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Coeur Volante and Skybird tipped to shine in strong Guineas line-up

Trainers welcome new race date as best of Victoria tackle NSW raiders

A cracking edition of the breed-shaping Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) should provide a strong vindication for its new timeslot today, with Victorian trainers Mike Moroney and Mitch Freedman backing Coeur Volante (Proisir) and Skybird (Exosphere) to repel another Sydney challenge.

Coeur Volante, a $90,000 Karaka New Zealand National Yearling Sale filly that the seasoned Moroney already rates above quadruple Group 1 winner Tofane (Ocean Park) as one of the best horses he’s trained, comes into the $1.5 million race fresh from scintillating wins at both starts in her second campaign: Moonee Valley’s Champagne Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m) and Caulfield’s Thousand Guineas Prelude (Gr 2, 1400m).

Skybird, the $110,000 Inglis Classic Highway Session buy from the same family as Snitzel (Redoute’s Choice), has been one of the finds of the spring, after winning her first two starts at Ballarat and Bendigo, before a breathtaking last-to-first victory in the Fillies Classic (Gr 2, 1600m) on Cox Plate day.

The pair shared favouritism last night at around $4.20, but in a sparkling 13-runner field for the race – now pushed back from the Wednesday before Caulfield Cup day to its current date – the assault from north of the Murray is formidable.

Chris Waller’s Cambridge-stud owned Joliestar (Zoustar) firmed yesterday into a $5 chance, after catching the eye with a swooping three-quarter-length second in the Desirable Stakes (Listed, 1400m) on Melbourne Cup Day.

Gary Portelli’s ultra-consistent Kimochi (Brave Smash) was at $10, after running a two and three-quarter length third in that race, after travelling wide from gate 10.

Former race favourite Arctic Glamour (Frosted) was quoted at around $9 as a result of a last-start odds-on sixth, when seeking a winning hat-trick in Randwick’s Callander-Presnell (Gr 2, 1600m), with trainers Gerald Ryan and Sterling Alexiou suspecting a tongue tie should help restore her reputation.

With all of the above jumping from the inside seven barriers – and even Peter Moody’s two-start maiden $15 dark horse Quickster (Shamus Award) drawing gate three – the stage is set for an epic Thousand Guineas; an endorsement for Racing Victoria’s controversial decision to move the race to ten days after the VRC Oaks (Gr 1, 2500m).

Moroney had previously said the main question that the move had caused him was that of what to do with Coeur Volante in the month between the Prelude race and main event. He ultimately opted against a race or barrier trial, with the lightly framed filly instead having three gallops. The latest, and most intense, came on Tuesday under Melbourne’s premier rider Blake Shinn, who’s been aboard for both starts this preparation and delayed a suspension to ride her today.

“She’s in really good order,” Moroney told ANZ Bloodstock News. “We did take a risk in giving her a long time between runs, but we think it’s been the right thing. She’s not an overly robust filly, so I think we’ve gotten away with it.

“Blake’s ridden her in two of her gallops and hopped off on Tuesday saying she’s going as well, if not better, than before her last start.”

Victory for Coeur Volante would bring Moroney a 46th Group 1 win and compensate for he and the horse’s owner Rupert Legh missing buying another daughter of Proisir – Prowess – through a phone-bidding miscommunication at the Covid-hit 2021 Karaka yearling sale.

While Prowess has caused the trainer and owner further angst by winning two Group 1s, Moroney has a feeling that Coeur Volante could end up even better.

Her first-up run alerted all to her ability. Despite being off her food until three days before the race, she overcame being blocked in the short Moonee Valley straight, switched to the inside and powered home to score by a neck.

Second-up was even better, with the slender filly bursting from the outside gate of 14 from the difficult Caulfield 1400-metre start, sitting fourth amid a hot pace, then still launching in the straight to win by a length and a quarter going away.

Legh immediately classed her above his other main Moroney mare, Tofane. And with a month to mull over, Moroney yesterday rated her as one of the best in his lengthy career.

“Yeah, she is [one of the best], especially among the fillies,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have about a dozen of them win Group 1s, and I think she’s at least as good as most of them.

“Tofane didn’t race until an autumn three-year-old, but if you compare them after four starts, this filly’s got more ability than Tofane.

“She’s just got so much natural talent, and she’s shown already through only four starts she’s got a great racing brain. You can ride her anywhere, switch her off, switch her on. For a filly who can be a little skittish off the track, she really knows what to do in her races.

“Last start she flew the gates, so Blake made a decision to stay forward. I think she’s better with a sit, but Blake will work it out after the first 50 metres. Barrier five looks ideal for us. All the good chances, on paper, are all around us.”

