By Ray Hickson
As the rider of champion Winx, Hugh Bowman is used to the spotlight being on him.
But come the inaugural running of the $10 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday he’s more than happy not to have the weight of expectation on his shoulders.
Bowman rides $14 chance Clearly Innocent and he’s clearly enjoying the rare opportunity of going into a big race hoping to win rather than expecting it.
“It’s nice to be on a headline horse, I’ve become accustomed to that, but it is a little more relaxing I must admit,’’ Bowman said.
“I’m going into the race on a genuine 10/1 shot but I’m looking forward to the challenge. He’s not really a headline horse but he impressed me so much in Brisbane.
“Can he win the Everest? I wouldn’t say I’m expecting him to win but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he does.’’
Clearly Innocent, who was selected by slot holder Damion Flower to run in The Everest, has come a long way in the past 18 months.
The gelding won the 2016 Country Championship under the care of Greg Bennett then rode to Group 1 level in the Brisbane winter after Bennett made a career change and transferred him to Kris Lees.
In winning the Group 1 Kingsford Smith Cup at Eagle Farm and placing in the Stradbroke at Doomben, Bowman gained the view that Clearly Innocent possesses something special.
“It’s not so much about what he’s beaten or what he’s done he just gives me a great feel. He’s very athletic, he has a beautiful stride and covers a lot of ground,’’ he said.
“He has a good engine, he can really gallop and although his best performance was on a questionable track I can’t ignore what I felt.
“I think he is a genuine Group 1 horse and that’s what it is going to take to win the race.
“I truly believe his best trip might be a little further than the 1200m but when it comes down to it, it might be a test of stamina. So that influenced me towards this horse.’’
Due to Clearly Innocent’s preferred trip being a shade further than the 1200m the six-year-old has only had one lead up run into The Everest.
And his close, and unlucky, third behind In Her Time and English in the Premiere Stakes was enough to convince Flower to secure a deal to run in the race while the run suggested to Bowman he’s in with a shot.
“He was just getting going as the race closed out,’’ he said.
“I’m not saying I would have beaten the other two but if I had a clear crack at them I would have been a real eye-catcher.
“A bit of moisture around this week, if we can get a bit more give in the ground than we had last start will certainly help.’’
Kris Lees said he’s done everything he can to ensure Clearly Innocent is ready to run the race of his life on Saturday.
He gave the horse his final gallop on Tuesday and planned to keep him fresh for the rest of the week.
“He’s shown the necessary improvement I wanted to see form his first-up run,’’ Lees said.
“In a perfect world it’d be 1300m or 1400m for him but we knew this all along and that’s why he’s only had one run going in.
“I’m confident he will run as good as he can, if that’s good enough so be it but he won’t disgrace.’’