Wednesday’s $150,000 Listed Crowe Horwath Ramornie Handicap (1200m) will be the final winter run for Sunshine Coast galloper River Lad who will be bought back for the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
Their trainer Natalie McCall is excited over their chances for the Grafton Cup Carnival sprint this week and also believes they can be competitive in a number of Group targets a little later in the year in Victoria.
A winner of 10 of their 31 starts to date the Top Echelon gelding’s biggest turf triumph came in the Group 3 W.J. Healy Stakes (1200m) last Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival.
The now five-year-old was last seen trying to defend their title in that Eagle Farm showdown on June 22, River Lad far from disgraced when just a long neck away second to the in-form Howmuchdoyouloveme.
Howmuchdoyouloveme, who also won the Listed Lightning Handicap (1000m) last month where River Lad finished sixth in, is again the main danger for the Ramornie Handicap as they look for consecutive wins in the Clarence River Jockey Club’s sprint classic.
Tina Cotsiopoulos’ talented sprinter carried 59.5kg and 60kg to victory respectively in their past two runs and will need to be at their best with 60.5kg at Grafton.
River Lad meanwhile, drawn to perfection in barrier three of 15, has 57.5kg which is the second biggest weight and half a kilo less than their Healy Stakes weight.
“There wasn’t much between them (Howmuchdoyouloveme and River Lad) last time and we meet him a kilo better in the Ramornie which should help us a bit,” McCall said.
Originally McCall was looking to give River Lad a Ramornie Handicap lead-up in the Glasshouse Handicap at home a week after the Healy.
They were however scratched from the race having been allocated a hefty weight on a mud track, conditions that their trainer knew would likely prove too testing.
“Being a local I know how bottomless it is and I just thought carrying 59kg over 1400 metres on that track would have gutted him,” McCall said.
“Belltone loomed to win with the same weight but he couldn’t go on with it so I’m glad I kept him at home.”
While they missed that preparatory run McCall remains confident River Lad is fit and ready for their season swansong where riding tactics will be key to improve on their third in last year’s Ramornie.
“Last year we probably rode him a little bit upside down to keep close to Howmuchdoyouloveme because there was no other speed in the race,” she said.
“We wouldn’t have beaten the winner but he should have run second if we’d ridden him the way we normally do.
“With Adebisi and one or two other fast horses in the race this year to put a bit of pressure on Howmuchdoyouloveme we might be able to ride him the way he likes to race.”
Looking ahead to the spring features McCall believes there will be a number of suitable races down the famous Flemington straight.
Options include the $220,000 Group 2 Gilgai Stakes (1200m) on October 5 and the $300,000 Group 2 Salinger Stakes (1200m) on Victoria Derby Day, November 2.
“Races like the Gilgai or Salinger would be something to aim at because (jockey) Michael Cahill believes he’ll be a three or four lengths better horse in a straight race at Flemington,” McCall said.