In-form gelding Durendal will face his toughest test to date when he lines up in the Group 2 $200,000 Jeep Australia Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley on Saturday.
Durendal is the winner of his last three starts and co-trainers Matthew Ellerton and Simon Zahra sent the four year old to owner David Moodie’s property for a freshen up after completing a hat trick of wins with his three quarters of a length victory in the Group 3 $150,000 Standish Handicap (1200m) at Flemington on January 1.
He kicked off his winning streak with a comfortable two lengths win in a 1400m BenchMark 84 Handicap at Ballarat on November 21 following by a win in a 1200m Open Handicap at Flemington on December 12.
“He stayed in work but he was in the paddock during the day and stabled at night,” Zahra told AAP.
“He worked in the morning and was back out in the grass during the day. It was just to get him out of the stable for a little bit and freshen him up.
“He’s been in work a while so it was just something a bit different for a week and hopefully it pays off.”
“He still looks fantastic.”
The Australia Stakes has attracted nineteen nominations and a strong line up on Saturday is anticipated with four Group 1 winners among the initial entries with Hucklebuck, Mourinho, Rebel Dane and Trust In A Gust all ready to kick off their Autumn Carnival campaigns.
Adelaide sprinter Hucklebuck is resuming from an injury enforced lay off and is the winner of the 2014 Group 1 $1m Emirates Stakes (1600m) at Flemington while Trust In A Gust is a dual Group 1 winner of the 2014 $400,000 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) and the $400,000 Toorak Handicap (1600m) both at Caulfield.
Sydney based sprinter Rebel Dane is the winner of the 2013 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes while last year’s Australia Stakes winner Mourinho claimed his Group 1 glory with a win in the $400,000 Hyland Race Colours Underwood Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield during the 2015 Melbourne Spring Carnival.
Zahra said that now was the time to test Durendal up against some quality opposition and find out if he has the makings of a top quality sprinter.
“His form as a three-year-old was good and he’s been placed really well this campaign and built his confidence up,” Zahra said.
“Now we’re going to go to the Valley, it’s something a bit trickier and a bit different and we’re going to raise the level again and see if he can stand up.”
“Now it’s a different ball game being weight-for-age and we’re confident enough he’ll graduate, whether it’s now or in the future.”
“But it’s time to start putting the pressure on him and see where we end up.”
The final fourteen horse field for the Australia Stakes will be released on Wednesday morning, January 20, 2016.