While Luckygray is the sentimental favourite and the bookie’s pick for tomorrow’s Group 1 $1m Carlton Draught-Railway Stakes (1600m) at Ascot, local rival Ranger is right in the firing line according to trainer Grant Williams.
Luckygray is looking to for back to back wins in the Railway Stakes after gaining last year’s decision on protest after stewards reversed the placings when the Gino Poletti trained grey was second past the post behind Kiwi galloper He’s Remarkable.
While Luckygray was awarded the race after suffering interference at the 600m, Ranger was also on the receiving end of some heavy bumping in the same incident and did a good job to end up in sixth spot.
Luckygray won’t have it all his own way this year either, and as well as drawing barrier twelve is jumping up five kilos to 58kg while Ranger will step out on the minimum after carrying 56kg last year.
Williams devised a plan to get Ranger into the Railway Stakes on the 53kg minimum to give the six year old every chance and will go into the $1m race first up.
Williams took Ranger to Melbourne in the Autumn this year but the gelding failed to run a place at three runs but the Western Australian trainer is confident he has Ranger back to his best.
“We think we have the same horse as last year but we are going in first up whereas last year he’d had three runs,” Williams said.
“We need to stay in the clear. We’ve got him as fit as we can without racing him with the fact he goes well fresh in mind. He might lack a little race fitness but he’s only carrying 53kg.”
Williams has given Ranger three barrier trials in preparation for his return to the racetrack with solid hit outs over 950m at Lark Hill, 1000m at Bunbury and his final pipe opener over 1400m at Belmont almost two weeks ago.
Top West Australian jockey William Pike is back aboard Ranger after riding the six year old over the Summer Carnival last year when he proved he was up to Group 1 level with a second to Playing God in the Group 1 $500,000 GR Engineering Kingston Town Classic (1800m) at Ascot on December 3.
Poletti is still confident Luckygray can overcome his wide barrier and big weight and create history by scoring back to back wins with a trouble free run.
“All he needs is a trouble-free run so that he can show his wares. If the 58 bogs him down … so be it,” Poletti said.
Luckygray was undefeated from three runs in the Winter at Belmont but failed to fire in two runs in Melbourne in the early part of the Spring.
But the Bradbury’s Luck five year old was quick to bounce back to winning form and scored first up at Ascot in the Group 2 $200,000 Waroa-Lee Steere Stakes (1400m) on November 10.
With that win under his belt, Luckygray is currently $4 favourite for the Railway Stakes in front of Ranger at $6 and Gai Waterhouse’s Epsom winner Fat Al at $7.
Yosei shares the $15 mark with Playing God after a last start fourth to Happy Trails in the Group 1 $1m Emirates Stakes (1600m) at Flemington on November 10.
The Neville Parnham trained Playing God failed to fire at his only start in Melbourne in the Spring when fourteenth in the Emirates Stakes but is certain to perform better back on his home track.