Damien Oliver will be reunited with River Lad at the Gold Coast on Saturday in the Group 2 $200,000 SMEG Victory Stakes (1200m) as the seven year old kicks off his Stradbroke Handicap defence.
Oliver was able to lift River Lad across the line to score a narrow victory over Temple Of Boom in the Group 1 $1.36m AAMI Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) at Eagle Farm last year and trainer Natalie McCall has set a path towards winning back to back Stradbroke Handicaps which is worth $2m this year and will be run at Doomben on June 6 because of the Eagle Farm track reconstruction.
McCall said that she will probably miss the two Group 1 weight for age races at Doomben, the $500,000 UBET BTC Cup (1200m) on May 9 and the $750,000 James Boag’s Premium Doomben 10000 (1350m) on May 23 and will use the Listed $175,000 HMR Projects Pty Ltd Glasshouse Handicap (1300m) at the Sunshine Coast on May 16 as his final Stradbroke Handicap lead up.
“River Lad will then also probably miss the Doomben 10000 and go straight into the Stradbroke, ” McCall told AAP.
“He is a horse who likes his races spaced and it worked last year so why not stick with it.”
River Lad raced three times during the 2014 Melbourne Spring Carnival but failed to run up to his winning Stradbroke Handicap performance.
The Top Echelon sprinter ran a first up fourth to Chautauqua in the Group 2 $200,000 Gilgai Stakes (1200m) at Flemington followed by a tenth to Lucky Hussler in the Group 3 $150,000 Sportingbet Moonga Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield with Oliver aboard.
River Lad then headed back to Flemington, with Tommy Berry taking the ride, where he was well beaten when eleventh to Hucklebuck in the Group 1 $1m Emirates Stakes (1600m) but McCall said there were plenty of excuses why he failed to fire during the Spring.
“Nothing really went right in Melbourne for him. He either got caught deep or the tracks were too hard,” McCall said.
“But he has spelled well and I am pleased with the way he has come back.”
McCall has given River Lad a barrier trial in readiness for this return to the racetrack and the seven year old scored a narrow win over 850m at the Sunshine Coast on March 31.