Tough gelding Solzhenitsyn will be stepping up to 2000 meters for the first time when he contests the Group 1 2013 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on Saturday.
Solzhenitsyn has performed strongly since starting his 2013 Spring Racing Carnival campaign with an unlucky second place finish behind Riva de Lago in the Group 2 Theo Marks Stakes (1400m); finishing a narrow third behind Rebel Dane in the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) before winning his second straight edition of the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m).
The Group 1 Emirates Stakes (1600m) was originally set to be the next race start for Solzhenitsyn but trainer Robert Heathcote changed his plans, after discussions with jockey Nash Rawiller, and opted to give the seven-year-old an opportunity over 2000 metres at weight-for-age level.
Heathcote told Sky Racing HQ that he has always wanted to step Solzhenitsyn up in distance and said he is happy to follow the advice of Rawiller; with the leading jockey also advising Heathcote to take blinkers off the veteran gelding.
“It is something that I have always believed the horse would get,” Heathcote said.
“After the Sir Rupert Clarke, Nash was confident that he would be a 2000 metre horse and was even more confident after he won his second Toorak.
“We have made a gear change that was questioned by the stewards yesterday because we have won a Group 1 and are taking the blinkers off and putting winkers on.
“That is pretty much on the recommendation of Nash and the quality of rider he is it is a recommendation that we are happy to take.
“A couple of times in the Sir Rupert Clarke and the Toorak, Solzhenitsyn wanted to get up on the steel a bit and just over race a touch so Nash was more than happy to effect the gear change.”
Heathcote admits that Solzhenitsyn will need to be at his very best to beat a quality field in the Mackinnon Stakes, which includes Melbourne Cup hopefuls Mourayan, Jet Away and Dear Demi, but said that he is not worried about the fitness levels of the two-time Group 1 winner.
“The fitness foundation of the horse is well and truly laid and it is just a natural fitness progression from racing,” Heathcote said.
“It is fair to say that the Toorak was his Grand Final this year but we will settle for a Mackinnon as well.
“While it is fair to say that it is a smallish Mackinnon field, surprisingly so after the nominations, it is still a quality race.
“There are some quality horses there and Solzhenitsyn will have to be at the top of his game and have to see out a strong 2000 metres to win because we certainty know that Jet Away won’t be stopping.”
Heathcote is chasing his third Group 1 victory of the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival following the victories of Solzhenitsyn in the Toorak Handicap and Buffering in the Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m).