Local Mathew Ellerton & Simon Zahra-trained Durendal will chase a hat trick of Victorian wins when he lines-up in the feature race of New Year’s Day at Flemington Racecourse, the $150,000 Group 3 Standish Handicap (1200m).
Running as the major race on a nine event New Year’s Day program in Melbourne on January 1, this summer’s Standish Handicap attracted 15 nominees including the in-form Durendal.
A four-year-old son of Medaglia D’Oro, the progressive gelding won a Benchmark 84 over 1400m by two lengths two back at Ballarat before heading to Flemington on December 12 for a one length win over fellow Standish Handicap hopeful Sarajevo in the $90,000 Western Health Foundation Handicap (1200m).
He carried 54.5kg to victory that day and only goes up a kilo in the Standish Handicap weights, led by class runners Churchill Dancer and It Is Written with 59kg each, on the weekend chasing his maiden black-type win.
His last stakes assignment was at Doomben back in late May during the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival when running a close third, beaten under a length by the winner Mohave in the Listed Queensland Day Plate (1200m).
He has won three of his five starts since and looks on track for a big run in Friday’s Standish Handicap according to co-trainer Simon Zahra who couldn’t be happier with the horse’s condition.
“He’s bouncing around the stable, he’s dying for another run. So he’s going in there in pretty good order,” Zahra told AAP this week.
Durendal has won six of his 15 career starts to date, including a smart five-from-seven plus two thirds over Friday’s distance, and is only just starting to live up to his potential according to Zahra.
“He’s really come of age the last couple of months but he’s always shown plenty of ability on the racetrack,” he said.
“He’s got that killer punch that the good horses need to put races away.”
Zahra is also thrilled with the breeding, Durendal being a half-brother to Peter Moody’s Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m) winner Flamberge, both out of star broodmare Razor Blade.
“It’s an amazing family,” Zahra said.
“She (Razor Blade) keeps producing every year. She’s a freak.”
Runner-up behind Durendal at the track and distance last time out, the John O’Shea-trained Sarajevo is also nominated for the rematch over the long weekend in the last Group race of 2015.
The four-year-old son of Lonhro ran fourth to Sea Lord in the Listed MSS Security Stakes (1200m) at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day in early November before being beaten a length from a wide barrier 10 of 14 draw last time out.
He is tipped to improve with a better starting position this weekend chasing his maiden Flemington win.
Godolphin’s head trainer O’Shea also has Barbed nominated for the Standish this season, the Canny Lad five-year-old not having won a race in over 12 months.
His last victory was at Canterbury in December last year when narrowly beating home Ball Of Muscle in the Listed Canterbury Classic (1200m), and he is out to atone for a last start seventh when beaten under two lengths by Cradle Me in the Listed Razor Sharp Handicap (1200m) at Randwick on December 12.
Zahra however rates Leon & Troy Corstens’ last start Listed Doveton Stakes (1000m) third placegetter at Sandown-Hillside on December 5, Tried And Tired, as the biggest danger.
“They’ve obviously kept him fresh for this and he’s a horse with plenty of ability,” he said of the six-year-old who is allocated 57kg.
“The beauty for us is that Durendal’s going to be pretty well weighted again, so that’s going to be our bonus.
“We know he’s in good form, he looks terrific and doesn’t look like he’s trained off.”