Trainer Peter McKay has revealed that he expects jockey Craig Newitt to settle Puccini towards the tail of the 2015 Australian Cup field at Flemington on Saturday.
Puccini was ridden as a front-runner as a three-year-old and he led a long way from home to win the Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) last year, but that formula did not prove as successful in two race starts in Australia and he finished 12th in the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) and fifth in the Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m).
The Encosta De Lago gelding has shown more tactical versatility as a four-year-old and he produced an explosive turn-of-foot to win the Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham on January 24.
McKay told Racing Ahead that Puccini needs to settle in the early stages of his races to avoid over racing and he is confident that the strong early tempo expected to be present in the 2015 Australia Cup will help the four-year-old settle before storming home in the final stages of the race.
“He has strengthened up and the difference is that we have had to change his way of racing,” McKay said.
“As a three-year-old once he got over ground we ended up racing forward and leading in his races and it was just a matter to teach him to be more relaxed and become a race horse.
“When you are coming to Australia and taking on the best here you can’t always be one dimensional when you just have to jump and lead, so we have taken a lot of time just to teach him to relax and run home in the last part of his race.
“We managed to do that, but each time he got up to 2000 metres for some reason he was pushed out of the gates and he would overraced.
“He will be able to settle back and produce his best run late.
“I have got Craig Newitt to go through the videos and hopefully he knows how to ride him.”
Michael Walker and Craig Williams partnered Puccini in his two race starts during the 2014 Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival, but Newitt has been booked to partner the two-time Group 1 winner in the Australian Cup.
Newitt was confirmed to return to Australia to ride Lankan Rupee in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) at Flemington on Saturday and McKay said that he was thrilled to be able to secure the services of the Singapore-based jockey.
“He is a top rider and his stats really stack up for Melbourne racing especially at Flemington,” McKay said.
“It was good to be able to get hold of a good rider, I looked through the form of the riders that were riding in the lead-up race two weeks ago to see who might have rides and with Craig now riding in Singapore he wasn’t entrenched to ride anything and he was coming over to ride Lankan Rupee.
“It was a good chance to try and get him.”
Puccini is currently available at 2015 Australian Cup odds of $26 with Ladbrokes, while Protectionist ($5) and Happy Trails ($5) are currently locked in a battle for favouritism from Spillway ($8).