Trainer Natalie McCall has revealed that talented gelding River Lad is thriving in the lead-up to his Group 1 debut in the 2014 Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm this weekend.
River Lad returned to the races with a credible seventh place finish behind Temple Of Boom in the Group 2 Victory Stakes (1200m) at Eagle Farm on April 26 before stamping himself as a genuine contender for the Stradbroke Handicap with an all the way win in the Group 3 BRC Sprint (1350m) at Doomben on May 17.
McCall told Racing Ahead that the 2014 Stradbroke Handicap has been on the agenda for River Lad for 12 months and she believes that the son of Top Echelon is in the best condition of his career heading into the $1.36 million event on Saturday.
“He is really, really well,” McCall said.
“We have given him his customary three weeks between runs and he has thrived once again.
“We are really happy with him going into Saturday.
“Last year he really stepped up.
“We brought him in at the early part of the winter carnival and the Stradbroke was sort of an afterthought and he didn’t make it there, but ever since then we have targeted this race.
“Every time we bring the horse in he seems to have matured and physically he is a much, much stronger horse than he was 12 months ago.
“Mentally we always had a bit of trouble with him, but now he is really starting to hit his straps.”
River Lad was taken straight to the lead by jockey Tim Bell in the BRC Sprint, but McCall is hoping that the six-year-old will be able to take a sit behind the speed, despite drawing barrier 19 for the Stradbroke Handicap, and will not be instructing Damien Oliver to push forward in the early stages of the race.
“That was the first time that he ever led the other day and it was only due to a lack of speed in the race,” McCall said.
“We sort of rolled forward from a wide alley and nothing else wanted to lead, so that is where we ended up.
“He is a much better chaser and to run a nice, strong 1400 at Group 1 level especially, we will be looking to stalk the speed.”
River Lad is currently available at 2014 Stradbroke Handicap odds of $31; with Hucklebuck ($6) the new favourite for the race following the barrier draw that was conducted this morning.