By Julieanne Horsman
Almost Court has easily won all three of his races since arriving in Australia and on Wednesday he will be put to the test in town for the first time.
The five-year-old New Zealand import will line up in the Australian Turf Club Handicap over 1900m at Canterbury Park, and co-trainer Paul Jones is confident he is ready to step up to mid-week metropolitan racing.
“We’ve been very impressed with his races so far and with his rating now at 70, it’s the next logical step,” he said.
“He’s been winning well against good country horses.” Unlike in his first two races in Australia where he led all the way, Almost Court, under the guidance of apprentice jockey Patrick Scorse, took a sit in his most recent hit out on the Acton Track at Canberra on 25th August. Rounding the turn for home in the 1900m race he made his move and kicked away to win by almost 3.5 lengths.
“He’s up against a higher class of horses on Wednesday and Chris Waller’s are always hard to beat,” Jones said. “But he’s got a top jockey on board (Kerrin McEvoy) and handled the 1900 last time. Despite being a big striding horse he had no trouble with the tight turns on the Acton track and Canterbury is a similar shape.”
Among the horses Almost Court will line up against is stablemate, Token Of Love. The five-year-old mare has a special affiliation with regular jockey Rachel hunt and a great record at Canterbury. She’s put in big runs for second in her last two starts there, even earning praise from Chris Waller.
“That turn of foot with 100m to go is something she hadn’t shown us before which is very encouraging,” Jones said.
“Both my horses are on-pacers but they don’t have to lead to win. The both have drawn good gates so I expect them to be in the first five or six.”
Paul Jones tried to buy Almost Court from an online auction but despite being the highest bidder, he didn’t make the seller’s reserve. They struck up a relationship and instead of selling the horse, the owner decided to keep him and transfer him to Australia to be trained.
“If he performs on Wednesday we will look at some Saturday races in Sydney,” Jones said. “If he goes really well, the Hill Stakes (Group 2 1800m race at Royal Randwick on 30th September) could become part of the plan. If not, we will probably stick him in the paddock and aim him at the major country cups next year like Wagga and Albury.”
Jones will also saddle up talented but sometimes wayward galloper, Mercurial Lad, who is resuming in #theraces Handicap (1250m).
He had a fantastic last preparation, notching three wins in five starts, including a dominant Royal Randwick TAB Highway Handicap victory.
“He’s been working really well and doesn’t misbehave at home,” Jones said. “Hopefully he can win and get his benchmark up to scrape into the $200k Anniversary TAB Highway Handicap on The Everest Day.”