Moroney is seeking a second win in the race, and his first this century after the victory of Shizu (Manntari) in 1999. And, date change or not, he believes the Guineas’ historical importance to breeders continues to grow.

“Oh, definitely. The mile fillies, and the sprinters, are the ones that they want. And you only get two Group 1 opportunities at the mile – the Flight Stakes and this one,” said Moroney, who won four 1400-metre Group 1s with Tofane before she was sold as a broodmare for $3.1 million to Yulong last year.

Skybird, unlike Coeur Volante, has already proven herself over 1600 metres, with her slashing last start win.

Having waited more than ten years to train his first elite-level winner, with Attrition (Churchill) over the same course in the Toorak Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m), Freedman said new sensation Skybird has the class, despite her inexperience, to bring him his second in little more than a month.

“This is definitely a stronger field than last start,” he told ANZ Bloodstock News. “There’s a lot of different formlines coming into it, so it’s pretty hard to line a few of them up, but we think she’s up to a fairly good level. If it’s not tomorrow that she wins a Group 1, hopefully it can be later on down the track.”

For Skybird, however, inside barriers may not be an advantage. Regular rider Beau Mertens will likely find her customary rearward role from barrier two, on a filly rivals would love to pocket.

“Gate two’s probably not ideal,” Freedman said. “I’m not sure if we really want to be buried back along the fence, being a favourite in a big race. We’ll watch the races during the day and try to come up with the best plan.”

As Moroney noted, the race’s rescheduling has two main effects: No filly can now realistically attempt both the VRC Oaks and the Thousand Guineas in one season, a double which – in the more natural reverse order – last marked the greatness of Miss Finland (Redoute’s Choice) in 2006, and Special Harmony (Spinning World) in 2003.

It also means a significantly shorter summer break before autumn carnivals, which has led Moroney, and Ryan, to flag late autumn resumptions for Coeur Volante and Arctic Glamour, before probable trips to Brisbane.

Ryan is certainly applauding the date change. Arctic Glamour had her first two starts in June, for Warwick Farm minor placings, before the spell preceding her Rosehill maiden win on September 27 and her Reginald Allen Stakes (Listed, 1400m) success at Randwick on October 14, five days before the Thousand Guineas’s old date.

“Kerrin McEvoy said after her second start that she might make a Thousand Guineas filly,” Ryan said. “And that was about the same week they announced they’d push this race back a month. So it’s ideal for us. If this race was in its old date, we’d never have made it. Now, she’s had three runs going into it.”

The latest of those was, however, sub-optimal. Arctic Glamour was backed like Winx (Street Cry) when $1.70 for the Callander-Presnell, but after trailing the leader weakened into a two and a half length sixth.

The wily Ryan, seeking an 18th Group 1, isn’t sure whether Arctic Glamour’s tongue caused a problem that day, but he’s certain she’s worked better with the tongue tie she’ll wear today.

“Since Covid, at Randwick trainers can’t get in next to the horse when they come back in; only strappers can. So you don’t really see them when they first come off the track, which is the best time to assess them,” Ryan said. “So I couldn’t really tell if there was a tongue issue.

“But last week after she galloped, she was playing with her tongue and getting her tongue back, and she did it again on Saturday. So Tuesday morning we tied her tongue and she worked really well.

“I also thought she was too close to the lead last start. In her other runs, she’s gone back and worked home, but last start she went from travelling on pace to trying to sprint off the mark. I don’t reckon she can do it. She’s got to go through her gears,” said Ryan, hoping McEvoy can sit midfield one-off the fence from gate seven today.

Kimochi may be the forgotten filly of the race. The $21,000 Inglis Weanling Sale purchase for owner expat Hong Kong businessman Leo To was a length second to Tropical Squall (Prized Icon) chasing her first top-level win in the Flight Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) on September 30.

The date change has meant Kimochi can attempt another Group 1, before a well-deserved spell – having been in work since around the time the rescheduling was announced. In the robust filly’s favour, her Melbourne Cup Day third brought a fitness boost in her first race for nearly six weeks, along with anti-clockwise experience.

“It’s a bit hard to line up the different form. There are horses shorter in the market doing things the pros say are better than what my filly’s done, but all I know is she’s matched it with the best in Sydney,” Portelli said of Kimochi, who has barrier four for Craig Williams.

“She would’ve had a better chance to win from a better gate at Flemington, but that run has done her the world of good. She’d had little experience left-handed before then, but she’s stayed down there and had a lot of that in trackwork now. She should box seat, and I’m pretty keen on her chances.”

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