool) in his work before eventually running third in the Melbourne Cup (Gr 3200m) (although Lee was there for much longer).
Meanwhile, Freedman added that he expects Tom Melbourne to improve dramatically from his Naturalism Stakes (Gr 3, 2000m) run and the much spruiked Battlecamp to progress through the grades. “Tom Melbourne had a good blow after Saturday’s race which he never does so there’s improvement in him and I think there’s a good race in him somewhere along the line.
“Battlecamp missed last Saturday after he picked up a ‘bug’. Nothing serious. We might do a Malaguerra with him,” he said with tongue a little, but not entirely planted, in cheek and in reference to the son of Magnus (Flying Spur) whom the stable took from rating 63 to 109 in little more than 12 months (before the horse was somewhat surprisingly taken from his yard).
Smerdon’s trial morning was dulled by confirmation that Naturalism Stakes third Berisha (Al Samer) had sustained a tendon injury but the bulk of his triallers performed satisfactorily including two-year-olds Margot (Rothesay), Damascus Dame (Denman), Balle D’Or (I Am Invincible) and Excess Love (Exceed And Excel).
Smerdon had considered trialling Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) top weight Under The Louvre (Excellent Art) but opted to work him at Caulfield on Tuesday morning. “He’s in good order but he’s probably the hardest horse to place in the country. He’s right at the top of the weights in the better handicaps and probably not quite up to a Chautauqua (Encosta De Lago) in a weight-for-age sprint.
“He’s paid a price for his performances but there’s not much you can do. As I’ve said to the owners, you could give a million dollars prize money back if you’d prefer a drop in the weights. He never runs a bad race but it’s always tough for him at the weights. On Saturday he’ll be giving six kilos to a promising horse and last start winner like Bon Aurum,” he said.
Smerdon added that stepping up in trip, beyond 1400 metres, had never been an option. “He’s a run on sprinter, that’s what he is and there’s all speed in the pedigree. It was interesting to see his half brother Barthelona win last Saturday. He looks to be from exactly the same mould, a run-on sprinter,” Smerdon said.
While the Ballarat born trainer is disappointed to ‘lose’ Berisha he conceded he’d have been big odds against winning the Caulfield Cup (Gr 1, 2400m) but is not discounting the Naturalism Stakes as a guide to this year’s Caulfield feature.
“Jameka was impressive and drops to 51.5 kilograms in the Cup (now 52 after a 0.5 kilogram penalty). She was a dominant Oaks winner in Melbourne and Ciaron (Maher) can certainly peak them on the day,’ he said.
Me, I’m not so sure. Well, at least I’m sure that – right now – I don’t want to take the reduced price on offer. Bookmakers do react in a very knee-jerk way to every spring win. If she was second favourite to win the Naturalism, why would winning that race prompt a major cut in her Caulfield Cup price?
She might win it but I’m not yet convinced. After all, only two Caulfield Cup winners have contested the Naturalism and one was Let’s Elope (Nassipour) who was a freak and had 48.5 kilograms in the Caulfield Cup. The other was Tawqeet (Kingmambo) in 2006.
And while the supposedly grand record of four-year-old mares is trotted out every year it is a bit of a modern myth. After all, only three have won in the past 20 years which, yes, says it can be done but hardly means they have a mortgage on the race!