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Portelli positive over Fireburn and Sejardan’s Golden Rose chances

Trainer looking to repeat now-three-year-olds’ last season heroics in Rosehill Classic

Trainer Gary Portelli is confident Fireburn (Rebel Dane) and Sejardan (Sebring) can show there’s no hangover from their stellar first seasons, in the $1 million Golden Rose (Gr 1, 1400m) on yet another damp track at Rosehill today.

The canny Warwick Farm conditioner’s mastery of two-year-olds was shown again last term as Fireburn became Australia’s champion juvenile, winning the Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m) and Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) double before running second to She’s Extreme in the Champagne Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m), in quest of a sixth straight win and the 2YO Triple Crown.

And Sejardan – bred by part-owner Dale Miller from a mare, Miss Amajardan (Hinchinbrook), he bought as a yearling at the Inglis Scone sale for just $6,500 and saw become an early Golden Slipper favourite – was one of the outstanding two-year-olds of last season, in a crop dominated by fillies.

The powerful colt – an $160,000 Inglis Classic purchase by Portelli – won the Breeders’ Plate (Gr 3, 1000m) and the $1m Golden Gift (1100m) in his first two starts, and the Slipper trial, the Todman Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m) in his fourth.

Portelli has said he was confident of winning the Slipper one way or the other on the morning of the race. While Fireburn stole the headlines with her breathtaking win, her stablemate was a widely overlooked poor-luck story, being blocked for runs more than once most of the way up the straight, only breaking clear when the stable’s star bird had flown.

The two clashed again first-up in the Run To The Rose (Gr 2, 1200m) at Rosehill on September 10. Both were settled too far back, however, and – especially with modern racing’s biggest scourge at play again with the rail this time plonked out five metres – had little hope of hauling in the leaders. Fireburn worked home from eighth at the 400-metres to finish a five-length fifth, with Sejardan a neck behind her in seventh.

Those efforts have pushed the pair out in Golden Rose markets. Fireburn, who’ll jump from the outside gate of 15 for regular rider Brenton Avdulla, was at $9 last night, while Sejardan was a $21 chance for career-long partner Jason Collett from barrier seven.

Though Sydney seems now to have just the one climate – the wet season – the change in racing season can often bring a shift in the form landscape, with precocious two-year-old stars caught by later-bloomers. Several hints are there at present, with last term’s young talents such as Daumier (Epaulette), Sebonack (Capitalist), and Semillion (Shalaa) – who ran first, fourth and fifth in the Blue Diamond Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) – having made underwhelming starts to their three-year-old spring.

Others have made steps the other way, appearing to boom from quieter beginnings, such as $7 Golden Rose chance Jacquinot (Rubick), and Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) favourite Aft Cabin (Astern). Golden Rose favourite In Secret (I Am Invincible) didn’t race until winning at Hawkesbury a week before the Slipper. Second-favourite, her Godolphin stablemate Golden Mile (Astern) debuted with a Ballarat victory the week before.

But while some may ask the inevitable seasonal questions about Fireburn and Sejardan, Portelli has no fears about waiting for the confirmation. He arrived at Rosehill on Golden Slipper day feeling he’d land the prize with one of his runners, and sounds almost as confident today.

“A lot of us trainers are in the same boat. We’re all hoping our three-year-olds come back and do the business like they did at two,” Portelli told ANZ Bloodstock News yesterday.

“But I think if either of my horses has any luck tomorrow, they’ll win.

“They’re both in good order. I gave them a pass mark for their first-up runs. They basically got ridden too far back. They were both entitled to run home and they did, with good sectionals coming in. They had the run they had to have, so they’re not going to the Rose underdone, or overdone. Both are ready to go.”

Portelli says it can be difficult to divulge a clear guide as to Fireburn’s progress, as she’s a notoriously ordinary trackworker, and an even worse triallist, but he can see the funny side of her mundane march to match fitness.

“I worked her on Tuesday with one who got beat in a barrier trial by 100 yards. And she beat it by two lengths, so that’s a good gallop for her. So, I might have found one slow enough for her to gallop with,” he said, though growing more serious in contemplating her starting gate.

“She looks well. She’s tightened right up and her fitness levels are good, but she has drawn a bad gate and could need a lot of luck. I’ve spoken to Brenton, and we won’t make a decision on how we ride her until we see the pattern of the day. At least the rail’s in the true position, so that helps. Horses going wide in the Run To The Rose like these two were up against it.”

Rosehill was a soft 5 yesterday afternoon, but is under a 100 per cent prediction for rain today – or 10s-on in the old – from Sydney weather forecasters, now officially recognised as having the easiest job in the world.

Fireburn, of course, loves the wet, her three autumn wins coming on heavies 9 and 10. Sejardan won the Todman on a heavy 10, but Portelli feels he’s a lesser force in the wet than his stablemate, citing his victories on good tracks in his first two starts, especially when scorching home from ninth at the 400m to win the Breeders Plate by more than a length.

“He’s won in heavy, but he’s better on top of the ground. His Breeders Plate run showed what he could do, as did the Golden Gift, when he made a long, sustained run out wide and finished over the top of them,” Portelli said.

“And you can see it in that his galloping action changes on the dry as opposed to the wet. He stretches out a bit more, whereas he gets his head up a bit more when it’s wet. I’ve had a lot of Sebrings who grow an extra leg in the wet. He handles it, but he doesn’t grow an extra leg in it.”

Similar to Sejardan, Newcastle colt Promitto (Divine Prophet) could be a forgotten horse of the race as he chases a first Group 1 for his Caulfield Guineas-winning sire, at odds of $34.

The David Atkins-trained colt won his first two starts in February – beating subsequent Pago Pago Stakes winner Rise Of The Masses in the Skyline Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m) in the second, on a heavy 10.

He’s come back this campaign with a modest seventh in the San Domenico Stakes (Gr 3, 1100m), then missed the start badly when sixth in the Run To The Rose under Kerrin McEvoy. Notably, however, he made solid ground in the straight, and while beaten by five lengths, was up with the front division soon after the post.

That gels with Atkins’ assessment that possibly instead of being aimed at the 1600m of the Caulfield Guineas, the son of Lohnro mare Lohgairo could be a better bet for the Spring Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m).

“Kerrin said he couldn’t pull him up after the post, he was that strong at the end,” Atkins said. “He said he was standing really well in the gates, but then he just popped his head up at the wrong time, as the gates opened. He needs to jump in this race, but if he does, I give him a great chance.

“He’ll get the 1400 metres on his ear. I kind of wish it was 1600 metres in fact. I reckon he’ll make a good 2000-metre horse, which being from a Lohnro mare you’d probably expect. He looks a good bit like Lohnro, too. He’s brown but nearly black, and he’s got a great set of lungs and when you get him at his top, he can sustain that for a long while.”

Josh Parr will ride the home-bred today. Atkins had booked Nash Rawiller for the campaign, but after the pair combined in the San Domenico, suspension for Rawiller forced Atkins to look to McEvoy. With Rawiller set to return his week, McEvoy was booked for Chris Waller’s $61 shot Political Debate (So You Think), only for Rawiller to then break a thumb, leaving Atkins to engage Parr.

“Josh is a great rider so we’ll lose nothing with him,” Atkins said.