Trainers of rival hopes for this Saturday’s $1.36 million Group 1 AAMI Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) maintain that the Queensland Guineas win by Sizzling was certainly a good effort over the weekend but that top fancy Epaulette is still the one to beat.
Kelso Wood’s reigning TJ Smith winner Sizzling, undefeated in their four start winter campaign as a juvenile last year, finally scored another Group success on Queensland Oaks Day just in time for their grand final this Saturday.
The smart Snitzel colt thrived with the addition of blinkers and improved leaps and bounds on their opening two runs this time in to defeat Dances On Stars by half a length in the Group 2 Queensland Guineas (1400m).
That victory saw them firm in their price to take out Queensland’s richest race, the Stradbroke, this weekend in from around $14 to $6 at some online bookmakers and hit top of the odds at others.
While it was certainly an encouraging lead-up, their current 52kg light weight is unlikely to be added to by Racing Queensland’s chief handicapper Nathan Bourke and it would be a fairy tale Stradbroke Handicap result for cancer survivor Chris Munce – some still need convincing.
One of those is Sydney horseman Anthony Cummings who will be represented by former favourite Your Song and possibly also Fontelina who is sweating on a start currently sitting 20th in the Stradbroke Handicap order of entry.
Fastnet Rock colt Your Song rocketed into Straddie contention with their blistering first-up effort in the Group 1 BTC Cup (1200m) in the mud at Eagle Farm where they beat home the likes of Rain Affair, Better Than Ready and Buffering by a minimum five lengths.
They lost their favouritsim in the markets on May 25 however when they ran a below par sixth beaten four lengths by Epaulette in the Group 1 Doomben 10,000 (1350m).
Having been witness to that winning effort from Peter Snowden’s Commands colt, Cummings is now very wary about taking on Epaulette for round two with Your Song, also at $6 along with Sizzling and fellow local hope Better Than Ready, in the Stradbroke.
“Sizzling was impressive in the Queensland Guineas but it is another step up in grade for the Stradbroke,” Cummings said.
“Epaulette is proven in that grade and his win in the Doomben 10,000 was excellent so I feel he is the one to beat.”
While admitting it’s going to be a tough assignment Cummings is keeping his hopes up with Your Song who he believes is still capable of bouncing back to turn the tables.
“Your Song is in good shape,” he said of the horse that will be retired to stud after the Stradbroke.
“I wouldn’t be swapping mine for anything else in the race.
“I’ve put a line through his Doomben 10,000 defeat because he drew the outside barrier and getting into that speed battle early didn’t help.
“There is not as much focus on us this time which is good and it doesn’t matter what the track conditions are for him because he is effective on wet or dry tracks.”
Epaulette could also be retired by owner Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktomu and sent to Europe to race with his Godolphin team, but Snowden is just focusing on having the favourite right for this Saturday.
“I’ve had a look at Epaulette this weekend and he is in great order,” Snowden said on Sunday.
“He’s trained on really well since the Doomben 10,000 and I’m confident he will be hard to beat although it won’t be easy for him with 56kg,
“The weight is terrible and if the handicaps were done before the 10,000, he would not have got 56kg.
“But I’m not whinging about it, we have to deal with what we’ve got, and I know the horse is as good as I can get him going into the Stradbroke.”
The final field of 18 runners for the Stradbroke Handicap will be announced on Wednesday following the last round of acceptances.
After the weekend’s race results in Brisbane Sizzling’s stablemate Belltone is sure to be among those sitting 18th on the ballot after there was no change to the order of entry.
Sizzling was already assured of a start so their Stradbroke exemption in the Guineas didn’t affect the order, and the Snowden-trained QTC Cup winner Galah is not among the entries for the big Group 1 this Saturday.