Mornington-based horseman Michael Mehegan acknowledges that his in-form mare Prussian Vixen must “go to a new level” to match it with the top sprinters at Caulfield Racecourse this weekend in the Group 1 $500,000 Ladbrokes Oakleigh Plate (1100m).
One of the key features on the Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Stakes Day card, this season’s Oakleigh Plate field has attracted a capacity line-up of short-distance gallopers including Mehegan’s progressive King Of Prussia mare.
Prussian Vixen earned her shot in the elite level handicap after her first-up win at the track in the Group 3 $150,000 Geoffrey Bellmaine Stakes (1200m) when successfully defending her title a fortnight back on Ladbrokes C.F. Orr Stakes Day as a double-figure roughie.
Mehegan only has six horses in work, the small team stabled in boxes rented from Tony Noonan, and Saturday will be just his third Group-race starter following the back-to-back Geoffrey Bellmaine wins a year apart by Prussian Vixen.
The return to winning form by the five-year-old mare was a relief for Mehegan after her lacklustre spring campaign.
“We spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to find out what was the reason for her poor form last spring and the vets couldn’t find anything other than putting it down to purely that time of year,” he told Racing Victoria.
“A lot of mares under-perform whether its spring or autumn, depending on what they like, but she just won’t perform at all in spring.
“It’s either she puts in 100 per cent or she puts in nothing. Her heart rate after the races [last campaign] was showing that she wasn’t having a go.
“I guess on that form she could have quite easily ended up being retired, but we didn’t so she’s come back this prep and she’s given us no reason to doubt us.”
Prussian Vixen is again at an outsider’s price in the Oakleigh Plate odds at race sponsor Ladbrokes.com.au paying $51 in the eighteen-starter field.
There is a notable rise in grade and company pending for Prussian Vixen obviously, but she will enjoy a big drop in weight after carrying 58kg to victory against her own kind to just 53.5kg in the Oakleigh where weights were raised 1.5kg due to the non-acceptance of Chautauqua.
Along with the class of her rivals including the $4.80 favourite, Peter & Paul Snowden’s Group 1 winner Russian Revolution, the other challenge for Prussian Vixen is her wide barrier draw of 13 (into 11 with emergencies out).
“I would have been happy anywhere midfield – she’ll come into 11 if the emergencies come out – a lot of the other horses that have got speed have drawn out as well, so I guess there’s going to be luck in running there,” Mehegan said.
“We’ll probably just ride her as we normally do. She probably won’t lead you wouldn’t imagine, but she should be in the first five and hopefully we can get on the back of something that can take us into the straight.
“She normally races well on a fast tempo. That’s just her, she loves it.”
Boasting a nice three-from-six Caulfield track record, Prussian Vixen was limited in options for her second-up run according to Mehegan who has her targeting the Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes (1200m) in Adelaide on May 5.
“With her rating now, it makes it a bit difficult where to go with her,” he said.
“We were going to go to the Hareeba Stakes, but that would have been six weeks from her last run then probably on to the Sangster, so there are not a lot of options with her at the moment.
“She has to race somewhere and I think it’s worth a shot. She’s really well in herself and if she’s going to run well in a race like the Oakleigh Plate, this is the time to do it.
“At the same time, I know she has to go to a new level. Whether she can do that, we’ll find out on Saturday.”
Other standouts in the field include the Golden Slipper winning filly She Will Reign ($6.50) drawn a nasty gate 17 draw along with fellow three-year-old fillies Catchy ($9) and Booker ($9.50).