Jockey Josh Parr reunites with gun galloper Cabeza De Vaca for the first time this prep looking to retain his undefeated record on the Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott-trained runner in Saturday’s Group 2 $250,000 Villiers Stakes (1600m).
Continuing the action of the Sydney Summer Racing Carnival, this year’s Villiers Stakes attracted 18 early entries when nominations were taken by Racing NSW on Monday morning.
Two of those come from the Waterhouse & Bott stables with their last start Goulburn Cup winner Dark Eyes and consistent Northern Meteor six-year-old Cabeza De Vaca.
During last year’s summer – autumn season, exciting front-runner Cabeza De Vaca enjoyed three Sydney wins on the trot with Parr in the saddle.
This time in the horse won two more events over 1400m at Randwick and Rosehill respectively with apprentice Rachael King coming aboard to help with some weight relief.
King was in the saddle again on December 2 at Rosehill Gardens when Cabeza De Vaca jumped favourite in the Group 3 $150,000 Festival Stakes (1500m).
Carrying 57kg, the winning streak came to an end when Cabeza De Vaca finished a disappointing second last when just over three lengths beaten running eighth to Testashadow.
Out for atonement in the rematch with Gary Portelli’s narrow Festival Stakes winner in the Villiers Stakes field on the weekend, Waterhouse had engaged the services of Parr once again and is happy to forgive her horse the failure.
“Forgive his run the other day,” she told Racing NSW on Sunday.
“He got onto the worst part of the track but he has come through the run very well.”
Snitzel five-year-old Dark Eyes meanwhile will have Adam Hyeroniums aboard for the first time in three starts.
His final lead-up on November 26 produced a narrow Goulburn Cup win over the mile with Blake Shinn in the saddle and Waterhouse hopes the horse shows up on race day ready to peak again.
“The more you give him a slap on the shoulder the slower he goes in his work,” she explained.
“It’s not that he’s lazy but the horse that turns up on race day is a lot more genuine.”
Waterhouse chases her first Villiers Stakes success since the mare Aqua D’Amore saluted back in 2005.
The Villiers Stakes form has stacked-up in the following year’s autumn racing carnival on plenty of occasions in recent years and the Group 2 offers a ballot exemption to the winner for the Group 1 $3 million Doncaster Mile (1600m) during Sydney’s The Championships in April.
Last year’s upset Villiers Stakes winner Sense Of Occasion (2016) ran third in the Doncaster Mile this year behind It’s Somewhat and third also to the world’s best mare Winx in the Group 1 $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m).