This weekend’s Challenge Stakes could well be one of the most important races ahead of the spring carnival season even though it’s not even run in Australia.
The event is actually held at Hastings in New Zealand, but a big portion of the field will be sighted in Melbourne in the weeks following.
Lion Tamer is one such runner, a horse that’s no stranger to racing in Australia and no stranger to winning in Australia.
He shot to Group 1 glory in the spring of 2010 and will be back for our biggest and most prestigious events this time around.
Murray Baker is the trainer in charge of getting Lion Tamer ready for his new season assault and he says he’s happy with his prep, even though the horse was actually already meant to be in Australia.
“We were in the Challenge Stakes anyway and there was a bit of uncertainty about the flight so we decided to stay here,” he said.
He says the horse has been working well and is fresh off a nice trial run.
“He won a trial, albeit in the country it was a good field,” he said.
Like many though Baker will be wary not to send his horse out on too heavy a track, something that’s been plauging the New Zealand South Island over recent weeks.
That being said the weather appears to have cleared and it will be at least out of the heavy ranges.
“At the moment it’s a slow 8, Hastings got a lot of rain last week, I’d say the best it’ll come back to is probably a six,” he said.
Things could actually be even better with reports from fellow trainer John Bary that it may improve into the dead range.
Lion Tamer will have a tough time of it whatever the track this Saturday though with Scarlett Lady, Jimmy Choux and Wall Street just some of the other big names taking to the track.
All of them are racing with bigger things in mind for later in their campaigns but Baker says his horse will still be presented in good shape.
“He’s definitely well forward, it’s a matter of whether he’s fast enough, we’ll have to see how he goes but I hope he’ll be running n at the finish,” he said.
The Challenge Stakes will be Lion Tamer’s only home start before he heads to Australian on a flight next week with stablemate Harris Tweed.
Harris Tweed will be first up in Australia on a bid that will extend all the way into the Melbourne Cup.
“He runs in the Makybe Diva at weight for age mile, he’s a handicap horse and he’ll probably be outclassed in a race like that be we’ve got to start with him somewhere,” he said.
“We’ve just got to plug away, hope that they have no hiccups, get fit and measure up.”
One big plus for Baker is the fact that his horses success last spring has prequalified them for both the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup.