Team Hawkes welcome their stable star Chautauqua back to the races under the lights at Moonee Valley on Friday night with the champion sprinter one of 11 nominations taken for the Moir Stakes.
Rounding out elite level racing for the month, this season’s $500,000 Group 1 City Jeep Moir Stakes (1000m) is shaping up as a star-studded edition of the weight-for-age sprint.
Last seen winning the Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint (1200m) at Sha Tin in Hong Kong, Encosta De Lago six-year-old Chautauqua is one of the big name short-distance specialists in the mix.
He is a five-time Group 1 winner after the successful international raid in May, which followed his historical title defence in Sydney’s Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) during ‘The Championships’.
Chautauqua has already amassed over $6.5 million in career prize money that he’ll be out to add to on Friday evening at a track he is yet to taste defeat at.
From two runs at the tight Moonee Valley circuit the horse boasts two wins including the Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) last Cox Plate eve, a race he will run second-up in this spring before heading to Flemington for the $1 million Group 1 Darley Classic (1200m) on November 5.
He is also undefeated over 1000m and is five-from-six first-up ahead of his weekend return, which owner Rupert Legh cannot wait for.
“John Hawkes always said that the spring of 2016 and the autumn beyond it would be when we see him at his peak, and the horse really does seem to have reached peak maturity,” Legh told The Herald Sun.
“John says the horse has never been better.”
Last year’s Moir Stakes was won by the Robert Heathcote-trained Buffering who also stole the prize in 2014 and in 2012 when the race only held Group 2 status, and is back for a shot at a record fourth win on Friday night.
A veteran son of Mossman, Buffering is out to join Bomber Bill (2004) as the nine-year-old Moir Stakes winners in the past three decades.
Another star fresh performer with nine wins, a second and a third from his 12 first-up runs to date, the galloper meets his last start conqueror having run dead last when 14th to Chautauqua overseas.
That was an uncharacteristic run from the seven-time Group 1 winner who has an outstanding record at the Valley of five wins, a second and a third from 11 starts.
Runner-up to Buffering in the Moir Stakes last Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, the Joe Pride-trained Ball Of Muscle is back for another crack 12 months on.
The Dubawi six-year-old is second-up for the season on the back of a close first-up second to Takedown at Randwick in the Group 2 The Shorts (1100m).
He was only a half-length off ‘The Buff’ in the Moir Stakes quinella last year, and his Sydney-based trainer Pride is thrilled with the horse’s condition ahead of the rematch this weekend.
“He’s going super, I wanted him nice and fit for this race and he’s coming off a career best first-up run,” Pride said.
“And he always improves once he gets into this prep so I’m happy with him.”
The other stand-out Moir Stakes nominees include Mick Price’s Blue Diamond Stakes winner Extreme Choice chasing the first win by a three-year-old in the race since the filly Virage De Fortune (2005) and Mark Kavanagh’s in-form McEwen Stakes winning mare Wild Rain.
The 2016 A.J. Moir Stakes final acceptances close at 9:00am (AEST) on Wednesday morning.