By Ray Hickson
If what trainer Gary Portelli saw in Improvement’s barrier trial translates to her return at Rosehill on Saturday then he expects the talented mare to stamp herself as a stakes performer this spring.
That’s Plan A for the four-year-old who was one of the stars of last summer as she strung four wins together before finishing unplaced in three autumn starts.
Portelli will be paying close attention to how Improvement fares in the ASX Thomson Reuters Charity Foundation Handicap (1100m) after she impressed running a close third in her trial behind Broadside and Omei Sword.
"I thought she trialled better than those horses,’’ Portelli said.
"It was interesting to see in barrier trial circumstances how inferior horses, on form anyway, look good in trials.
"Deanne (Panya) said if she gave her a tickle in the straight she’d have run away from them.
"Either that means she’s going to turn up and really run well on Saturday or you don’t take too much out of barrier trials.’’
Improvement's close third in a Warwick Farm trial on August 14
Improvement’s best effort in three starts in the autumn was a fourth in the Listed Darby Munro Stakes on Golden Slipper Day but Portelli said she can be forgiven for all three starts in that campaign.
"The three runs after winning those races in a row all had excuses so we tipped her out, brought her back in and she’s come back stronger,’’ he said.
"Hopefully she’s improved a bit and I think she has black type in her.’’
What is stopping Portelli from making any particular declaration about Improvement’s chances first-up on Saturday is a tricky barrier, 10 in the 11 horse field.
He is adamant the mare is not a one trick pony and is happy not to commit to a plan a couple of days out from the race.
"I would have liked to see her draw a bit softer but she doesn’t have to lead,’’ he said.
"I’ll speak to Deanne and work out what she wants to do with the speed inside her.’’
Portelli does have a Plan B for Improvement, who is owned by Gerry Harvey, should she not stick her hand up as a spring stakes performer.
"If she doesn’t look like being a black type horse then I might keep her for the summer months and win plenty of races with her,’’ he said.
"You can win a lot more prizemoney not chasing black type sometimes. Obviously Gerry is a breeder so I’ll do my best to help him with that first.’’