Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist is still on target for a start in the Group 1 $1m Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington on March 14 even though he was well beaten in the 2015 Autumn Carnival debut at Caulfield last Saturday.
Protectionist was sent out the $2.90 favourite for the Group 2 $200,000 Crown Golden Ale Peter Young Stakes (1800m) at his first start since winning the 2014 Group 1 $6m Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington during the Spring Carnival.
But the German import was always in the second half of the field and was actually pushed back to last in the early stages of the straight before doing his best work at the finish to wind up in sixth position, just under four lengths from the winner, Mourinho.
“He went from third last to last on the corner and was good late,’’ trainer Kris Lees told the Herald Sun.
“I don’t think Caulfield suits him and we are taking that into account.”
Lees is hoping the return to the more spacious Flemington track will play in the five year old’s favour and even though the step up to 2000m will also help, it is still well short of his best distance.
“The Australian Cup is on a bigger track, which should suit, as will the little bit further distance, but it may still be too short. That’s the real concern,” Lees said.
Protectionist will be meeting virtually the same field in the Australian Cup including a rematch with the Peter Young Stakes quinella of Mourinho and Happy Trails.
Trainer Paul Beshara expects Happy Trails to peak on Australian Cup Day after Saturday’s second which followed his first up sixth to Dissident in the Group 1 $400,000 Sportingbet C.F. Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on February 14.
Happy Trails has also shown an affinity with the Flemington track with all his three Group 1 wins being there including the 2013 $500,000 Turnbull Stakes and last year’s $1m Longines Mackinnon Stakes over the same distance as the Australian Cup.
The giant chestnut’s other Group 1 victory was over 1600m when he scored a narrow win over Fawkner and Secret Admirer in the 2012 $1m Emirates Stakes (1600m).
Protectionist remains at the top of the market order for the Australian Cup at $5 with Ladbrokes.com.au just ahead of the John O’Shea trained English import Hartnell at $6 and Happy Trails at $8.
Hartnell was having his first Australian start when he finished strongly to run second to stablemate Contributer in the Group 1 $500,000 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) at Warwick Farm last Saturday.