Henry Dwyer is hoping locally-trained seven-year-old Sonntag can head into retirement a winner with the evergreen galloper to have his swansong career start on Saturday in the Listed $300,000 Ballarat Cup (2200m).
The handicap clash sees the Teofilo gelding look to improve on his close third to Junoob in the 2015 Ballarat Cup before bowing out of racing after 31 starts.
A winner of $641,795 before any prize money picked up in the Ballarat Cup on the weekend, Sonntag broke a lengthy drought that went back to May of 2015 with a win last start on November 12.
The former Group 1 Queensland Derby winner from 2014 lined-up in the $50,000 Ararat Cup (2000m) carrying 57.5kg to a nice one-and-a-half-length victory over Bling Dynasty in what was his penultimate career run.
Now Dwyer hopes to capitalise on the galloper’s fitness with Sonntag dropping to 54kg for the Ballarat Cup, after which his trainer will send him to the paddock for good.
“From whatever angle I look at it, it’s perfect timing,” Dwyer told the Herald Sun this week.
“He won his last start, in the Ararat Cup, so he’s close to going out on a high.
“He’s as sound as he’s ever been and he was placed in the Ballarat Cup two years ago.”
Despite still being fairly lightly-raced for his age, Sonntag has done more than enough for the stable according to Dwyer who would prefer to look after the horse than press on with another campaign in the New Year.
“I’d hate to see him break down and I think it’s a fitting finale for him because he’s spent a lot of time at my Ballarat stable where he’s a sentimental favourite,” Dwyer said.
“I wanted to see him win another race, which he’s done.”
Thirteen stayers are in the mix for the lucrative Victorian Country Cups clash this spring and jockey Jye McNeil retains the ride on Sonntag from a midfield barrier seven draw.
Formerly raced by the powerhouse Godolphin stable, Sonntag was a $58,000 purchase by Dwyer four years ago.
At that stage Dwyer had only held an official training licence for four months and Sonntag proved a challenging addition to his team after suffering a nearly life-ending tendon infection not long after.
Dwyer though nursed the horse back to full fitness and was rewarded with the aforementioned Queensland Derby victory six months later, his first Group 1 success as a trainer.
“It wasn’t easy for him but he’s won almost $650,000 and in addition to the Queensland Derby and Ararat Cup he won a Sale Cup and finished second in an Andrew Ramsden Stakes,” Dwyer said.
Another tendon injury about 12 months ago threatened an early retirement from Sonntag, but he recovered and was able to salute three starts back with the addition of blinkers in the Ararat Cup.
“I didn’t want him going out on a bad note so I put the blinkers back on and he did some jumping, as well,” Dwyer said, adding a career as a dressage horse called post-Ballarat Cup Day.
“In the stables he’s half a racehorse and he’s half a lead pony.
“We could leave him in that role, but I think that would be a waste of his talent as he would have a wonderful career as an eventer.
“We’ll get him retrained so at least he’s got the option. If that doesn’t work we’ll take him back as a lead pony.”
The latest Ladbrokes.com.au markets on the Ballarat Cup have the now Darren Weir-trained import Mr Garcia at a firming $3 to back-up off a winning Australian debut at Flemington from VRC Oaks Day.
Sonntag meanwhile is listed as a $12 chance having eased out from opening Ballarat Cup odds of $9.50.